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Raising Children in Our Wired World

February 15, 2012

By Nayarit McLaren, Chief Community Officer

As citizens of the 21st century, all of us are immersed in a new wired world. The ubiquitous presence and influence of the media is overwhelming, and we often feel that we will not be able to control its impact. However, as parents, we need to be informed and be prepared to guide and protect our children through the digital age.

In the U.S., there are an average of 2.4 TV sets per household, and 63% have a computer with Internet access. A high percentage of young people have their own personal media; 72% have a TV, 35% have a desktop computer, a laptop (or both), and 20% have Internet connection in their bedroom. These averages are even higher in the Washington DC area.

The average American youth spends between four and six and a half hours a day immersed in media of all sorts, and the majority of that exposure occurs outside of parental oversight. Many teens use multiple media simultaneously, such as listening to music while surfing the Web and chatting on the phone. As many children are listening to pop music, watching music videos, tuning in to television, playing computer and video games, viewing DVDs, cruising the Internet, etc., they are not yet mature enough to distinguish fantasy from reality, particularly when it is presented as “real life”. Even older children find it difficult to perceive the non-reality of much of the content to which they are exposed. A significant portion of this media content includes aggressive behavior, sexuality, a sedentary lifestyle, and other undesirable behaviors.

As parents, it is important to maintain a balance between too much freedom and too much control. How to do that often depends on the age of our children. A key decision every parent can make is to agree not to have a TV or a computer with Internet access in the child’s bedroom. While it is much easier to allow these in their bedroom because it will avoid potential conflicts, having them there can cause many headaches and potential harm.

Recommendations for parents:

Place TVs and computers with Internet access in open spaces – It should literally face the entrance of the room you have chosen for them so that there is no opportunity to change a channel, close a page, or hide a message without your noticing.

Maintain open communication with your child – Tell your child the good things and the not so good things about the Internet and TV programming. Both are important education and entertainment tools, but they can also cause harm. Let your child know that not all the information they find there is truthful. If you see something you don’t like, do not hesitate to talk with your child about it. Establish your limits, and stick to them.

Start the talk at an early age – If your child knows how to use the mouse or the remote control, it is time to teach them how to make a good use of it.

Have control of the TV set and the computer – The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents establish rules about what to watch, when to watch and use, and how much time to spend with the media. Be aware of when your child is turning the TV off or closing the connection. Limit their media exposure to less than 2 hours per day.

Respect privacy as you monitor activities – Some parents are asking if they should have access to their child’s online profile and email. If they are young, the answer is yes; you need to know their passwords and have access to their profiles and email accounts. When they are entering the adolescence (13 years old), it is important to give them space with the caveat that if you ask them to open their email for you to read what they have there, they will do it. Compare this idea to your child’s bedroom – it is their bedroom, but it is your house. As a parent, you can go to their room when you think is necessary. Do the same with their online space. Respect is important and can be given in an environment of openness to ensure their safety and well-being.