By Mary Teresa Bitti
Wouldn’t it be great if Babar and The Wiggles stayed cool and you didn’t have to worry about your six-year-old wandering into the realm of South Park or Survivor? Alas, now that they’re more savvy with the remote than you are, they may surf way past YTV and Treehouse to a universe that includes women wrestling in bikinis and back-to-back episodes of The Sopranos.
You can thank their new sense of adventurous tv viewing in part, anyway, on their new buddies at school. “Up until this time they simply watched what we wanted them to watch,” says Julie Freedman Smith, co-owner of Parenting Power, a family resource and education company in Calgary. The trick now is to establish and reinforce your family’s values, which will likely differ from those of others. “That is something we need to think about, because it extends way beyond television. tv is one piece of a bigger picture.”
Right. So how do you make sure the picture on tv is one you want your child to see? Start by establishing a set of rules, as much for yourself as for your kids, around tv time.
Place the TV within view
Brenda King of Mississauga, Ont., has a tv in the kitchen and one in the family room – great for keeping tabs on 10-year-old Matthew. “I can easily see what he’s watching,” she says. If there’s a tv in your child’s bedroom or even a basement playroom, you give up a lot more control. Of course, you won’t always be there to monitor what’s on the tube. If you feel strongly about making sure your child doesn’t watch certain programs when he visits friends, let the other parents know.
Take in your children’s shows
“This is helpful for knowing whether the message is one your children are ready for,” says Freedman Smith. “If it’s a new program that you haven’t seen, ideally watch it beforehand so you can decide whether or not it’s appropriate.” Don’t assume it’s suitable just because it looks like a kids’ program. Check out the program reviews, written by parents and experts, at the non-profit site commonsensemedia.org.
Talk to your kids about what they see on the tube
That’s exactly what Trina Duffy of Winnipeg does with her twin daughters, Alex and Jackie, now 13. “I always made a point, particularly when they were younger, to talk about what’s real and what’s not. That’s particularly important when you’re watching outrageous stunts or car chases,” says Duffy. She is also concerned about how romance is portrayed on tv. No snuggling up to The Bachelor in the Duffy household. If a show has promiscuous behaviour in it, she will turn it off or change the channel, explaining to the girls why she feels it’s inappropriate. “This is one way you can use media to your advantage, because it can allow you to talk about your values, and how not everybody is going to make the same choices your family might make,” says Freedman Smith. “If your kids stumble across a show you’d rather they didn’t see, instead of sweeping it under the rug, talk about it.”
Promote purposeful TV time
That means turning the tv on for a specific show at a specific time rather than channel surfing out of boredom. If your children have a program they like or there’s one you like them to watch, turn on the tv for that show only. If you want the tv on at a different time – say, during arsenic hour while you’re trying to get dinner together – record that fave and play it then. In the King household, tv viewing is confined to snack time after homework is done, while Brenda is preparing dinner. Matthew goes to one of three favourite, parent-approved stations. “He doesn’t channel hop.”
Practise what you preach
“My husband and I don’t watch shows that we think would be inappropriate for the girls when they’re around,” says Duffy. “If I want to watch an adult-rated movie, I’ll do it when they are asleep or away at a sleepover.”