Parents, caregivers: research, monitor, discuss what your child is watching

By Kristin Lowrey, MSW, LICSW, PIP, Registered Play Therapist
Special to The Alabama Baptist

“O be careful little eyes what you see.” The words of this childhood Bible song are so simple but ring so true. 

We live in a world where we are bombarded with images constantly. As a parent I find myself working harder to shield my children from many of the images that are all around: the billboards we drive by, bumper stickers on cars, advertisements that pop up on the computer and commercials that play on television. I also find myself having more frequent disagreements with my children about the appropriateness of movies.

As we approach Halloween more advertisements for horror movies are airing on TV and online. For many people and families scary movies are a normal part of the Halloween season. However, exposure to this scary and often gruesome content can have a negative impact on our children. 

Children’s brains are still developing and are unable to make sense of this kind of information. They may even struggle with differentiating between fact or fiction.

Some studies have found the younger a child is when exposed to violent and scary content, the longer lasting the negative impact can be. Children may develop anxiety and/or specific phobias related to the exposure. They may also experience sleep problems including nightmares. Studies have found that adults who were exposed to scary content as children may still experience residual anxiety into adulthood. You may know someone who is scared of swimming in the ocean due to the movie “Jaws” or someone who dislikes or is scared of clowns because of Stephen King’s “It.”

Children aren’t ready

As adults we often know what we can handle, particularly related to the type of content we watch. We then make choices to ensure the content of what we watch is ok for us. Children don’t yet know what they can handle and often don’t have a say in what the family is watching. They rely on adults and parents to choose content that is appropriate for them.

Here are some ways I would encourage parents to help safeguard the eyes and minds of children:

Do your research before allowing children to view movies. Ask other trusted parents their opinions on movies, check out previews to movies and/or read online reviews to help determine the appropriateness of the content for your children. The Alabama Baptist regularly covers family-friendly entertainment choices. Another good resource is www.pluggedin.com.

Monitor what your children are watching. Without appropriate supervision or parental controls on electronic devices children can view — even accidentally — many videos with questionable content. Filters can be set up on your devices to help in this area. YouTube, the leading website for video clips, and Netflix, the streaming service with the most subscribers, both have parental control settings. Go to tabonline.org/parental-controls for information on how to set those up.

Find time to talk to your children. Ask about the shows they watch when they’re with friends. Have conversations with them about what you feel is appropriate versus inappropriate television or video content for them.

Never be afraid of setting limits for your children. If we aren’t careful the wrong exposure now can create a problem later on.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Faith & Family is a monthly look at important spiritual, cultural and relational issues facing today’s families. For more articles on contemporary topics like these go to
PathwaysProfessional.org/blog.

Kristin Lowrey is a licensed social worker and registered play therapist supervisor and is clinical director of children and adolescents for Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.