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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 adult?

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.