This is the second installment of this series on how to deal with the demand of electronic media in our kids’ lives. Part 1 acted as an introductory post based on the question: how are we as parents supposed to guide our children in an aspect of their lives that didn’t exist when we were children ourselves? It ended with a volley of questions:
“All of which brings us to the questions: what are we, as parents, supposed to do with all this entertainment media? How are we supposed to protect our children in the digital age? What’s the best way to limit how much and what our children are exposed to? And should we? Can we let this be an area of self-regulation? How do we do so without turning our family room into a war-torn battle zone? What other options are there?
It’s no simple thing, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself torn between what culture says is acceptable, what your children want, what their friends are doing, what other parents are saying, what science is discovering, and what your own childhood was like.
I have no easy answer, but I am happy to share some of our thoughts on the matter.”
Before offering some of the pointers we use to guide our children through the media black hole they’re facing, I would like to share 3 perspective changes that I have made for myself as we’ve been figuring out how to approach this challenge as parents.
First, the world today is vastly different from the way it was 25 years ago. It is a matter of fact. Trying to recreate your beautiful and nostalgic childhood for your children and forcing them into that anachronistic reality not only sounds cultish, but will have way more negative effects on your children than positive ones, not the least of which is the struggle they will face to fit in with their peers. They were not born into your age, but theirs. Denying them access to their own age will frustrate and alienate them, and most likely permanently damage their relationship with you.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t try to give them some of the media-free beauty that your childhood had. You’ll just need to find a balance that also includes their personal and social needs.
Second, the media boom is full of benefits that I could never have imagined as a kid. Thanks to cell phones, texting, and social media, it is so much easier for kids to stay connected to their friends, especially as they get older and play dates aren’t all they used to be. Thanks to the internet, our kids can learn all kinds of cool stuff about all kinds of interesting subjects. I hate to say it, but we’ve discovered that the internet is a much better source of information than our local library (it sucks, and libraries are supposed to rock.) I feel rather betrayed and upset about this, but also feel at a loss as to what I could possibly do about it. So we embrace the internet as a source of all kinds of information, including great and not so great information. But it is not of the devil. I’m sure of that. As for Netflix, Bill Nye the Science Guy is on it. ‘Nough said. That and a lot of really cool documentaries, movies for all ages, and kids’ shows that are surprisingly good (no need to focus on the awful ones; we all know they’re out there too). My point is, media is good. How we choose to use it can be beneficial, and it can be harmful.
But media isn’t all just rainbows, unicorns, and MLP (that would be “My Little Pony,” for the noninitiate). As a parent, porn is scary. There, I said it. It’s scary for me to think that whatever percentage of the internet is actually pornographic material is accessible to immature but oh-so-nimble-and-clever fingers. I don’t want my kids looking at porn. I also don’t want them wasting their life away entertaining themselves to death. Or having no option but to live in our basement forever. There. Those are my basic fears about electronics.
Still, the internet itself isn’t evil; if it was, we wouldn’t have the option of finding article after article about the effects of electronic media on our kids by doing a simple Google search.
One more thing: entertainment is good.
These words still feel strange to me. I think it was so engrained in me that idleness leads to all kinds of evils, and that I should find pride in my work, and I should make something of myself, that even though I also heard that life was something to be enjoyed, I understood that I should only enjoy it with worthwhile things. Worthwhile things did not include rock music, dancing, video games, most tv shows and movies, and sex, among other things. That leaves a lot, actually, but not according to the interests of my peers, or me for that matter, especially as I neared my teens and beyond.
This was so well engrained that I felt shame in enjoying forms of entertainment that were not included in the worthwhile list. I still do. I’ve come a long way. I can now say without shame that entertainment is good. That enjoying myself is good. You can say it too. Maybe you should. Entertainment is good for adults, and it’s good for kids too, and teenagers, and basically everyone. Entertainment is a way to escape reality and all of its struggles, and focus on something enjoyable for a while to remind ourselves that there is more to life than the struggle. There are other things that serve the same purpose, like spending time with family or friends, or reading a book, or working on a creative project, or gardening, or sports, or the arts. Those are good things too.
Entertainment is good.
To recap: We live in a different world, one whose media is largely focused on our kids, one in which we may have to adapt a bit (or a lot) as parents. The prevalence of media options is chuck-full of benefits. And entertainment is good.
Great. Now what? Because that doesn’t help me with my children’s addiction to electronic media.
In the next installment of this series I *finally* get into our personal list of thoughts that have helped our family include entertainment media in our lives in what we think are healthy ways.