As adults, most of us have fond memories of spending long summer days outside. Many of us can recall the summer we discovered a new author, garnered the courage to jump off the high diving board, or built a tree house. While most PJA students list activities like those as what they look forward to as the school year winds down, many tell us that summer vacation also means more time to surf the Web, watch TV, download iTunes, go to the movies and play video games. And, if, as one student told me, summer vacation means “parents can’t use that ‘after you finish your homework’ line,” how do we help children balance media exposure with other activities? How much media consumption is too much? What media choices are best?
Two organizations – Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) and The Parents Choice Foundation (www.parents-choice.org) – offer valuable resources to help parents navigate the fast-moving media world. Both provide reviews of “hot” video games and current movies, as well current research about the impact of media usage. While no website or research study can answer each parent’s questions about what is right and best for individual families and children, experts do agree on these general guidelines:
- Set family rules and stick to them. "It's just like anything else in parenting," says Peter Katz of Common Sense Media. "You've got to set guidelines." While those guidelines can vary from family to family (and might change for the summer) children need to know you will follow them. Consistency through the years is also important, Katz adds. "If you are a permissive parent for the first six years, it makes it harder to switch that off later on."
- Limit screen time. In setting your family rules, keep in mind that most experts recommend no more than one to two hours of 'screen time' (TV, DVDs, computers and video games) per day. It's important to consider that it's not just TV but all forms of media that need to be considered when setting guidelines.
- Be conscious of age-appropriateness. "What's OK for 8 isn't OK for 4," says Claire Green, president of the Parent’s Choice Foundation. Use your judgment and consult media reviews. Be aware that although several companies are marketing videos for babies and toddlers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under the age of 2. Learn not just what the different TV, movie and video games ratings mean, but why a particular show or game was given its rating. As you consider ratings, give equal consideration to your own values and child’s development and temperament. Remember that a PG-13 rating on a movie doesn't necessarily mean that all 13-year-olds are ready to see it or that a younger child shouldn't see it. If your child is prone to nightmares, he or she may not be ready for a “scary” G movie.
- Use media together. Whenever you can, watch, play, listen and surf with your child and talk about the content. Have regular family movie nights and use them as opportunities to watch together and discuss. Be on the alert for “teachable moments”. Pose questions like “Why do you think the characters are being mean to each other?” or “what would really happen if a person did what that video game character is doing?” When your child expresses interest in a particular topic, visit relevant Internet sites together and use that as an opportunity to help them assess the usefulness and biases of particular sites. Show children where they're allowed to go, not just where they're not.
Finally, be a role model! Remember that children attend more to what we do than to what we say! If your children see you spending hours as a couch potato or tethered to your iPhone, you will undermine your message of moderation. Share your fondest summer activity memories with your children. Get their opinions about the books you loved the summer after you were in third grade, jump off the diving board with them, or go build something together! Have a wonderful summer!!
Tuesday June, 12, 2012 at 01:27PM
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