Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston answers your questions about media use.
Q: Our family does not have a TV or video game system in our house since my husband and I don’t approve of the shows and games that are out there. Some of my friends tell us that the kids will feel left out of social groups since they won’t know about the shows and characters their friends talk about. What do you think?
TV-Free Family in Burlington, VT
A: Dear TV-Free Family,
There are not a lot of families that go without TV these days, so your friends are likely just shocked that it is actually possible to live without one! Research has not shown any negative effects of growing up without a TV. But here are some things to know about the challenges your kids may experience.
Kids talk a lot about media, even from a very young age. These conversations give them a chance to move beyond the “it’s-all-about-me” conversation that kids eventually grow out of. Media is a shared cultural experience they can connect with other kids over. Obviously there are lots of other things for kids to discuss, so it might be worthwhile to help your children identify other topics to connect over such as sports teams, books, music, and dance.
Other challenges arise from the sheer fact that we live in such a media-saturated world. That is to say, at some point, your children will be exposed to movies and TV and if, like many of my patients who grew up without TVs, they don’t learn how to manage their media time, they may arrive at college and spend 16 hours a day using what has become “forbidden fruit.” Therefore, I think it is essential to teach them how to live with and use media in healthy ways—perhaps even more important than it is to ban TV from the house altogether.
To help teach them how to use media in healthy ways, find some kind of media that are acceptable to you (such as a specific movie or sports event) and watch them alongside your kids. Then have a conversation where you can help them work through any questions or reactions they might have. Using this approach, you can give them the skills they need to expand their worlds through media and to protect themselves from harm.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
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