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Asking Questions and Teaching Safe Media Usage

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Ask Youth Questions and Listen To What They Tell You

After being open about the fact that monitoring is happening, the next most important thing parents can do is to listen carefully to what youth have to say regarding their media use. Youth will always be in a better position to tell their parents about what they are doing with media than their parents could hope to discover on their own. If parents seem not to listen or to care about what youth are doing, it is likely youth will shut down and be less likely to share information.

Parents can learn about how their children use media and what forms of media they are consuming in part by simply asking them questions about what they like: what is their favorite music, favorite television show, or favorite game. Or, if parents see their children texting a friend or listening to their MP3 player, they can ask them what they're listening to or who they're talking to. If adults can do this in a non-threatening manner, they can start a conversation about what messages the media are expressing or about who are important friends and what those friends are like.

Conversations between parents and children about media preferences give parents a great opportunity to challenge and to stretch youths' ideas about what messages the media is giving them. This way, youth can use their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills to examine what messages they're taking in. For example, if Mom walks through the living room and sees Shonda watching a reality television program about women competing for a man's companionship, she can casually start a conversation by saying something like, "Wow, that's a pretty bright and eye-catching swimsuit she's wearing." Hopefully, in response, Shonda will start talking a little more about the show. Then, Mom can ask more questions like, "What do you think about 25 women fighting/competing/playing to win a guy's attention?" Depending on how Shonda answers Mom's questions, Mom can get a better idea about Shonda's beliefs and understanding about the media, and can have an opportunity to share her own values and knowledge about the show's situation.

Explain Hidden or Manipulative Messages

Many youth, especially younger youth, may not be able to understand the sophisticated marketing messages the media are feeding them. Parents need to explain hidden manipulative messages embedded in television, movies, and advertising, so that youth know what to look for and are not fooled. For example, if 12-year-old Kevin sees a commercial for vodka with a cool, suave-looking guy surrounded by beautiful women with few clothes on, he may think that, "drinking vodka is the way to be cool and get girls". Instead, Mom can educate Kevin about how alcohol does affect how people act and make decisions and further educate him about what does make young ladies attracted to guys. Hopefully, Kevin will ask more questions or further share his beliefs so that Mom and Kevin can talk more about alcohol use, dating practices, and media messages.

Teach Safe Media Usage

Parents need to provide their children with basic instructions for how to protect themselves online. Youth need to learn that any personal information that they put online might possibly be seen by people who don't have their best interests at heart, and they need to learn how mean people could use personal information to hurt them and the family. Furthermore, parents need to educate their children carefully about online strangers. Just like strangers in the real-world, some online strangers are nice, but some aren't nice. It's extremely difficult to know who is nice and who isn't, especially because strangers who aren't nice will try very hard to seem friendly and caring. Young children can be instructed to avoid talking to all online strangers they encounter, and to tell their parents about any strangers who repeatedly try to contact them online. Older children with better developed judgment and a greater developed desire to socialize may be told to avoid discussing personal, sexual or otherwise uncomfortable information while online and to never agree to any meetings in real-life.



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