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The television and stereo with their accessories — even home theaters — physically dominate our rooms at home almost as much as they dominate our children’s lives. Their sounds can overwhelm conversation. Children frequently are passively sitting there — often munching unhealthy snacks. Add to that the sounds of video and computer games, in which children are not passive, but interacting with the screen. To what degree is this a picture of your family and home?
There are several ways that we can influence what video and stereo are doing to our families and our youngsters. Synergistic Parenting advocates our taking initiative to influence the effects of video and music. We can involve our children in making decisions, so they become stakeholders in what our families do about video, music, and computer games.
If children talk sassy and talk back to parents as happens on sitcoms and other TV programs, challenge their tone of voice and behavior by calling it "TV-talk" or "sitcom-talk" and make clear that it is not appropriate in interactions in your family. This can help you develop in your children a critical attitude that questions the content of TV programs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two do not watch TV or videos! See this link for further information from physicians who specialize in children's health.
TV can lead to interacting
When they are absorbed by television programs, we need to be aware of the content of the programs. We need to respect their privacy, and give them their space. But we can work with them so that they welcome us to come into their space, and do not resent our looking at the tube with them. If we start when they are young, this is easier. If we start after they are adolescents, we do best to talk with each one and negotiate agreements about their sharing their space with us. Begin with careful I-messages that show your care and concern, be frank with your concerns, and listen thoughtfully to theirs.
Once we have some idea of what they are watching, let’s use that information for some conversation after programs end. For example, a young teen was watching a program with unusual intensity. Her father noticed, so he sat beside her to watch. After the program ended, they talked about the program, which quickly developed into serious and personal conversation. We as parents need to watch for programs that can lead to significant conversation. Useful programs for our interacting with our youngsters may be on any subject that fascinates your child. Then we do well to open the way for conversation, using communication skills of Synergistic Parenting.
We may also interact about commercials by playing "DECODE commercials". We can help them to be skeptical and questioning of commercials. Younger children often see no difference between programs and commercials.
The violence and sex in programs may trouble you, but it is hard to avoid. Much of the violence and sex is not necessary; compare films of decades ago where you knew it happened, but it was either not shown or not vivid. As you have openings with your kids, communicate and question the effects of that content on the thinking and feelings of your youngsters. Take the time to listen to your teen's feelings, and probe to what extent they are taken in by treatment of women as things, for example.
Besides commercial films there are many videos to watch with our children or as a family. When your teen is about ready to drive, or a youngster resists seat belts, view the Nova program on auto safety from a few years ago, that begins with a convertible driving very fast on an autobahn that flipped, yet the driver walked away and why. Other Nova programs on El Niño, repairing the Hubble telescope, etc. can be seen many times and not seem like old-stuff. Biography channel videos are rewarding for repeat watchings. I think every home should have their video about Jackie Robinson as well as videos about others whose lives inspire and give directions. There are many other sources for videos we can rent or buy.
Make your own
There are parental control programs, but hackers and others are constantly finding ways to get around them or to exploit them. No computer program can replace your involvement in your child's computer work in gentle and accepted watching and working with them. Not snooping into what links your teen recently viewed will help, because such snooping violates trust in parents. And that is the basis for working with your teen about the sites he chooses to view, or those that intrude.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, and used since by many. Perhaps parents could print that pithy quote to put on the bathroom mirror or elsewhere to remind all of two equally essential values: liberty and eternal vigilance, so our children learn and mature in the practice of liberty and responsibility.
Eliminate the television?
Where do they feel "at home"?
Musical preferences change. A friend reported with shock that her teen told of liking the music of Ringo Starr, then added that the teen had heard Ringo used to be part of "some group." That group was the Beatles — one of my friends's favorites since her early teens! Perhaps your teen will listen with you to the favorites of your younger years and lead to significant conversation. How about the Beetles' "When you're sixty-four?"
Read with your children
Personalize your reading; for example, when reading substitute your child's name. Add personal links. Instead of the giant saying, "I smell the blood of an Englishman," use the name of your state. As I read stories to our red-haired youngster, I sometimes added red hair to descriptions. He guessed there was no red-hair in the original, but he enjoyed it.
When reading the classic Where the Wild Things Are, when Max says "BE STILL!" and tames the wild things, talk with your child about staring down obstacles.
Consider ways that we can read to each other. The child in elementary school can share reading with parents, helping parents to see how accurately they are reading. And the reading can be interactive as parents ask questions about the reading and discuss it with the child.
Teens in secondary school often are introduced to literature that has been read and appreciated for centuries. This literature can be shared within the family, and you can talk about it and your feelings to make it come alive.
For one example, check out Samuel Taylor Coleridge's long poem Christabel. Poetry is often best read aloud slowly, to ponder images, such as lines 123—134 that reflect beliefs about witches and evil persons, and the lines leading up to
The old, female mastiff watch dog, though asleep, senses an evil presence — who?
Literature that has lived for centuries can provide family interactions that stimulate imagination better than television or video games.
A critical advantage of reading is the reader must supply the visuals and sounds. The reader's imagination is stimulated and grows as what is read comes vividly alive. Our imaginations can become more interesting than the images and sounds supplied by television and games.
Video and computer games
Some computer games are role playing games without violence. A game called "Journey to Wild Divine" makes biofeedback interesting and useful to lead players to deeper relaxation.
When Brittheny was shot and killed by a pair of middle school students in Jonesboro, Ark, her mother, Suzanne Wilson said, as reported in the New York Times, "We teach our children, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ and then we let them play hours and hours of the most violent video games. I say let the children go to funerals. Let them see what happens after the shots are fired. Let’s show them the empty bedroom. Let them know that death is final."
As a retired pastor, who has seen more of dying and death that most, I must say that our society has made death too pretty. In the past death was a harsh reality, but today in many parts of our society death is not visible in its horror and finality.
I fear that our movies and TV have made death seem un-deathlike. The actor killed in one episode is active again next week. I don’t suggest gory scenes on TV, but ask you as mature parents to think about how you can work with each of your children to see that they learn the absolute and utter finality and horror of death.
Copyright © 2006 John F. Yeaman