7 Ways to Limit Your Child's Exposure to Violence in the Media

Steer your kids away from scary or mature content with these tips

With so much media content and so many ways to watch TV shows, videos, and movies or play video games today, it's getting harder and harder for parents to filter the content their kids are exposed to every day. And unless you put your child in a bubble, he will inevitably have some exposure to frightening or inappropriate content at school or at a friend's house, even if you do your best to screen what he sees at home on TV, in movies or on the internet.

But it's important for parents to keep tabs on how much violent content their children are being exposed to. Research shows that violent media content such as video movies and TV shows affect children, with many studies indicating that violence in media may be a risk factor for aggression, reduced empathy, increased confrontational and disruptive behavior, and other antisocial behavior in some kids

So what can parents do to protect school-age kids from violence and sex in the media? Here are some strategies for screening and choosing the media content your child is exposed to:

Know your child's friends.

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Who are the children he plays with in school? Is there a particular friend who’s feeding him details about violent or inappropriate material he’s seen, or perhaps heard about from an older sibling? You can try talking to the pal’s parents about having their child tone down the media violence and R-rated material. If that doesn’t work, you can consider steering your child toward friendships with kids whose parents also believe in minimizing their grade-schooler’s exposure to mature media content.

Check out media-content review websites for parents.

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How blue is the language? Is there violence, and how graphic is it? What about suggestive or explicit sexual content? You’ll want to do some digging before you bring a movie into your home. One great resource to check out is Common Sense Media, a national organization of child experts who screen movies, video games, TV, books and other media to help parents make appropriate choices for their kids. (If you have an older school-age child, you may want to read the review with her to discuss exactly why you are nixing a particular movie, show, or video game.)

Screen it beforehand.

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You don’t want any surprises while you’re watching a movie together with your kids. That's why viewing a movie or DVD before you have a family movie night to screen for media violence or other undesirable content is a good idea. If you’re wondering if a website is safe, check it out yourself before allowing your child access. For video games, go online and read all the reviews you can about the game and call your local video game store to see if any of the sales clerks have firsthand experience with the game.

Consult with other parents.

Other parents with grade-school age children can be excellent sources of information about media violence and explicit content. Chances are, they’ve struggled with the same decisions about whether or not to let their child see a particular movie or TV show or play a popular video game. You can swap info and advice, and get the latest lowdown on what kids are into.

Reject peer pressure--and teach your child to do the same.

Not all parents are gonna agree on what's okay for their child. What might be an okay kids' movie for one family may be regarded as too violent for another. This can be particularly tricky for some families since many parents these days allow even young children to see and play with content that contains violence or inappropriate material.

The most important thing is for parents to respect differing opinions and see individual choices as just that--individual. Refrain from judging other parents for their preferences for their kids and ask them to do the same. And if your child feels peer pressure, try to find other activities that they can do with their friends that don't involve screens.

Research has shown that monitoring and cutting back on screen time led to a number of benefits in kids such as better sleep, improved grades, and lower body mass index. And limiting technology in general--and reading together or going outside--is a good idea.

Tailor choices to your child.

If your child is the kind of kid who has nightmares after seeing anything remotely frightening or violent, steer clear of spooky and scary content, even if it's rated PG or PG-13. (Some kids might be frightened by ParaNorman while others aren't the least bit phased by the idea of ghosts.)

Don’t give in and let your child see something you know may upset him just because he begs you to do so; he’s most likely reacting to peer pressure from a friend who may have seen it. By the same token, don’t expose him to content that may be upsetting for him just because you don’t think it should bother him. What’s upsetting to one child may not have the same effect on another, so go with your instinct about your own child.

Talk about the content.

Research shows that parental monitoring of media content, which includes watching something with your child and discussing what you saw, protects kids from the negative effects of violent media content, such as increased aggression.

Watch shows and movies with your child whenever possible, and keep an eye on what they're seeing online or in a video game. If your child asks you about something he saw in a movie or video game that was violent or graphic, be as candid as you can without going into too much detail. (Even older grade-schoolers, who may think that they can handle more media violence and explicit material, can be frightened by inappropriate images.) Explain briefly that violence and other mature content can be unhealthy for children--and even in some cases adults--and that your job is to protect his welfare until he is older and better able to make decisions about grown-up material.

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