Sunday, December 16, 2012

Violence... I think parents can help prevent from home

Source: Shutterstock
I, like most of you, am horrified by the event's of last week's shooting. I have read countless articles in the aftermath about talking with kids, safety in schools, gun control, and even mental health services needing to improve.

I keep wondering if there is something each parent can do at home to help the future.

Violence in the media is constant. It is becoming more graphic and violent. Children do not have the ability to separate fantasy and reality, which makes them more vulnerable to altering behaviors depending on what they are exposed to. Until the last part of our brain matures during adulthood, we have not fully developed self control, emotional regulation, and judgement. So for those of you who think your children or teens are mature, they are still developing important parts of their brain!

If we limit exposure to violence, would it help prevent violence? If children are exposed to less violence at home and in the media, can we cultivate a society of people who can work through conflict in a civil manner?  It's been shown in study after study that violence exposure leads to violent behaviors. What about the opposite? Model positive behaviors and limit negative exposures to encourage healthy development of behaviors.

Research shows that the more violent video games kids play, the more violent they become. Very young children exposed to aggressive acts on television will be more aggressive with their play. There is even long term effects from early exposures. A study showed that men who were high TV violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to be physically aggressive with their spouse and to be convicted of a crime at three times the risk of other men. Women with high TV violence exposures as children were four times as likely as other women to be physically violent.

Parents: you can't "take back" early exposures. Don't wait until you are worried about your child/teen's behavior. Prevent it!

Some limits to violence are more difficult to enforce than others.

If kids live in violent homes, they are vulnerable on many levels. Recognizing these at risk kids and helping their situation improve or remove them from the situation is very difficult. There are free online resources to help (use a safe computer if you are at risk!) Even if you are not in an abusive situation, learn to recognize signs that someone is. You could save a life! SafeHome provides education and assistance for those in need in the Kansas City area.  The Hotline is a nationwide hotline that also has educational information on its website. 
When our children are at other homes, we don't always know the parenting styles or supervision as we do at home. Get to know the parents of your children's friends. Let them know your expectations of what your child can/cannot watch or play. Talk to your children and teens about what they do elsewhere. 

Easier fixes involve the media. (Note: I didn't say easy. I said easier.)

Remove the televisions and other electronics from bedrooms. They cut down on sleep (sleep deprivation adds to poor decision making and behaviors) and allow private, unsupervised viewing. 
Parents should screen what their children watch and play for age appropriateness. I have heard many parents say something to the effect of "He's always been around shows like this, and is not scared. He loves to watch them." Why is he not scared, if his age would typically be scared? Is he already desensitized? That scares me. Check out free on-line reviews from a reputable site, such as Common Sense Media, before deciding if something is appropriate for your child. Choose appropriate times that do not allow younger children to be exposed.
Listen to the music your children and teens enjoy and check out their reviews on Common Sense Media. Many songs promote partner violence, fighting, and sexual violence. Songs have a way of getting into our head. Fill their brains with healthy lyrics, not brainwashing songs that promote any form of dangerous behaviors!
Set maximum times children and teens may have screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no more than 10 hours per week for children over 2 years of age. No screen time is recommended for children under 2 years. Remember that screen time includes television, movies, video games, social media, and all other things on a screen. 
Learn the technologies your children are using. If your child or teen is playing online, you need to learn how to set parental controls and monitor what has happened on line.

I am not advocating that families should never enjoy an age- appropriate movie or video game. We actually went to see The Hobbit last night. Although it is PG-13, I read reviews and decided that it was appropriate for my 11 year old. She has a strong sense of reality vs fantasy and was able to sit through the show without being scared at all. (She felt it was "boring" and too long.) It wouldn't be good for all 11 year olds though, and I don't think I would have taken her much younger. Point: parents must know their child, have the facts, and make educated decisions. Don't just say "yes" because it's easy!

And finally, the best parent is an active parent. Participate in activities with your children. Build up their self confidence. Talk to them about what's on their mind. Show them you care. Set limits and stick to them. Give healthy physical contact (hugs, high five, back pat, tickles) often, no matter how old they are, unless it makes them uncomfortable. Tell them you love them. Be their rock.  



Sources:

"Impact of Media Violence Tips." Reviews and Ratings for Family Movies, TV Shows, Websites, Video Games, Books and Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

"The Teenage Brain-- Why Do Teenagers Think Differently than Adults?" The Teenage Brain-- Why Do Teenagers Think Differently than Adults? N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

"Childhood Exposure To Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According To A New 15-Year Study." Childhood Exposure To Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According To A New 15-Year Study. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

"The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions | American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry." The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions | American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

"Media Violence." Media Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.