According to studies at the University of Michigan med.umich.edu, children between the ages of 2-5 years of age spend an average of 32 hours per week watching television, DVDs, DVR, or on a gaming console. For kids ages 6-11 the average reported was 28 hours per week. In addition to this, it is reported by marketwatch.com that teens spend an average of 8 hours on their phones per day.
Let’s take a look from a different perspective than most writers would address. I have spoken about the importance of getting outside and imagination. Let’s look at the input. More specifically, let’s think and talk about the information that your kids are subjecting themselves to, whether this is with or without your blessing and enabling. Your kids are being taught. Their teachers are not only you or those adults in a classroom.
Information is all around us and gets in our heads whether we want it to or not. Think of a commercial jingle or a song that you don’t like, but can sing it almost without flaw. We don’t have to like or agree for it to process. To me, I have always told my kids that information was like leftovers in the refrigerator. You need to be aware of them and use them or discard them in a timely manner. If you don’t, they will deal with you by creating a mess and/or smell that you don’t want around other items.
So what is the information that we need to use or discard? Primarily these are new pieces of information that either you have not addressed or do not want your child to process at a particular time, due to the maturity of your child and the topic. The other reason for concern could be information that opposes and or challenges your sense of values. Again, the amount of time that you allow or enable your kids to spend unsupervised with the various sources of information is something that you have to judge and balance.
As a side note, the data presented in the reports that were stated at the beginning of this post alarms me. My primary concern is in simple math. According to the studies, these media sources inform and teach my kids more than I do. What about you? Do you personally engage your child 32 hours a week where they sit in front of you to watch, listen, and interact? How about your teenagers? Do they check on you and interact with you 8 hours a day? Forget for a second “what” they are seeing, hearing, and interacting with. We learn by experience, which means we learn the lessons that are reinforced time and time again. Repetition is key to learning and development. So where and with whom or what is your child learning from?
One of the urgent messages that I hope you pull from this article is that we need to be aware of what the media promotes as values and important. This again can easily stand in opposition to what you wish for them to adopt as healthy and moral. Your children will receive conflicting messages. The scary part is that they will see, hear, and interact with media more than with you if you allow it.
So what specifically are they learning? Songs, commercials, online ads, movies, television, and even games reinforce an attitude of entitlement. Watch television commercials. “Get what YOU DESERVE”. You will not watch an evening of t.v. without hearing it. “It’s your life”, “You have to look out for #1”, “You have to take care of yourself first”, “Be true to yourself”, are all combined to promote quite a narcissistic way of thinking. Let’s not forget ideas about sex, marriage, violence, body image, and the definition of “what makes us happy”.
I realize that you have probably developed a bond of trust and love with your child. However, like old leftovers in the “frig”, it is impossible for the information in media NOT to affect your kids. Therefore, it needs to be managed and discussed. This means that you need to be aware of what they are watching and listening to. In some cases, you may need to prohibit a particular form of media. Outside of that, I encourage you to ask questions.
Asking them what they think and get them talking about what they see and hear gives them a sense of value when it comes to their opinion. This in turn (when they are heard) can make them more receptive to your thoughts and ideas. Don’t get me wrong, you are the parent and set the rules. However, when you see an opportunity to listen to them, this builds trust. The better the sense of trust, the more they will heed your thoughts and directives. Use listening as a tool.
Taking the easy road is to let them do what they want to avoid conflict. THIS IS NOT GOOD PARENTING. It is you being lazy and not loving them enough to go through difficulties for their betterment. If you want your child to have a healthy and productive education, you must be involved. This goes beyond setting rules. It means YOU learning and developing with them. Take the time to manage the “frig”. Be the best dad possible.