Stay Plugged In When it Comes to Media Choices

Have your kids seen the latest must-see movie yet? If your children are 10 or older, they’re probably aware of the “cool” movies that are coming out.

It was like that a few year back when The Hunger Games came out. The film raised some important concerns for fathers and families. It was rated PG-13 due to Hunger-Games-how-to-be-a-dad“intense violent thematic material and disturbing material”—all involving teens.

Is this the kind of movie you’d allow your child to see?

Parents approach this question in different ways, and many of them have thoughtful reasons for doing so.

A child’s mind is a battleground. Media industries are spending billions to get our children’s time and attention and loyalty. Not all media is bad, but it often isn’t the best that we want for our kids.

Instead of doing a media review, here are 3 guiding principles and then some practical tips for how to be a good dad when it comes to kids and media choices—for The Hunger Games and the next “questionable” movie, music download, TV show or video game your child begs to check out.

1. Be involved. See the movie. Play the video game. Often you can learn a lot from online resources that provide detailed reviews for parents—such as Common Sense Media and Plugged In. Take what you find out and measure it against the values and principles that are most important to you and your family.

Using that information, your involvement should include a dialogue—not a monologue!—with your child. Extend your child respect by listening first, and give him some benefit of the doubt.

Ask questions about what appeals to him about the movie. Talk about some of the themes that are prevalent, and the real-life consequences that go with them. For example, with The Hunger Games, you could discuss oppression and injustice, courage and bravery, responses to authority, and overcoming obstacles. Is the movie making a point about violence, or love, or the roles of men and women? What comment is it making about today’s world? If faith is important in your family, ask, “Where was God?” Or, “How could faith have made a difference for that character?”

Remember, dad, these media challenges with our kids are bonding and coaching opportunities. Issues that might seem difficult or negative can often become teachable moments for the future. And these can happen just about every day, so make sure you don’t get tired or bored of the process of shaping your child. Finding teachable moments in daily life should be a base play in your fathering game plan; it’s something you should be doing all the time.

2. Know your child. No matter what rating is stamped next to a movie, every child is unique. Not every 13-year-old is the same. Is your child deeply moved by on-screen drama? Is she ever mindful of the difference between fact and fiction? Would she understand the difference between necessary violence and gratuitous violence? Would she be haunted by violent scenes or would she be able to leave them in the theater?

The better you know your child, the better you’re be able to make wise decisions on specific media challenges that come along.

3. Don’t apologize for protecting your child. Not all movies, video games and websites are good for your child, and as a father, you have the right and the responsibility to set and enforce boundaries about what goes into your child’s mind, and protect him from danger.

Kids are growing up faster these days, but that isn’t always a good thing. They aren’t ready to handle adult issues and information; they don’t need to see violence and sex and forms of abuse. The heavy issues of the world can wait.

Don’t back down in the face of your child’s resistance because she can’t attend a sleepover where they’re showing a movie you object to. Don’t feel bad about restricting your son to video games that are rated for his age. Courageously change the channel or block the website when something inappropriate comes on.

Your kids will give you grief. They’ll call you unfair and out of touch. They’ll talk about what their friends’ parents allow them to do. But that’s okay—really! It’s your job to protect them.

Action Points for Dads on Handling Media Issues:

  • When you have to deny your children something, consider using these words (with a smile): “I love you too much to let you do things that aren’t good for you.”
  • Examine your own media use. As a role model, your kids watch what you watch.
  • Watch something funny with your kids on YouTube.
  • Help your family reevaluate the role of media in their lives by arranging for everyone to go “media free” for a day, weekend or longer. Brainstorm for other fun things to do together during that time.
  • Watch or listen to your children’s favorite programs or tapes. Empower your children by allowing them to make some viewing or listening decisions, subject to your approval. Listen to their impressions of their favorite shows or music.
  • Have a voice in programming and marketing. Call or write to local stations, networks and advertisers explaining why you approve or disapprove of programs. You can do the same at your local video or computer store. Get involved—and get your kids involved, too.

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There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.