Tips to guide your child towards healthy media habits
Byline: Judith Xavier
We live in an age where most children are regularly exposed to media, in one form or another. As more media options become available, children are using them more frequently, and from a younger age. A 2015 Media Development Authority survey reported a steep jump in the number of children who used social media, compared to the previous year. Managing our children’s media consumption habits has been added to the list of parenting duties, and doing this successfully without turning the home into a battleground between parent and child, requires wisdom, patience and some finesse.
Educate Your Children
It is never too early to teach your children about the effects of media, or make them more conscious of how often they are exposed to it and how it can affect them. A simple exercise is to watch TV together with your child, and share specific examples of why one show is fine to watch, but another isn’t, because of the values and language it espouses.
Often, children benefit from seeing ‘the big picture’ and understanding the reasons for doing something, rather than simply obeying rules for the sake of it. By teaching your children about media and the need to approach it wisely, you are less likely to face arguments and tantrums when establishing ground rules for media use.
Offer Healthy Alternatives
Conflicts around media use in the home often arise when parents lay down the limits, and the conversation ends there. Offer your child healthier activities as an alternative to watching TV, playing computer games or being on social media, once they’ve reached their imposed limit. This is especially important in the early days of establishing the new rules, to guide and encourage your child to explore new activities and interests. This can be a good opportunity to develop a family hobby, and spend quality time together.
Encourage Wise Media Use
Avoiding media entirely is an unrealistic aim, particularly for older school-going children who will likely need to use it for projects and learning. Rather, guide your child to make wise media decisions by asking themselves these simple questions:
- When I view/use this media, what is the message conveyed to me? Is this information true?
- How long should be I on this media?
- Can I be using this time in a better way?
Your child isn’t going to give up their favourite TV shows and online games entirely, but they will begin to make more deliberate choices about their media use. Over time, with experience and maturity, you will find that your child will regulate themselves without your prompting.
Model Positive Media Habits
Perhaps the greatest struggle that parents face, is setting a good example for our children, through our own media habits. Children are incredibly observant, and will do as we do, rather than as we say. Thus, parents need to make a conscious effort to model positive habits in this area. Consider creating a ‘media-free’ zone in the home where family members can focus on connecting with each other rather than glued to a device. You can also design a family media plan together, to decide how and when each member of the family can access media.
The ultimate goal in helping your children develop healthy media habits is not simply to put limits on their media use, but rather, guide them to have a sensible attitude towards media in the long run. Let these simple tips serve as a starting point to make your family more media-wise in the New Year!