Should I worry about the negative effects of media?

Question

I have noticed the past few days when my son is playing with his cars he is playing a bit violently, like bad guys and good guys. One is stealing candy or pushing the other car out of the way to win. Unfortunately I think it may have come from something he had watched. I was trying today to share with him how it feels to help others even if it means they win and that that makes your heart feel happy while trying to hurt others to win doesn't feel good. I am not sure how overly concerned I need to be and I can't undo what he has seen on the screen. And I am trying not to feel bad for letting him watch these things while I was not feeling well. I am being more mindful of what he watches even if that means he might not like that he can't watch his particular car shows. I guess I am wondering how to guide him when I hear him playing this way.


-B.R., Washington

mother of 4 year old boy



Answer

Dear B.R.,


I appreciate your question and your efforts to guide your son away from contractive behavior. I think you are very wise to realize how much children do pick up from the media they watch. Having been a principal for sixteen years, I can tell you that it was not difficult for teachers to know which children watched videos and played video games that were not child-friendly. It would be a good idea not only to steer him away from those, but to actively seek out uplifting videos and books to read to him. Surrounding him with examples of kind behavior will do more to help him than any amount of explaining how this or that is wrong. As he gets older, you can also give him some experiences of helping others so he can know how good it feels.


At the same time, I would not worry too much about this phase. If you see him playing violently, try to help him expand his thinking a bit by asking him if he is "protecting the children" or "saving the town." Just plant in his mind a higher purpose. But many children do seem to "try on" selfish or violent pretend play and grow up to be kind and loving people. If you give it too much energy, it can increase his fascination with such actions more.


Keep up the thoughtful parenting!

Usha



Dear B.R.,

As Usha said, you're already doing the right thing in terms of becoming more aware and maybe more selective in what you allow him to watch. I wouldn't worry too much about trying to "correct" the impression that was made. It is really normal and natural for kids to process and try out things through their play. We see this often at the school.


While I wouldn't want you to waste too much energy in regret, it does give you an understanding of the impression that these things are making and I think you're right to choose something else if you're noticing it having a less than positive effect. Until they are older and have developed their own intellect and discrimination they need our help. Think of it like junk food vs. health food. We sometimes like to have sweets but we want to be conscious of quality and quantity and help them develop a taste for more uplifting and expansive content.

Common Sense Media is a good guide for getting insights into what kinds of material is actually in a show or movie (and books too!) without having to watch it. There are several categories they use to rate media (as you can see in the picture below) but there are also usually detailed reviews from other parents and kids to give you insights as well as a pretty accurate age ratings that generally match what we would recommend in our EFL schools.




However, they do not have the same insight into consciousness and values that we would recommend so I would suggest you continue to be observant of your son's energy and behavior in response to what he consumes. Everything we watch makes an impression and has an influence on our consciousness so as Usha said, make conscious choices and put your energy into finding uplifting influences rather than feeling like you must undo this contractive influence.

If you'd like we can talk more about some screen-free alternatives that might allow you when you're needing a break. I know many families use audio books when they need a little quiet to get dinner ready or something. Again, you'd want to choose wisely and not let it replace your reading together but it's a tool that could be used in a pinch without the same level of "screen" involved.

With joy,

Erin