The Media and Your Teen: What is the Entertainment Culture Telling Them?

ID-10081618Has this happened to you? You tell your teenager something a hundred times over and get nowhere. Then someone slightly cooler comes along, says the same thing, and gets an instant response.  Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s a normal phenomenon!

As the teen years progress, most moms and dads notice their teens pulling away and gravitating more to peers and other “voices” in their life. As their parent, it pays to get to know who those other voices are—both the good and potentially not-so-good. It will prepare you to understand, support, and let go at the right times with confidence (and to reel them in a bit when necessary). Some “voices” you’ll want to be paying attention to are:

  •             Other adults
  •             Friends
  •             Your home
  •             Their inner voice (conscience)
  •             The media/internet/entertainment industries

There is a host of voices competing for our teens’ attention and not all of them are human. The media, entertainment industry, and the internet are great examples. What are these all saying to your teen? And just how powerful a voice are they in shaping their values and behaviors? The answer is extremely.

The average American teen:

  • watches approximately three hours of television a day
  • views TV an average of 17 hours per week and listens to several hours of music per day
  • spends more than 38 hours per week using media in general (TV, videos, computers, tablets, smartphones, and video games)
  • uses the internet an average of two hours for four days per week
  • has watched 15,000 hours of TV by the time he/she graduates from high school, compared to 12,000 hours spent in the classroom.

Our kids belong to the most technologically connected generation ever. Today’s teenagers are watching more video on mobile devices (computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) and less on the traditional TV. Online, they shop, post and view photos, read messages and articles, chat, play games, and glean all kinds of information about the world and life in general. This dramatically affects our kids. Every day they are receiving hundreds of messages about what is true (or not), what is important (or not) and what is cool (or not). The values they absorb from these voices can have a huge impact on their later success in life. Take sexuality, just for example.

Typical teen media consists of heavy doses of sexual content. Sex is often presented as a casual, recreational activity without risk or consequences. Don’t think this doesn’t affect our kids’ values and choices! It has tremendous potential to distort their sense of reality. If kids see a behavior on TV and in movies often enough (or hear about it in song lyrics), they can start to think it’s not a “big deal,” even if personal or family values urge otherwise. Peers can reinforce this.

So, guess what listening to these particular “voices” produces: earlier and earlier sexual activity.[i]Teens who said they listened to music containing overt sexual messages were found twice as likely to become sexually active within the following two years. Not cool.

Regardless of what parents tell them is right, safe, or wise, media content is often a loud voice encouraging teens to act contrary to their (and their family’s) established values. Does this mean we shut it all off and take away the tablets, computers, TV, and iPods? No. It does mean we should make an effort to know these voices in our child’s life, just like we want to know what the other voices in their lives are saying to them—their teachers, coaches, and peers. A parent’s role is not simply that of a police officer (especially the further you get into the teen years); it’s moderator, counselor, and guide.

Your child’s use of media, internet, and entertainment can provide you with a great opportunity to initiate conversations about values, discernment, and choices. Be aware of what your child listens to and watches.  Create safe venues to discuss your respective thoughts, feelings, and values related to the content. Make sure they have positive growing relationships with other adults that will tell them the same things you would. Don’t let the negative voices of culture do all of the talking, particularly on potentially life-altering subjects.

Are you aware of the messages your teen is receiving from the media? What have you done to combat the negative voices your teen is receiving that may contradict your family’s values? Do you have TV and/or internet use rules in your home?

Photo: Freedigitalphotos.com, by stockimages

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