Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kids and Media

I suppose it's one of the classic dilemmas of parenting: how do you navigate the pressure to allow your children to do things that you may not necessarily want them to do? How do you draw the line in a way that is respectful of your own rules and values while also respecting your child's desire to fit in? And for that matter, where do you draw the line, particularly as kids get older and more capable of making decisions for themselves? How do you decide whether the issue at hand is a "hill to die on" or not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things?

I'm quite sure every generation of parents runs into this dilemma. I have recently begun encountering it more myself, and it's definitely a tricky situation to navigate. For me, it's been coming up lately in regards to media. It would seem that I am fairly strict about what I allow my oldest son (age 10) to watch and play. As a general rule, we haven't allowed M-rated video games, R-rated movies (and truth be told, we rarely allow PG-13 movies-- the Marvel movies are the major exception), or TV-14 shows.

I can keep being strict. I would be completely within my rights as a parent to do so. But at the same time, I do understand that kids desperately want to fit in with their friends. And while I'm certainly not going to do whatever it takes to make sure they fit in, I do want them to at least not be totally left out when other kids talk about TV, video games, etc. I know there are bigger, more significant issues ahead of us... so I want to be able to take a stand on the ones that are VERY important to me, and perhaps not put my foot down on every little thing. Because I understand another thing about children: as they get older, they will start making more and more decisions for themselves, and I want them to be able to determine what they value and make good decisions for themselves. I don't believe that restricting every single thing that I don't 100% agree with will help them move in that direction; in fact, I believe that if I try to strictly control all these things for too long, they will end up sneaking around while they're still young and/or making poor decisions for themselves when they do reach adulthood.

So here's what I'm trying to do. I have no idea if it's the "right" thing to do, but it feels like the best approach to me so far, and as the parent, I reserve the right to change things if needed. ;) I'm starting to allow a bit more freedom in these areas-- interestingly, while it's more freedom than I'm totally comfortable with, it still seems that I'm stricter than many other parents.

For example, I recently made the (very tough) decision to allow my ten year old to play a video game I wasn't entirely comfortable with: Halo. Most of his other friends are allowed to play it, and he had been invited to a sleepover where I knew the kids would want to play this particular game. It was quite a dilemma for me. I talked it over with my husband, looked it up on Common Sense Media, read reviews, pondered, deliberated... and finally decided to allow him to play it at the sleepover. However, we made it clear that we would not be buying the game for our house, and that several other games were still absolutely not allowed. (Like, um, Call of Duty? Absolutely NOT.)

Would other parents disagree with my choice? Probably. Some would say I'm being too lax by allowing him to play Halo at his friend's house; others would say I'm being too strict by setting limits at all. I personally still don't like the game... but I don't feel like this particular issue is the hill to die on. Not at this age, and not with the other issues I know will be coming our way over the next several years. Pick your battles, you know? I can't control these things forever, and I believe we're getting into the years where I have to start relaxing a bit and allowing him a little more freedom. Of course it's important for us to talk about the elements of the game that are objectionable and why-- and not just in a way where I'm telling him what I don't like. I want to hear his opinions as we work through the issue. He needs to learn how to critically think about these things for himself. For that matter, I think that's also true for movies, TV shows, and music: let's talk about this stuff together. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? What do you agree and disagree with, and why?

Obviously I'm still pretty new to this, but I'm doing the best I can. It's difficult to balance my own ideals and values (I detest violent video games) with culture and my child's desires. It's going to get even trickier as he gets older. There are some areas where I will allow more leeway as he gets older; there are other areas where I know I will have to put my foot down even though he will hate it.

I have so many more thoughts about children and media, but I think I should probably stop here for now. Maybe another time. ;) But I would love to hear from you guys, particularly parents who've been through this. How did you navigate similar struggles with your pre-teens and teenagers?

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