How To Watch TV With Your Kids
Denise and her husband constantly worry about what their young sons are watching on TV. When kissing or other suggestive material comes up on the screen, she says, "I get very embarrassed sometimes and uncomfortable. I cover their eyes, make a joke or we laugh about it, but I don't want it to be like that. I don't know if that's the right thing to do or how to handle it."
What kids see on TV may color how they see the world. It may also affect the way they treat others and develop relationships. "You see people's interactions being modeled on TV and kids get a sense of what's normal on TV even if it's not," says Dr. Lawrence Balter, a child psychologist. "But that's the sense they get and that's what parents need to watch out for. By being proactive and getting involved in what your child is watching, you can use TV as a pro and as a platform to convey your morals and values to your children. It could be a great way of communicating if you pay attention."
Dr. Balter has advice for Denise -- and all parents -- about how to monitor your child's TV viewing. He says, "The key to it is what they're watching, not just the number of hours they're watching TV."
How to Handle...
Sex on TV
"Parents should trust their instincts more," says Dr. Balter. "If you're feeling uncomfortable watching something with your child, then it's not stuff for them to be viewing. It's something you should be watching in another room or when the kids aren't around. But if your kids happen to catch it during the day, use it as a platform to talk about stuff that they won't see on TV, like values or things you want to convey about sex. It will help to get the ball rolling on dialogue and you will get the opportunity to find out what they know."
"Violence is more of a concern to the experts than sex on TV is," says Dr. Balter. "Watching a lot of violence sometimes makes people become insensitive to what violence does and the affect it has. Young children are especially vulnerable because if they see something repeat on TV, they think it's happening more than once and could get scared." Rachael asks Dr. Balter what the best way to handle children's exposure to television violence. "You have to point out what's going on," Dr. Balter explains. "Give them a context in a way they will understand. Talk to them about what is causing the violence. Sometimes kids may be afraid and not realize why, so it's a parent's job to talk it out with them."
What You Can Do
• If the children watching TV are different ages, cater to the younger child and choose material that is appropriate for him/her.
• "Don't just leave TVs on in the background," cautions Dr. Balter. "Because stuff could be filtering in. Make a choice if you're going to sit down and watch the news if your kids are in the room, because you might have to be able to discuss some of those things with them."
• Take out some of the TVs in your home. "Too many TVs around the house isn't a good thing," says Dr. Balter. Having a TV in a common space also allows parents to keep better tabs on what kids are watching.
• Pick out specific programming for your kids. Dr. Balter advises: "I know it's hard, but it's really better to say 'let's pick out what we're going to watch today,' and not just 'let's watch TV.' You have to think about what they're watching before you plop them down in front of the TV."
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