Timing of “the talk”

boy facing tv

We thought we had explained where babies come from thoroughly enough. But my daughter then looked at my wife and I with expectant brown eyes and said, “But how are babies made?” We each took a deep breath and figured that if she didn’t learn it from us she’d learn it from TV anyway, so we had the talk. We hadn’t even had the Santa talk yet! At 8 years old I thought it might be a bit early for the talk, but then I conducted some research that showed me that the timing of parent-child conversations about topics commonly seen in the media can make a huge difference.

I met one-on-one with 150 children ages 5-7 and 10-12. I showed each of them a 6-minute clip from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in which SpongeBob and Patrick Starr beat the crap out of each other. For some of the kids I talked with them about the violence in the episode before they watched it. For some I talked with them while they watched it, and for others it was after they watched it. And for some kids I didn’t have the conversation at all. Results showed that for younger kids (ages 5-7) it didn’t matter when the conversation took place—having the conversation at any time was better at reducing aggressive thoughts induced by watching the show than not having the conversation at all. But for older kids (ages 10-12), having the conversation before they watched it was better at reducing aggressive thoughts than having the conversation after they watched it. In fact, having the conversation after they watched it even resulted in them having more aggressive thoughts.

This is why I’m such a proponent of having important conversations early and often. When we as parents do this, the lessons we share with our kids can then help them interpret media when they are eventually exposed to it. When we wait to have these conversations, they’ve already been exposed to it, and it’s a lot harder to re-interpret what a child got from a media message than it is to help them interpret it the right way in the first place. Just like it’s easier to never start smoking than it is to stop. Prevention simply seems to work better than intervention.

What do you think? Have you had any related experiences?


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