Q: I have 8- and 10-year-old daughters and a 6-year-old step-son. My new husband thinks that PG-13 movies and violent video games are fine for all of our children, even his 6-year-old. But I never let my daughters use violent media because as a school counselor, I am well aware of the dangers of media violence for children. How can I educate my husband on this issue?
Savvy Stepmom in Tulsa, OK
A: Dear Savvy Stepmom,
You and your husband are not alone; many sets of parents disagree with each other about media violence. From what I see in my clinical practice, opinions usually fall along gender lines: Moms tend to think that it is a big deal, and dads tend to think that it isn’t. Why is this long-standing debate not yet resolved? Because it focuses on beliefs–like "I really don’t like all that shooting" and "I played video games as a kid and I think I turned out okay"–instead of on how media actually affect kids.
The trick here, then, is to focus the conversation on facts. Explain to your husband that scientific research shows that kids who use violent media are more likely to:
- Become fearful or anxious about the violent situations they see and hear about
- Become less sensitive to the suffering of others
- Become more aggressive in both thought and behavior
The child who is upset by violent media is learning that the world is a dangerous, scary place; the child who is not upset by it is learning that violence is no big deal. Parents aren’t likely to want either of these outcomes for their children.
To continue the conversation, turn to focusing on the positive. Since it's a fact that kids learn from media, think about what you DO want them to learn. What kinds of behaviors do you want them to see and hear about? Then brainstorm with your husband for examples of movies, TV shows, and music that provide positive examples they can learn from. Perhaps if you can focus more on what kinds of media you would like to have in your house, you can find some common ground.
If the conversation with your husband does not resolve the issue and the kids continue to use violent media, discuss as a family what they are seeing and hearing. This will give your kids an opportunity to discuss images that might have scared or confused them, give you an opportunity to reinforce what you DO want your kids to learn, and help both you and your husband understand what your kids are actually learning.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,