By Karen Ann Cullotta, Special to Tribune Newspapers
August 1, 2012
Parents stunned by the recent shootings at a Colorado movie theater are no doubt newly determined to protect their children from escalating media violence.
But experts warn that the challenges are increasingly formidable.
"As parents we have less and less control these days," says David J. Schonfeld, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and the director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "For example, you can step on an elevator with a young child, and there's a screen playing a violent movie trailer that is very inappropriate. You can no longer prevent kids from seeing media violence, because it has become way too ubiquitous."
Plus, he adds, "if you are too prohibitive, you can end up losing all control — but you can help children make good choices."
To be sure, parents can shield kids by carefully monitoring their TV consumption, limiting movie viewing to films rated G or PG, and prohibiting their playing computer and video games with inappropriate content. But protecting adolescents is far more challenging, requiring a sobering parental reality check.
"Just saying 'no' to a teenager doesn't work, so it's important for parents to explain to them why viewing a violent movie or video game is not a good idea," Schonfeld says. "You have to help them make good choices. Otherwise, you are fooling yourself."
"It's a very scary time to be a parent," adds Jerald L. Newberry, executive director of theWashington, D.C.-based National Education Association's Health Information Network. Newberry urges parents to remain vigilant about limiting their children's access to technology. He recommends that children's bedrooms be technology-free zones, and that parents limit TV viewing and computer use to public spaces in the home, which can be more easily monitored. But, Newberry acknowledges, it can be difficult for parents to limit the media exposure of a child who is visiting a friend for a play date, or a teen hanging out at a friend's house.
Don't be afraid to call parents of your child's friends to ensure there is supervision of media use, Newberry says. "Especially with adolescents, you can't always take their word, and sometimes you need to walk in the door with them, and make sure that Mrs. Jones is really at home, and that Bobby has not been left alone for the weekend."
Still, with the influx of social media reaching an increasingly younger audience, some experts suggest that kids are more likely to be exposed to media violence via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, rather than from TV, film or video games.
"Children today are going to be exposed to tons of things we have little or no control over them seeing," says Jeannie Bertoli, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based marriage and family therapist. "Parents who have strong relationships with their children can mitigate, but never totally eliminate, the media violence their children are exposed to. But parents can control the information they give to their children, and the bond they have with them.
"As a society, we've let our activities and busyness take over our lives, and technology has filled in and let so many parents off the hook," says Bertoli, who advocates family time without technology. "We almost need to wipe the slate clean and decide, what do we want to put back on?"
Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping parents and caregivers understand the impact of media and discuss violent, real-life events with kids. Go to commonsensemedia.org and type "impact of media violence" or "explaining news" in the search field.
"Unfortunately, the acceptance and threshold for media violence seems to have gone up and up," says Marisa Connolly, a spokeswoman for Common Sense Media. "Media violence is certainly not going away, but there is an increasing market for family-friendly choices that certainly do not fall into that category. Parents need to actually participate in their children's media life, to provide a context, which is so important. You have to be there for them."
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