We encourage you to read “Danger! When Media Becomes the Environment” before you read this bonus section.
Punishment does little to alter the neural networks that direct our behaviors. This is why it is of limited value when used to control media usage by your child. When the punishments are no longer enforced, children and adults habitually revert back to the behaviors they engaged in before punishments were imposed.
The main way to get your children to change their behaviors is to activate their Meaning Network (see “Meaning: The Holy Grail of Learning“). When information is presented in a manner that is personally meaningful to your children, their Meaning Networks will be activated, and learning and behavior change will ensue. For children below the age of 8 or 9 you have to control media usage. But to help your older children to self-regulate their media usage, give them age-appropriate scientific reasons why the media can disrupt their ability to be successful in life. Explain how media that has too much sex or violence can disrupt the blood flow in the brain away from the areas that will let them fully develop their natural gifts. To teens, explain how research is revealing that too much sexual content at too young an age can disrupt their abilities to develop personal and romantic relationships later in life.
Here is a comment from one mother who put media usage in a context that her child could value: “I took your knowledge and advice and have been working on issues with Samuel in a ‘meaningful’ context. Amazing. It has made an immediate and positive difference.” With the right information and his mother’s support, this 12-year-old could more effectively self regulate his video game and TV usage. It is not easy, even when the child understands the reasons not to overindulge in media usage. This is because the frontal lobes where impulse control resides are not yet mature. This is why your child still desperately needs your help to self-regulate.
Get an Age-Appropriate Web Filter
Computer expert, talk radio host, and author Kim Komando is committed to helping parents secure the web for their children. She continually updates the best web filters for parents and gives wonderful tips to keep your child safe. Check out http://www.komando.com/kids/parent-tips.aspx.
No Web or Cable in a Child’s Room
Because there is no foolproof way to regulate the content of the web and cable that enter our houses, most professional groups like the American Pediatric Association recommend that children and teens should not have TVs or computers in their rooms. One horrifically violent or explicit sexual scene at the wrong time in children’s development can alter their neural networks and thus their lives forever. (See “Windows of Super Learning Opportunity.”)
Know What Your Child Is Viewing
Make sure the TV shows, games, and videos your children see are approved by you. If they are acting in a negative (aggressive, sexual, depressed, ADHD, etc.) manner, check the types of media they are viewing and remove those that you believe are causing the disturbance.
If you have cable channels aimed at preteens and teens, such as MTV, BET, UPN, and WB, it may interest you to know that, to keep your children’s attention and to activate their addictive networks, many producers insert 10, 20, or more sexual references per program.
Get Kids Outside as Much as Possible
The research is clear that the more children watch TV, use video games and the web, the greater their levels of depression, anxiety, ADHD, sleep disturbances, sexual activity, and aggressive behaviors. Conversely, the more children are out in nature, the more positive their behaviors and feelings become. Research shows key neurotransmitters that help us feel like our life is worth living (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine) can go up as much as 500 percent by simply going outside. (See “Why Experience Beats Linguistic Learning Every Time.”)
Every chance you get, help your child to engage in things not electronic. Develop hobbies you and your child can engage in together if possible.
Limit Parent-Approved Video/Web Games to 20-40 Minutes a Day
This recommendation is a compromise. The current environmental pressures to engage in media usage are dramatic and powerful; you don’t want to make video/web games so taboo that it forces your child to sneak. As one parent advised, “Let’s allow them a homeopathic, vaccine-approved dose.”
Turn Off All Visual Media One Hour Before Bed Time
Because visual electronic media have been shown to reduce a primary hormone that induces sleep (melatonin) by as much as 30 percent, the visual media has been linked to the reason that 69 percent of children have trouble getting to sleep at least twice per week.
Disrupting our sleep disrupts long-term memory formation. Sleep induces alpha, theta, delta, and REM brain wave states which are imperative in getting information that we have amassed during the day from working memory into long-term memory. (See “Sleep – the Most Powerful Incubation Phase of Learning.”) The research is clear that when sleep is disrupted, the ability to learn is disrupted. Sleep disturbances have also been implicated in the inhibition of emotional maturation.
Talk to Other Parents
It takes a village to raise a child. Talk to other parents and let them know what your limits on media time and content (sex and violence) are for PG, PG-13, first-person shooter games, etc. When kids know parents are talking, they respect it, even if they don’t like it!
Because violence and sexual content access the addictive circuits of the child’s brain, once a child is addicted to particular media content, he or she, like any addict, will do whatever it takes to get to it. That includes lying to you. Remember how often you lied to your parents to get what you wanted and they believed you?
Spend One-on-One Time with Your Child: 1-3 hours per week
Because of our hectic lifestyles, one study showed that the average father spends only 8 minutes a week one on one with his child. (That does not include giving commands like “Clean your room now!” or asking questions like “Did you do your homework?”)
Children are genetically wired to learn and get pleasure from doing meaningful things with their parents. The more time spent doing quality things that are meaningful to the child (not the parents’ errands or the kids’ sport games), the stronger the parent-child bond and the more stable the child feels. In my experience, the benefits are dramatically positive. Trust levels increase and a strong relationship ensues from which supportive conversations can evolve.
You Are the Parent
Remember, you are the parent. Children need a strong reliable support system that will direct them in ways that will serve them. They also need powerful role models so that they will know how to raise well-balanced children when it is their turn to be a parent. That role model is you.