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Managing Children's Media Consumption

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 28th 2016

Parents can do a lot to protect their children from the majority of the risks and downsides associated with media, while still allowing them access to many of media's benefits. The rest of this document describes what parents can do to help children access media in healthy rather than harmful ways.

Monitor and Limit Youth's Access to Media

The most important thing parents need to do in order to protect their children from the downsides of media is to become aware of what sorts of media children are consuming and then to take steps to limit children's access to forms of media that are age-inappropriate.

Parents and parents need to know what their children are watching, listening to, and reading and who they're talking and chatting with. Adults can monitor media many different ways. They can pay attention to what kids are watching on television when they walk through the living room, or pay attention to the lyrics on the radio playing in the car on the way to school. Parents may also examine children's web browser history logs to see what sites their children have been browsing. Similarly, parents can examine the chat history on their children's instant messaging program on the computer, or the text logs on children's mobile phones. Also, adults can look closely at their children's cell phone bills to see how many minutes their youths are talking, how many texts they're getting and receiving, what times of day they're communicating, and what phone numbers they're communicating with. Computer software and other recording and reporting devices can be helpful to parents, but it cannot substitute parents' diligence and attention.

Tell Youth You Are Monitoring Them

Monitoring children's media usage is something that is easier to do when children are younger. As children grow and develop a strong sense of individuality and independence, they may perceive parents' desire to monitor as an intrusion on their privacy and personal life. Parents need to respect this desire for privacy and to be sensitive and open with their children regarding their monitoring activities. Ideally, parents tell youth directly that they are monitoring what they are looking at and how they are communicating so that the youth know this is happening. Children also need to know that this monitoring is happening because their parents genuinely love and care for them and want to insure that they remain safe. It is the genuinely benevolent care taking aspect of the monitoring process that will enable older children to accept and appreciate, or at least tolerate what would otherwise be a simple invasion of privacy.

Talking openly about parental monitoring of youth's media use makes it easier for parents to monitor their children's media usage, while preserving trust between parents and children. Open communication also helps parents to better understand their children's opinions about media, and provides an opportunity to educate children about proper media use.

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