For one mom, previews and context are key

Annie likes her kids to know what to expect in media. And she prefers to know what they’ll encounter in advance. She screens and previews most of the content seen or heard by her 15-year-old son Eli and her 11-year-old daughter, Margaret.

NPR does not come on while they’re in the car with her, she said, because she doesn’t want them to be surprised by things they may not be prepared to hear.

Approved for Annie's 15-year-old son, but she reads it first

Approved for Annie’s 15-year-old son, but only if she reads it first

Annie said she previews in part because she knows how much inappropriate content is out there and it worries her.

“Everything concerns me about media!” Annie said.  “There’s so much access to stuff that I wouldn’t have seen until my mid-20s, and now an 8-year-old can access it.”

Annie’s family does not have cable service and they only receive two TV channels. Her kids have fairly open access to the Internet, and they’re allowed to watch shows on PBS and via Netflix, as long as Annie knows what they are.

Context is very important to her, she said, especially regarding the social situations in which her kids encounter certain media messages. When her son wanted to read Game of Thrones and see the TV series adaptation, she speed-read the first book and then stayed one book ahead of him as he read it. She then watched the TV show with him, so they could talk about some of the more mature elements in it.

“I wouldn’t have let him watch it on his own, or with a bunch of his friends,” Annie said.

She added that she tries to strike a balance between monitoring and keeping channels of communication open with him.

“Do I risk having him sneak around and read it anyway,” she said, “or do I actively participate it in with him?”

Context in the story is also important to her. She took Eli to see the movie Skyfall, and she said she was comfortable with the violent content because it was relevant within the narrative of a spy story. This standard applies to both violence and sex, she said.

“I don’t forbid my kids from seeing it, but it needs to be relevant to the storyline.”

Annie added that she thinks the amount of sexual content in the Game of Thrones books is excessive.

Her kids are also on social media. Eli uses Facebook and Reddit, and follows several blogs. Margaret uses Club Penguin, but she’s only allowed to send pre-written ‘postcards’ to other users, and she may not share personal information about herself.

Annie credits Margaret’s school for teaching kids about trust, respect, and not posting photos of themselves or others in bad situations. She is impressed with the guidance they provide, and said it boosts her confidence in her kids’ ability to manage online interactions.

She anticipates her kids becoming a bit more secretive as they get older, but she is confident that they’ll come and talk with her about issues they encounter. She occasionally glances at Eli’s laptop if he leaves it open, but she said she has never seen anything that concerns her.

“It’s a very open communication thing,” she said, “and it involves a lot of trust.”

 

One mom says no to media violence, but yes to sex

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Adrienne does NOT understand why so many parents want this covered.

Adrienne considers moving to Europe on a regular basis. Why? Because there is sex in the media there. She doesn’t like the weird issues Americans have around sex, and she thinks Europeans’ more “blasé” approach is healthier.

“Sex is a normal part of adult life, and that’s kind of the attitude in Europe,” she said.

Adrienne is the mother is two-year-old Aria, and she doesn’t shield her daughter’s eyes from images of women’s naked breasts, like many other parents would.

“It seems like a weird crusade to protect kids from seeing sex,” she said, “since that’s how they got here in the first place.”

The media content Adrienne definitely will try to protect Aria from is excessive violence. It bothers her that characters in children’s movies and even cartoons are killed or maimed on a regular basis.

Adrienne hopes that Aria is developing a healthy understanding of violence and aggression, in part because her father is a martial artist. But she still struggles with the messages she knows her daughter sees in the media.

“It’s so weird and hypocritical for us to tell them not to hit each other,” she said, “and then it’s [supposed to be] funny when they see it on TV. “

She plans to expose Aria to specific types of media content gradually, as she thinks her daughter is ready to think critically and talk about what she’s seeing. Adrienne said she’ll know it’s time for something new when Aria asks questions about it, but she doesn’t know at what age to expect that.

“I don’t know what those intervals are yet,” she said, “because I haven’t met her in the future.”

Adrienne does not agree with the approach many parents have, which is to prevent children from seeing sexual content altogether.

“If you think that you can keep sex away from your child, you are craaaazy,” she said. “They will find it. It will find them.”

Adrienne said she would rather give her daughter good, healthy information about sex than have her learn wrong things from peers or some media messages. She added that her own father let her watch movies with sexual content at a young age, but the real problem was that she felt like she couldn’t discuss sex with him. Adrienne very much wishes he had considered what the messages were in those movies, and had a conversation with her about them at the time.

“We did NOT talk about it,” she said, “and that right there is the problem.”

 

How to watch a sex scene with your teenager

How to watch a sex scene with your teenagerThis is definitely in the Top 10 Awkward Parenting Situations. Maybe you’ve already talked with your teen about sex, or maybe you’ve yet to do so. Regardless, it’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll be watching a movie or a TV show together, and you’ll see characters on screen doing THAT.

So what’s the big deal? Why not take a bathroom break, talk about something else, pick up your phone, or do anything to try to gloss over the fact that both of you would rather not be watching a sex scene together? Here’s why: Because it’s a valuable way to start a tough but needed conversation.

If s/he is typical, your teenager sees a lot of sexual content in the media, on TV, online, in music videos, movies, and even some video games. To simplify a bit, let’s focus on TV. Of the 20 shows most popular with teens, ‘70% include some kind of sexual content, and nearly half (45%) include sexual behavior.’ This is according to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And some of the messages about sex sink in, for better or worse. The Kaiser study found that ‘nearly three out of four 15- to 17-year-olds say sex on TV influences the sexual behaviors of kids their age.’ Those TV shows do not necessarily depict the consequences of sex; in fact, of teens’ favorite programs, only one out of ten shows with sexual content includes a reference to sexual risks or responsibilities, such as STDs or contraception.

So what should you do in this uncomfortable situation?

Keep it light-hearted. We were all teenagers once, and I for one remember wanting to crawl between the cushions of the couch until the sex scene was over and I could look my mom in the eye again. Don’t try to have a Talk with your teenager at that moment unless s/he seems open to it. But you can still encourage her/him to think critically without making it a big production.

Say, “I hope they’re using condoms.” Or “I wonder if both of them have been tested.” Simple comments like these can get your teen to think about the consequences of sex that are probably not being portrayed in the program or the movie.

Say, “Do you think they’ll make good parents?” Few things disrupt the viewing of a sex scene like the thought of accidental pregnancy. Some teens think about it, but many do not, and most TV shows about sex (between teens or adults) don’t address it.

Say, “It seems like all these kids are hooking up with each other all the time. Is that realistic?” This may be Advanced Parenting 101. Only you can know how your teen might react to this question. But if it’s possible to have this conversation, do so. Some shows and movies about teenagers depict them as far more sexually active than teens are in real life. Posing this question may help them talk about pressure they feel, either from their peers or from the media.

It’s uncomfortable for sure, but taking advantage of conversation-starters like these can help your teen process media messages about sex with a critical eye, and make more informed choices in the future.