It’s a recurring theme in our family life. The tapping of keys at the keyboard, the alluring glow of a DSi, mobile phone or iPod Touch, eyes glazed over oblivious to the conversation nearby.
Sound familiar? In just one generation we’ve gone from radio and four channels on TV to a whole Pandora’s box of continual media, demanding our attention or distracting us from other pursuits.
If you’ve been struggling to maintain some kind of balance of media consumption in your home, or have become frustrated over attempts to restrict what your children view, you are not alone. But where do you even start?
While most parents don’t think twice about exerting some influence over their child’s appearance (at least pre-teen), meals or behaviour, many are bewildered when it comes to setting limits on media.
There is no easy answer; each family needs to navigate through this issue depending on the age and maturity of their kids, but there are some practical ways to curb the time and influence that the media exerts over our children, as well as us.
Firstly, be aware of how media is consumed both in and out of your home. Stay informed about your child’s internet use and avoid TVs, computers and consoles in bedrooms (even amidst complaints that everyone has these things in their room). Make yourself familiar with the gadgets they own and what they are used for.
When our [then] seven year old son received a new DSi for his birthday, we had already agreed that it should not be used before school, nor till after homework has been completed. Agree the limits in advance with your child, otherwise you may well find your offspring permanently attached to their gadget every waking hour.
Discuss the concerns you have and the reasons for them. Encourage open conversation about what your child has seen or heard, trying as best you can to not appear too alarmed by what they may share with you! Discuss issues of cyberbullying and personal safety. Have a look at websites such as thinkuknow to get better informed.
There’s nothing wrong with establishing a few rules when it comes to managing the media in your house; like only having censored versions of CDs or mp3 tracks, rather than the expletive ridden originals from artists such as Tinie Tempah or Plan B. Likewise feel free to insist on adhering closely to the age restrictions on DVDs and video games.
One rule we’ve adopted is ‘No phones’ at the meal table. Texting is only allowed once others have left the table. This allows for uninterrupted conversation as well as the learning of some manners. (And, yes, this rule does get broken now and again, but at least phones aren’t a regular mealtime feature.)
Use technology to help you
Find out about and use parental software controls, passwords on computers and TV (Google it!) Explain to your child that you will be monitoring their TV and internet use and that certain sites are off limits (I highly recommend Open DNS for a free internet filtering service that protects every computer in the house. There are variable options and restrictions. Check it out here.)
Be a good role model
Look at your own media habits. Are you always glaring at your laptop or hooked to your smartphone? Chances are that your child will copy you. Show restraint, for example, by not spending hours on the internet every night and try restricting social media to certain times of day.
You’ve got the power
Lastly, do not forget that you are the parent with the power to unplug or remove a gadget from your child, particularly if signs of addiction are evident. (Refusing to eat or get dressed is a sure-fire indication, but there are others.)
In setting up some limits and restrictions, there will be more opportunities available to take back family time together. Often we’ve lost the art of relaxing without a screen or gadget; but this can be good for health, well being and relationships. Why not play a board game or go for a walk together? Or be more creative by painting, learning an instrument or a new hobby.
When the possibility of further electronic items is removed, kids generally find they actually enjoy themselves (after their initial moan). In our family we’ve noticed that we become more thoughtful of one another, a sense of humour restored and brighter faces return from time spent outdoors. We’re still far from having everything sussed in this area, but we’re trying to have some measure of control over our media habits, rather than allow technology and the media to control us.
This article was first published in 2012 by Lookingatlife, a former webzine of Care for the Family. Written by Annie Carter