Parents today consider it their moral imperative to limit their children’s exposure to the mass media, believing that it is bad for them. In truth, the various forms of media are largely neutral, as they are equally capable of reinforcing or opposing moral values. A father’s role is to evaluate and choose the media content that is appropriate for his children.
Media content can benefit children in many ways. It can be a powerful educational tool, broadening children’s horizons and enhancing creativity and social learning.
On the other hand, media content may:
1. Glamorise the use of alcohol and tobacco;
2. Portray sexual behaviour in a risk-free light;
3. Perpetuate unrealistic images of how people should look, while promoting the consumption of unhealthy foods; and
4. Desensitise children to violence, while trivialising its effects and consequences.
In the end, the appropriateness of media content comes down to the messages they convey. For example, many studies link exposure to game violence to increased aggression in children, but that doesn’t mean that video games are devoid of positive effects.
In a series of studies carried out in Singapore, Japan and the U.S., children who played pro-social video games (in which game characters help and support each other in non-violent ways) were found to exhibit increased pro-social behaviour.
A father’s role in determining the appropriateness of media content therefore involves familiarising himself with that content. The level of involvement will generally be higher the younger the child.
The handling of pre-teens can be especially difficult for parents, as children that age typically crave more independence. Indeed, a survey of parents in the UK showed that they were most concerned about media consumption when their children were between 10 and 14 years old. (4)
Tips for Fathers of Pre-teens
A great way for fathers to monitor media content is to enjoy media together with their children, by listening to music and watching the movies and television shows that they are consuming.
One local father, 38, spends an average of 15-20 hours a week watching TV and listening to music with his pre-teen daughter. He gets to spend quality time with his child, while keeping current on trends in youth culture.
However fathers should take care not to supervise their pre-teens too closely, as such an approach may be counter-productive. One father, 36, described his approach with his daughter and the Internet: “I will ask what site she is looking at and just try to check it without appearing too controlling.”
One possible solution is for parents to educate their pre-teens in media literacy skills, so that they will become critical consumers of media messages. Media literacy is a process by which children are taught to question and evaluate the media messages they watch, read and hear, instead of simply accepting them at face value.
Training in media literacy involves using media with the child and then discussing and analysing the content with them, and comparing the messages conveyed to the values that the parent is trying to teach the child.
Pre-teens should also be taught about the importance of accountability for media usage. For instance, family members can share one family e-mail account, and TV sets and Internet-connected computers can be placed in open areas of the home, rather than in a child’s bedroom.
Help is Available
In today’s technology-driven age, fathers should make it a point to keep themselves up-to-date about the latest in media content and technological innovations, so that they are better placed to regulate their children’s exposure to inappropriate media messages.
In particular, pre-teens are more likely to approach their father if they have questions about the Internet and new media. In a survey conducted of children throughout Europe, children aged 6 to 11 identified their father as the person in their household who knew the most about computers an average of 41% of the time.
Here are some online resources that can help fathers in their efforts:
TOUCH Cyber Wellness & Sports or CRuSH (Cyberspace Risks and where U Seek Help) aims to promote cyber wellness amongst the youths.
Common Sense Media
A non-partisan organisation that aims to improve media choices for children and families, by providing reviews of movies, TV shows, books, music and Web sites.
Centre for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Contains articles and resources on issues relating to safe Internet use, including tips on risk prevention and cyberbullying.
Parents’ Guide to Facebook
A guide by the Lighted Candle Society.
Centre for Parent/Youth Understanding
An organisation that helps bridge the cultural-generational gap between parents and teenagers by promoting a better understanding of teenagers and their culture.
The pervasiveness of the mass media in today’s society means that fathers cannot prevent their children from coming into contact with media content. In the case of pre-teens, a father should guide them by teaching them the necessary skills to use media responsibly and safely.
- Pigeron, E., (2008). Parents’ moral reflections on children’s media use. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, (1999). Understanding the impact of media on children and teens [PDF]. Retrieved March 9th, 2010
- Gentile, D.A. et al, (2009). The effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behaviors: international evidence from correlational, longitudinal, and experimental studies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(6), 752-763.
- Hanley, P. (2002). Striking a balance: the control of children’s media consumption. UK:BBC, BSC, ITC.
- Livingstone, S. (2002). Young people and new media: childhood and the changing media environment. London: Sage Publications.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 11-07-2011.