If It’s On TV is it OK?
By Deborah Gilboa
(Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Pittsburgh-area physician,who also dispenses parenting advice on HuffPost Parents and Twitter. You can find her at AskDoctorG.com and on her YouTube channel.)
When our kids were younger, we knew (and often watched) most of what they watched on TV. We went to movies together. Listened to music in the car. We were the tour guides in the media world.
Now? Mostly, we’re sitting at home reading the postcards—texts!—our teens send as they travel that world without us. But are the music, movies and YouTube videos having an impact on our teenagers? And can our messages ring louder than what they see, hear and learn from what they watch?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!” to both those questions. On an upcoming episode of iq:smartparent, a television show in Pittsburgh, a panel of experts explored this topic. Here are some important lessons.
Watching negative behavior in the media increases teenagers’ mimicry of that behavior, explained Steve Martino, Ph.D., of The Rand Corporation. For example, on TV and in movies, writers often use smoking as a way to show that a character is dangerous or cool. As a result, some teens may try smoking or seek out relationships with smokers, which makes them more likely to smoke themselves. Alcohol and drugs are also prevalent—and often made glamorous—in the media, with the same impact as cigarettes.
Meanwhile, rates of violence and sexual intimacy also rise with the number of hours teens watch characters engage in those activities. As Angela Santomero, a longtime television writer, pointed out, kids raised in the United States will see about 200,000 acts of violence on TV before age 18, making them both more likely to act aggressively or permit others to behave that way towards them. Teens who watch sexually explicit scenes are twice as likely to be teen parents as teens who watch little to none of these scenes.
So kids and teens learn from media constantly. How can we help them learn positive messages?
- Keep watching together. Teens do care about parents’ opinions. Instead of attacking a show or its characters, use it as a great “expert consult” with your teen. “Why do you think she made that choice? What would happen if she did this instead? What might one of your friends do in that situation?”
- Challenge teens to find the propaganda. Nobody likes to be fooled. Encourage your kids to find the “trick” – from product placement to actual manipulation, teach them to be critical consumers.
- Be clear about values, but respectful. As a teen in our studio audience said, conversations about content can help, as long as parents don’t make their kids feel like babies.
- Walk the talk. Do your teens know what you watch and why? Is it clear from your viewing habits what you admire about media?