Establishing a Healthy Media Diet for Families

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Times up kiddo, go ahead and shut down the video game. It has been an hour,” said the mother to her son.

“But this is the most important part! Can I have just 10 more minutes to finish this?” pleaded the boy.

The mother considered for a moment, but said, “You can pick up where you left off tomorrow. We agreed one hour is all the video game playing you get after school.”

Parents are frequently drawn into negotiating media usage time with their children. It can be hard to monitor children’s usage and to put a firm limit on how much they watch. The process can be made easier if parents sit down with their children and create a media diet.

A media diet is based on what activities parents feel are most important for their family and that these activities are balanced over the long term. This means there are some days where the family binge watches a television show and other days that are spent at the park.

When constructing a healthy media diet, parents need to consider several issues. One issue is to decide what types of activities are appropriate for their children to engage in. This includes playing video games, using social media, and watching television.  Another issue to consider is how long children should spend doing these activities. Typically, younger children should have less media consumption compared to older children. Finally, parents need to consider the balance between media activities such as YouTube, Instagram, and Minecraft, with offline activities like playing sports and having face to face conversations.

Finding the right media balance is going to be different for each family. In order to find the right balance, parents need to work with their children to create a weekly media schedule. This schedule is based on what the children have to do and what they would like to do. There will be some weeks where the have to do list is short. During those weeks, children could use more media. On other weeks, the opposite may be true and children will need to consume less media.

Even when media is not being used directly, parents can use it as a way to start conversations with their children. Children love to talk about topics they find interesting and parents may quickly find that they will know everything about a particular television show or video game if they just ask a few questions. These conversations serve as a terrific way to explore more in-depth topics with children and for parents to pass on their values.

Parents who have thought out an appropriate media diet for their family will provide a model for children when it comes time for them to regulate their media consumption on their own. Of course, this requires parents to model these behaviors too. This means putting the smartphone away while driving or when having important conversations with other family members.

Another part of a healthy media diet is to make sure children are viewing and using media that is appropriate for their age. Parents can get some insights into a range of media products by checking the ratings found at the website Common Sense Media which provides reviews that are written for parents.

Before your family’s media usage gets away from you, take a minute to think about how to establish a healthy media diet. Media use should not come at the expense of the things that are important to your family.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on May 20, 2016

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