Parents as teammates: Effects of consistent media rules

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I think it happens in most two-parent households. A well-meaning child will ask one parent for permission to do something, and when the answer is ‘no,’ the child goes to the other parent and asks the same question. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve given permission to my kids, or not, when my wife has given the opposite answer. Sneaky little things kids can be!

When it comes to setting rules about media in the house, it turns out inconsistency in rules between parents can cause quite the stir in a child’s mind. New research from scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Indiana University, and The Ohio State University, surveyed more than 1,200 American parents of kids ages 2-17 and found that inconsistent media rules (when one parent says one thing while the other parent says something else) results in several negative outcomes:

  • First, it creates conflict between parents. Of course, it does.
  • Second, it leads to children viewing more media violence because media rules appear to default to the less restrictive parent’s rules
  • Third, this increased exposure to media violence leads to increases in children’s physical and verbal aggression, and to increases in “internalizing and externalizing behaviors” (such as feeling unhappy and losing one’s temper)

In other words, in two-parent households, it is better for children if their parents are on the same page when it comes to media rules. And it is not enough for only one of the parents to be media literate and to take the lead on media parenting.

So, the next time your child asks to do something on media, don’t fall for it! Asking, “What did mom/dad say?,” may give you the information you need to help your child make a wise media decision.

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