Terry J. Basile, Marriage and Family Therapist
Every generation of parents has new challenges to manage due to some new behavior that has become popular in our culture, effecting our children’s emotional or physical development. Grandparents will remember struggling over the first Parental Advisory stickers on their children’s music because of profanities in a song. Little did we know, once that barrier was broken, there would be a flood of changes in the world of media.
Parents have been struggling for the last decade with managing the effects of the digital world on our children and families. Much has been written of the negative effects of letting your child compulsively play computer games. Many parents are feeling left out by their pre-teen and older children who only communicate with another human being through texts. It is quite the challenge!
To counter some of the negative effects of our electronic age, I would encourage parents to be proactive and focus on how to use our digital devices to enrich our children’s lives.
Here are some suggestions:
Create a family night and watch documentaries with your children. Let each family member take a turn picking out the show they want to share. Now that we have so many ways to watch any video and at any time, this enables us to be in charge of what we watch as a family. I love how often animal shows bring in information about climate change, and land development that effect the habitat and the behavior of the animal. Developing rainforests may not only change weather patterns, they force the animal to hunt for food from the livestock of angry local farmers or in the garbage of townspeople. Ask your child how they would solve these problems. Research online to find possible alternative solutions. Use this as a moment to teach your children that there is a cause and effect to all behavior. This concept is vital to their developing the ability to monitor their own actions now and in the future.
Since our children are connected to minute by minute information about the lives of movie stars, media personalities and sports figures, use that information to ask some thoughtful questions about the motivation behind certain behaviors. For example, “What do you think would cause a player to refuse to stand up for our national anthem?” Challenge their thought processes gently. Bring it down to their own level by asking what they would do if they thought someone in their family was being mistreated by a group of people. Talk about how in our history, passive resistance has been used instead of violence to bring about change, so you are teaching history while responding to a current event. While the major media outlets will always have an opinion and perhaps an agenda to sensationalize on events, it is key that we teach our children how to think for themselves and dissect the news so they can develop their own opinions.
Along with all the junk our children are exposed to online, there are also many good programs and outlets to information available. Encourage your child to add some links like: pbs.org, timeforkids.com, or kids.nationalgeographic.com. Follow them yourself so you can talk to your kids about what they are learning. Dr. Jane Goodall has a program called, “Roots and Shoots” that can be followed online and joined across the country that teaches children how to practically help our environment. We want our children to have the knowledge to support them being active citizens of the world they will inherit.
The internet can open up a child’s world in a way nothing has before. Sit down and explore the world with them through maps. Determine a country or culture they would like to know more about. Maybe it is where a relative, classmate, or neighbor came from. Find out if there is anyone available to write or email your child so they have a more personal experience of another country. You can also explore pen pal sites for kids, online.
What about YouTube? It has so many informational videos that you could build just about anything with your child. So, find a craft or project together and build it. This is a great way to have quality time and make a special memory. Then, take a picture and brag about it online.
I love how texting is a great way to keep track of older children. Yet, it is also a great way to offer support and appreciation. Just send random little ‘love notes’ throughout the week like, “Thanks for a great job on your room,” or “You have a great smile.” You can also just send a fun emoji to brighten their day. Reminding a child that you are always thinking of them is a powerful way to stay connected.