I get asked all the time by concerned parents about what they can do to help their child navigate today’s media world. Should I let my daughter use Snapchat? What about video games? How do I get them off their phone and talking to real people? Over the last few decades researchers in the field of media and children have conducted dozens of studies to determine what parents can do to help their kids avoid the negative effects of media exposure. Of most interest has been the effect of media exposure on children’s aggression, sexual behaviors, and substance use. A study that will be published next month in Developmental Psychology looks at nearly 60 of these studies as a group and found that talking to kids about media content is related to less aggression, reduced participation in sexual behavior, and less substance use (here is a brief summary of the study).
So, my answer to parents is this: Talk to your kids as much as possible about media! Share your opinion. No matter how many rules you set about media, your child will still be exposed to things you don’t want them to see. But if you talk to them, your opinion just might sink in and allow your child to reinterpret the media messages to which they are exposed. Talking is an easy way to have a big impact on children.