Opinion

Sexualized media: Does ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ cross the line? | Amy Johnson

Summer is here, and with it comes longer hours of free time for most children and teens.

Given the amount and themes of sexual situations shown in the media, smart parents know summer is a good time to step up their monitoring of media consumption by their offspring.

Remember to use the monitoring devices on your television to block inappropriate content from your children’s viewing. If you want clarification about what the TV ratings mean, go to this site: www.parentstv.org. Be sure your expectations and rules are clear to any teens or others you have coming into your home to provide child care.

While few parents would consider allowing their kids to watch HBO’s “True Blood” or “Hung,” both of which have extremely sexual story lines, it’s also important to monitor content of other shows marketed to children and families. Discuss sexual content or stereotypes that come up.

“Toddlers and Tiaras” on TLC depicts many young girls in a sexualized fashion, while the “Secret Life of American Teenagers” on ABC Family grapples with important topics like teen pregnancy. Even “Glee,” with its over-the-top stereotyping of high school students, faculty and dynamics, brings up important topics like relationships, deciding whether to be sexually active, sexual minorities and more. Make sure you know what your child is watching and whether it is age appropriate. Watch with them, ask questions, and bring up your values on topics depicted on the screen.

Play dates and sleepovers abound in summer. Make sure when your child is at a friend’s home that you are aware of their media rules and they are aware of yours. Do they monitor television watching? Are elementary-aged children allowed to view R-rated movies? Is there a television or computer in the child’s bedroom? Asking a few key questions and sharing your rules and expectations can go a long way in creating a more enjoyable and safe time for all.

Computer access is another issue that is sometimes overlooked, both at home and at friends’ houses. Make sure your computer(s) are in a well-trafficked family area. Avoid allowing a computer in the bedroom. Internet access, even with controls, is risky, so make sure you are using privacy controls, have some type of blocking software, and a monitoring system for your computer(s). Or try this resource: www.opendns.com/familyshield.

This is also important to scope out in any new places your child may be hanging out this summer, including the homes of friends, grandparents or other relatives. Especially if the place has children older than yours in the home, reiterating your expectations is key. Ask questions about their set-up and policies, and set expectations in order to encourage safer viewing online.

Lastly, even with the best of intentions and practices, your child may see something sexual you wished he or she hadn’t. If so, respond calmly, rather than reacting emotionally. Ask your child questions like, “What did you see?” and “How did that make you feel?” Reassure them with, “I think your brain and heart were too young for that. That was something for adults. I know you are smart and can get through this. I will do what I can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Talk to other parents or relatives if needed, and keep the lines of communication open with your children.

Monitored children and teens are safer, less likely to do drugs or drink alcohol, and get better grades than those who aren’t monitored. Step up your monitoring this summer to promote healthy habits.

Resources

Check out www.kidsbesafeonline.com for more information.

For more information about movies, DVDs and video games before you give the OK for your child to watch or play, check out these resources:

www.commonsensemedia.org (movies, DVDs, TV, videogames, music, web sites, books)

www.parentpreviews.com (movies, DVDs, some video games)

www.kids-in-mind.com (movies, DVDs)

www.whattheyplay.com  (video games)

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