Tame Your Family’s Media Before it Takes Over Your Lives!
3 Simple Ways to Keep Your Family Media-Healthy
By Haley Johnson
When I was eight years old, I attended my best friend’s birthday party. Her parents were lavish with her, and the parties were extremely engaging. This particular year I remember being shocked and jealous when my friend opened her very first iPhone. I called home, still in the middle of the party, to tell my mom what this friend had gotten. I remember being quite put out with my mother’s response. She explained that although my friend had this gift that I thought was so wonderful, I would have to wait and prove that I was ready for such a responsibility.
At that time I didn’t realize what my mother already knew. Our generation was growing up at the very front of the digital frontier and we didn’t know what the effects of such technological immersion would be. She wanted to protect me from the potential dangers of the internet while she could.
Now, years later, we are seeing the negative ramifications of overexposure to media and how truly damaging they can be to the self-esteem and learning of children later in life. According to Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist, our children are exposed to “endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments. Could anyone imagine that it is possible to raise a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? There are no shortcuts to parenting, and we can’t trick human nature. Our children pay for the loss of well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being” (Prooday, 2017).
Did you know that “fully 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone, and 45% say that they are online almost constantly” (Anderson, 2018)? What is this constant exposure doing to our children? There is an obvious result: a sedentary, screen-filled life can create unhealthy eating and exercise habits which lead to obesity and ill health later in life. As a result, body image issues and lack of confidence in everyday actions arise. Other problems may also appear, ranging from sleep difficulty, negative school performance, glorification of substance abuse and risky behaviors, trading nudes, pornography exposure, and more. All of these effects can be mitigated, managed and even avoided with proper media education in your home.
Here are 3 ways to manage media before it manages you:
- Be patient. It may seem like sometimes your child is purposely ignoring everything you have asked them to do but often, just like we do, they get distracted. “It may sound obvious, but we sometimes forget, even when kids do rotten things, our goal should not be to make them feel bad, nor to stamp a particular behavior out of existence” (Kohn, 2006). Instead, our goal should be to foster trust and self-reliance. We need to help them be the best version of themselves that they can be, especially when they’re trying to get out of a media rut. When you notice your child being utterly distracted by media, help bring them back to the real world. Here are some alternatives:
- Ask them to join you in a one on one game–not on the computer or phone, but a board game or card game.
- Take your child out to get a smoothie and go for a walk in the park.
- Go to the library and pick out a book to read together and set up a time to read every day until the book is done.
It does not have to be a grand gesture, but if we show that we are willing to engage with them and put our own technology down too, we show that we truly value their thoughts and intellect.
- Limit screen time. If your child is using too much technology, try setting some specific rules about screen time use. Be sure to include your child in the process as you set the rules. Here are some easy ways to set boundaries:
- Set apart some time for a family meeting and create a Household Media Guideline together.
- Post your rules about screen time in a public place, so everyone is on the same page.
- Make a chore chart with tasks that your child needs to accomplish before they can engage with media. It might include goals such as: “30 minutes media time after dinner if homework is finished,” or “Shared sibling computer game time after all dishes are done and beds are made.”
Since media can be a huge distraction, teaching self-monitoring while kids are young will give them an advantage when they need to work without adult supervision. We also want to be examples of how to live a happy life without media, so make sure you give your children ideas on how to have fun without using screens, and show them that you have fun yourself without being connected to the internet.
- Be their teacher. Nowadays we are saturated in media-based living, and being sucked out of reality can be an easy mistake to make. “Using the Internet is like jet skiing, in which the jet skier is skimming along the surface of the water at high speed, exposed to a broad vista, surrounded by many distractions, and only able to focus fleetingly on any one thing” (Taylor, 2012).
Don’t be personally offended when your child is distracted by their phone. Instead, help them to focus on things that matter most. When I called home to tell my mother about the awesome gift of an iPhone, my mother taught me a powerful lesson. She kindly and patiently helped me to understand that I didn’t need the newest gadget to be happy. Remember your child is a full-time learner, and when they aren’t at school, you are their full-time teacher. Be the adult.
- Be gutsy and do what you think is right, not popular or easy.
- Disconnect from technology yourself and be the best example of a healthy lifestyle for your child.
- Do fun things without documenting them on social media to show that media isn’t necessary or needed.
From the time that our children are young, we must teach them media management. Your family must devise its own personal plan against the wiles of the internet. These little steps can help you to understand the nature of internet use in your home, while also keeping an open conversation about how to use media and when it is appropriate to do so. We never want our children to feel as though we disrespect them and their choices, but we do want to help guide them through this internet journey so they don’t find themselves stuck where they don’t want to be.
Do you want a way to educate your child about how to overcome media influences in their life? Check out our read-aloud children’s books, specifically Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure and Noah’s New Phone: A Story about Using Technology for Good. Both these fun, engaging stories are excellent sources for you and your child to read together to better understand the power of media and how to use it for good.
Haley Johnson has a Bachelors of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is passionate about learning, especially when it comes to relationships and family life. She hopes to one day be able to educate on a world-wide setting in regards to promoting goodness in the family, and destroying ideals that hurt society.
Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, May 31). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
Kohn, A. (2006) Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. New York, NY. Atria.
Taylor, J. (2012, December 4th). How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus
Prooday, V. (2017). The silent tragedy affecting today’s children. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://yourot.com/parenting-club/2017/5/24/what-are-we-doing-to-our-children