“Because I said so!”—how giving kids reasons for your rules helps avoid negative media effects

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Do you ever wish your kids would listen to you without them asking the oft-dreaded question, “why”? Why do I have to put on pants, Dad? Why do I have to use silverware when my hands work just fine, Mom? Why do I have to shower when I’m just going to get dirty again? Despite the sometimes superhuman effort it takes to provide answers to all the “why” questions when you set a rule for your kids, new research shows that providing reasons for the rules might make all the difference.

In a study released just this month by some of my friends in The Netherlands, 1,029 adolescents ages 10-14 were surveyed about the rules parents set for them about media use. The study found that rules about TV led to less media violence exposure and to decreased aggression among kids, but only when the rules were accompanied by questions or statements that helped explain the reasons for the rules. The authors call this “autonomy-supportive” media rule-setting. In other words, when kids understand the reasons why they aren’t allowed to participate in some media activities, it looks like they are more willing to follow instructions.

This research provides additional support for the notion that setting rules alone is not sufficient to manage children’s media use, especially as children approach adolescence. Conversations, and specifically, conversations that help kids understand “why,” seem to be the most helpful.

So, the next time you get the urge to answer “Because I said so,” remember that if they understand why they need to use a tissue instead of your shirt (or why they need to stop playing a video game), they might just listen.

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