Kids and mass media: teach children how to make good choices

Teach kids to make good media choices

There was a time when there were a few gatekeepers standing between a child and the books or television shows they chose. There was the teacher, the school librarian and/or the local librarian; parents, grandparents, and concerned adults.

Access was also limited; most families had one, maybe two radios in the house, as well as the one in the car - which Dad controlled without question. The living room furniture was arranged around the only screen in the entire house, and even if you were early adopters of new technology and your TV set was operated with a remote control, kids still never debated who was in command of their viewing choices. He who sits in the recliner makes the decisions.

Today, nothing but a keyboard or touchscreen lies between your child and the latest thing, not only in literature, but in television, movies, and music. Children have the ability to connect instantly with mass media and with their friends.

Also within reach are the actors who star in their favorite TV shows, and authors who used to be a picture on a dust jacket are just a tweet away. Kids can read about and interact with the writers and celebrities they admire on social media and by reading and commenting on their blogs.

In most areas of the country, the local librarian may be able to help you discern the best choices in the books your child expresses interest in reading. You can reach out to friends and family for help as well. However, if others don't share your values, their opinions and insights may not be all that useful.

"I'll just use internet filters, parental controls, and put severe limits on their access to technology " you may be thinking. I hate to burst your bubble, but that is only a temporary solution.

The most effective, long term solution is not more filtering or parental controls. It's teaching kids how to make good choices.

Our children need us to invest time and energy helping them make moral, ethical, and beneficial choices in their media consumption. Just as we used to tell them at the supper tableto 'eat their veggies' if they wanted to grow up big and strong, they need to be encouraged to focus on well-written, thought-provoking literature. We must teach them to discern the themes and metaphors running through the plot lines of their favorite television shows and movies, and to understand the physical and emotional impact of music on their minds and hearts.

Just putting limits on their access doesn't teach them anything - except that we don't trust their judgment, and we don't have time to help them learn to develop it. Is that the message we want them to get from us?

I know sometimes it feels like new technology has given us a few conveniences but a mountain of parental problems to deal with. I'm sure when telephones were hanging on the walls of nearly every home, parents shuddered at the thought of their kids just picking up this thingamajig and being able to talk to their friends and God only knows who else!

However, with the new technology come the tools do help us figure it all out. We can read reviews of books on, Goodreads, and book review blogs. We can even go to the author's blogs and find out the impetus and ideas behind their books.

Movies and television shows are also reviewed, rated, and categorized by some very thorough and, in my opinion, trustworthy websites, such as Kids in Mind.

We still have work to do, parents. These tools can't make decisions for you, and they can't teach your kids about making good choices all by themselves. What they can do is give you valuable information about the content in books and movies so you can find media consistent with your family's values and appropriate for your child's age and maturity. You also gain the kind of knowledge needed to be able to discuss popular culture and the latest trends with your kids, and help them learn to process it all according to Scriptural principles.

Kids don't develop a moral compass on their own - parents have to show them True North and teach them to navigate.

Although the availability of technology has stripped away a few layers of protection between your child and the mass media, it has also given us a few tools with which to handle these new challenges.

And no matter what new challenges come along, it has always been and will continue to be the responsibility of Dads and Moms to be proactive and vigilant. We must be effective role models, available to answer our child's questions with patience, compassion, intelligence, courage, and spiritual understanding.

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