The Stranger in Your Child's Life
By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Would you let a stranger spend several hours with your
child, communicating values, distracting them from homework, creating
separation and distance from family? Even worse, would you let a stranger
into your child's bedroom?
"No way," you say? Well, you'd better look again. Because
if you are like most parents, there is indeed a stranger who is influencing,
guiding, directing, and enticing your child. And yes, some of these
strangers are even in your child's bedroom. This stranger looks innocent
enough at first glance, but has the potential to influence your child
in ways you may not even suspect.
The danger that is enticing your child is electronic media, and its
presence is growing. Children in America now spend, on average, 6
½ hours a day exposed to electronic media. Their connection
to this influence includes TV, computers, listening to music, playing
video games, and other electronic devices. Two-thirds of children,
according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, now have a TV in their
bedrooms. This doesn't account for the hand-held electronic devices
many children carry with them wherever they go.
Not alarmed yet? What about this? Children with TVs in their bedroom
watch 90 minutes more a day than children without a TV in their room.
They also do less reading and less homework. According to the facts,
the more kids watch TV, the more likely they are to be overweight.
Obesity in children is a national crisis. Turning a child's bedroom
into a media arcade does not help your child one bit.
Many parents say they care about what their children watch and listen
to. Yet, children consistently report that their parents do not have
any rules, create no conditions, and set no limits on the amount or
type of media they use. Those who do create restrictions don't always
enforce them. Children report that parents do not know what type of
music they're listening to. Parents seldom check the rating on CDs
or invest the time to check out the lyrics. They pay little attention
to the elaborate TV rating scale and do not use it to make choices
about appropriate viewing content for their children.
Violent video games and glorified violence on TV spur aggression in
children. While watching violence does not make someone violent, research
shows that children who are exposed to more visual violence engage
in more aggressive behaviors. Isn't that reason enough to set limits
on a youngster's television viewing and video game habits?
Allowing a TV in a child's bedroom or putting electronic media like
Game Boys and cell phone video games into their hands is tantamount
to putting the fox in the henhouse with the chickens while pretending
the fox is of no danger. It is an example of child neglect at worst
and gross misunderstanding on the part of parents at best.
Electronic media in a child's life increases isolation. It creates
an environment in which the child can stay disconnected from family
members. It severely limits family interaction. TV, the internet,
and video games are creating an emotional gap between parent and child.
What possible reason is there for a child to carry a video game with
him wherever he goes, or for a parent to make a child's bedroom so
attractive and so media friendly that she wants to spend most of her
time there by herself?
What about family solidarity? What about creating feelings of belonging
by doing things together? Yes, children need privacy. Yes, they need
some solitude and some time away from us. But do they need 6 ½
hours a day of "plug-in" contact?
Recently, while attending a soccer registration day, we heard a mother
comment about her son, "I don't know why I bother to bring anything
else for him to do. All he does is play that Game Boy." Sitting
next to her was a child oblivious to the world around him. He was
so engrossed in his video game that he was unaware of the rest of
the world. And yet the mother went on to say, "The good thing
about it is it keeps him busy and I don't have to worry about him
getting into things."
Do you really want your child playing video games that glorify violence
and numb him to real life events? A recent study revealed that 65
percent of seventh- through twelfth- graders played the controversial
video game Grand Theft Auto. This game, rated for mature audiences,
is loaded with larceny and violence. It shows the killing of police
officers and the beating of prostitutes. Is this the way you want
your child to learn what it means to be a responsible, caring, cooperative
What about the strangers who are teaching your child through their
appearance on television? Is TV really where you want your children
to learn about values, attitudes, behaviors? Do you like the messages
they get from soap operas? Do you want them exposed to beer commercials?
Is the television really the best forum to teach your children about
dating, intimacy, and sexuality? How do you feel about using sex to
sell products? Have you seen any television talk shows lately? Is
their model of disagreeing, which includes interrupting one another,
increasing the volume, and not listening to the other's point of view
the way you want your children to handle disagreements?
What about the computer? Who are your children talking to in chat
rooms? What sites do they visit? Are they being bullied or talked
to with inappropriate language? Are they bullying others? Do you know?
Are you sure?
What are American parents thinking? What possible reason could there
be for putting a TV or X-box in a child's bedroom or within easy access?
Does the child have so many things that this is all that the parent
can come up with for a birthday present? Do the parents dislike being
with the child so much that they want to purposefully isolate the
youngster? Or are the adults simply so busy with their own lives that
they don't have time for their children?
The frenzy to connect to electronic media has created the Great Family
Disconnect of our time. Don't parents realize that 6 ½ hours
a day of being plugged into media leaves children little time to plug
into their family? Do the parents like it that way? Is family dialogue
of such little value that it can be squeezed in between headphones
and email? Has Monopoly, checkers, shooting baskets, skipping rope,
and bike-riding together become obsolete? Do parents like that?
In 63 percent of homes a television is on during mealtimes. Is it
too much to ask family members to take a 20-minute break from media
noise to share a quiet dinner with meaningful conversation? Or would
you miss your favorite program? Couldn't our children become our favorite
program for part of the evening?
The Great Family Disconnect is increasing in direct proportion to
the degree of connection of our children to their favorite electronic
device. TV, computers, and video games have become the plug-in drugs
of our times. They are creating family distance, isolation, and a
decrease in feelings of belonging and connectedness.
The stranger enticing your children needs to be unplugged, kicked
out of their bedroom, and sent packing immediately. This is your home,
not his. This is your family, not his. Take back the influence this
stranger has usurped in your family. Commit to being the parent you
always wanted to be. Establish guidelines. Set limits. Enforce those
limits. Do it consistently. Implement consequences if needed.
Disconnect from the Great Family Disconnect. Flip the switch. Bring
prime time back to your family.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The Abracadabra Effect: The 13 Verbally Transmitted Diseases and How to Cure Them. They also publish a FREE
email newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe to
them when you visit www.chickmoorman.com or www.thomashaller.com.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are two of the world's foremost authorities
on raising responsible, caring, confident children. For more information
about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs,
visit their websites today.