For many, a new year means a new start. A chance to get rid of some bad habits and replace them with some healthy habits. Most new year’s resolutions include going to the gym more often, finally shedding that extra 10 or 15 lbs., eating healthier or establishing better work or study habits; but you should also consider making some media resolutions for the new year that can have a lasting, positive impact on you and your family.
1. Watch (or listen, or play) with Your Kids
Parents, whatever they might say to the contrary, your kids enjoy spending time with you! They value your company and your guidance. But in today’s increasingly fragmented media marketplace, it is too often the case that every member of the family is being pulled in a different direction by their own media preferences. Maybe mom is checking Facebook with her laptop in the kitchen. Maybe dad is in the rec room watching TV. Maybe the teen son is texting his friends using his phone and the young daughter is listening to music alone in her room. You don’t need to be joined at the hip all day every day, but the sad reality is that most of us don’t get that much time with our kids once they’re done with school and extracurricular activities. Once kids hit school age you have fewer opportunities to interact, engage, share your values and help shape their outlook on the world, and even fewer chances once they hit high school and start spending more and more time away from home and with friends.
Most children spend more time with media than with any other socializing influence outside of school – that includes parents. If you want to play a role in helping your child develop his or her value system, you must engage while you have time, before the media he or she is consuming has the last say. Sharing media with your children (watching TV with them, listening to the music they listen to, playing video games with them) is not only a good way to fully understand the messages your child might be exposed to, but it’s also the best way to mitigate against any potentially damaging or harmful messages in the media they are consuming.
2. Cut Back
There’s a slew of hazards associated with too much media use that range from disturbed sleep patterns to reduced academic performance and lower reading scores, to unhealthy bodyweight and violent behavior.
Meanwhile, we know that kids have unprecedented access to screens. From the ability to stream content over smartphones and other Internet-connected devices, to personal computers and hand-held gaming devices and MP3 players, there’s hardly a moment during the day when kids aren’t exposed to or consuming media of one kind or another.
Help your kids go on a media diet. Make and enforce media-free times. No cell phones during dinner, for example, or after 8pm. Set up a family game night so that you’re spending time together away from the television. Use the weekends to go on hikes, or ride bikes, or take a camping trip. Time spent with you and away from screens will be far more meaningful to your child in the long run.
3. Make it Count
Not all screen-time is created equal. It is increasingly the case that kids have to spend a certain amount of time on computers or tablets in order to do their assigned schoolwork. Time spent Skyping with a parent deployed overseas is an unqualified good. Likewise, time spent on Minecraft or learning how to code; or on some creative endeavor like editing videos or writing for a blog; or with educational programs like Khan Academy or Rosetta Stone should not be viewed in the same way as purely passive activities like watching television. Don’t make media the enemy, make it count.
4. Support Quality Programming
It has been rightly said that you “vote with your remote.” It’s not enough just to say you wish to see more family-friendly TV if you don’t watch it when it is offered. There is ample evidence that network executives are motivated by more than just profits. Some insist on putting more of the content they want to see on air, regardless of what viewers at home want. Yet if we don’t support family-friendly programs when they do offer them, you can bet they won’t waste any time pulling them from the schedule and replacing them with more sex and violence-laden programming. There are a handful of family-friendly cable networks out there that cater to family audiences with wholesome programming. Support those networks, and more importantly, support the sponsors who are helping to underwrite family-friendly content.
5. Make Your Voice Count
We have also often said that when it comes to media content, silence gives consent. If the executives and advertisers dumping degrading, demeaning, and damaging media into the marketplace aren’t hearing back from you, they are going to assume you’re just fine with what they’re doing. You are tacitly agreeing to their agenda. If you see something that you think doesn’t belong on TV, contact the sponsors, contact the networks, contact your broadcast affiliate or your cable company. You can find tools and resources to take action at www.ParentsTV.org. You can also sign up to receive regular e-alerts so that you can stay informed and involved. Don’t wait for others to speak for you. Resolve this year to make your voice heard.