So while most parents are rightly concerned about the dangerous world outside our front door, we bring our children inside for “screen time” and inadvertently leave them vulnerable to being seduced by Hollywood values or being victimized by online sexual predators.
I want to suggest three reasons parents should exercise caution in their children’s media consumption/screen time.
- We live in a culture that promotes sexual freedom over sexual restraint, and markets this culture to our children in every possible medium. A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that, “there is no question that girls (and boys) grow up in a cultural milieu saturated with sexualizing messages.” The report found that “women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person).” According to the APA, the "sexualizing" culture negatively influences a girl’s sexual development and can lead to a negative body image, depression, and lower self-esteem. At the same time, it affects how both boys and girls view dating, and can lead to increased rates of sexual abuse and harassment of women.
The online world is an adult world with adult dangers that pose a significant threat to our children’s innocence.It is not a place for children to be left alone and unsupervised. According to
NetSmartz, an organization created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), online dangers for kids include: exposure to “inappropriate material,” such as sexually explicit or violent images, sexual predators, theft of personal information, cyberbullying and harassment.” Additionally, according to
a 2007 NCMEC report:
- About one in seven youth ages 10 to 17 have been sexually solicited online
- 34 percent have encountered unwanted pornography, most while surfing the web
- Over 75 percent of Internet crimes involving sexual solicitations of children and exposure to unwanted pornography is not reported to police or parents.
- Allowing unrestricted media access opens the door for the pornified culture to influence and shape our children’s values. As parents, we want to be the primary value shapers for our children, but that is harder to do if we are competing against the seductive voices of a culture intent on sexualizing them. The good news is that we do have some level of control over what values we willingly allow to influence our children. This involves saying no to certain things, such as no cell phones or other gadgets before a certain age, no screens of any kind (including cell phones) in the bedroom, and no movies, TV shows, video games, or music that teach values contrary to our own. But it also means saying yes to other things, such as moving the computer to the family room where there is less chance of privacy; installing filtering software on all our online devices; and importantly, embracing and promoting positive forms of entertainment in place of the bad, especially movies, television, music and games that promote the values and virtues we want our children to emulate.
To be honest, I despise having to be on constant alert for inappropriate advertisements during what should be a family-friendly football game, or having to say “no” when my daughter asks if she can watch the latest Disney Channel tween flick that all her friends are watching, or explaining why she can’t “play” on my cell phone, even though her friends “do it all the time.”
Realistically, I know that despite my best efforts, my children will at some point be exposed to sexually explicit material—most likely when I am not around. They will be influenced by the values of their peers who may not be as sheltered. I certainly need to prepare them and myself for that possibility. But that does not mean I have to accept defeat in the daily battle to preserve their innocence. I have a responsibility to do what I can to help them stay children for as long as possible. That probably means my kids will be less tech-savvy than their peers, they won’t recognize the name “Hannah Montana” and they may not have seen the latest “G” rated movie. But if that is the price of preserving their innocence a little longer, then that is OK with me.
Alysse ElHage is a freelance writer and associate director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.