By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media Reviewer
With its abundant outdoor play area and passionate teachers, my kids' school seemed like an oasis from the modern world of electronic entertainment. But when I picked my kids up from their after-school program, I was sometimes surprised to find them watching movies instead of drawing, reading, or playing outside. At first I chalked it up to the fact that the rain had made the play area pretty muddy. But when it happened again on a sunny day, I got angry.
Not only do they get enough time with movies and TV on the weekends, but I didn't like the idea that I was paying someone to watch them watch movies. Besides, I didn't have any control over which movies my kids were seeing. What if something scared my son? What if my daughter had questions about what she just saw? What kinds of guidance were they getting after the movies ended? Was I going to have to leave all of this to chance?
Despite feeling a bit nervous about taking my concerns to the after-school teacher, I decided to take the plunge for my kids' sake. After all, I take my role as my kids' advocate seriously, and being afraid of looking awkward or hurting someone's feelings shouldn't stop me from doing the best I can for them.
At my next pick-up, I pulled the teacher aside and just laid it on the line: I'd rather have my kids playing or reading instead of watching movies.
In the end, I'm so glad I did it. The teacher understood my concerns and now keeps movie watching for special occasions only. I donated a handful of age-appropriate DVDs to the after-school program, and I gained confidence in speaking up for my kids.
Here are some ways to broach this often-touchy subject with your kids' caregivers:
Daycare or After-School Program
- Assess the situation: If you have a choice of daycare or after-school programs, ask the director about his or her stance on media use before you sign up. Say: "Do kids ever watch TV or play video games during the day?" But if you find out after the fact that your kids are consuming more media than you'd like -- or you don't like what they're watching or playing -- it's time for a talk.
- Be respectful but clear. Ask: "What's your policy on TV/movie/etc. use when the kids are in your care?"
- Find a solution that works for you. Try something like: "I'm not comfortable with my kids watching that much TV. What alternatives can we come up with?" If you still don't get what you want, you can band together with other parents to present a unified front ... or change caregivers.
- Check in: Your kids might love the teenage babysitter who brings candy and lets them play on her iPhone, but when it comes to your house and your kids, it's important to speak up for what you expect. Besides, if she wants more babysitting gigs, it's helpful for her to know where you stand on everything from bedtime to screen time.
- Be specific about what is and isn't OK: "I don't want them watching any TV at all, but they can play 30 minutes of video games before dinner." Or prepare them for the challenges you think they'll face: "My daughter will probably ask you to read Goosebumps before bed, but please ask her to choose a different book instead. I don't want her to have nightmares."
- Know your target: Uncle Bob may love your kids but have no clue that Grand Theft Auto isn't your idea of age-appropriate gaming. And how about the aunt whose taste in books leans toward the romantic?
- Be clear: Help relatives (and yourself) by speaking up about your media rules. Say: "We're only watching G-rated movies in our house right now." Or: "I liked the book you got for Danny last year. He's probably ready for the next in the series."
- Do damage control: If your sister tries to be cheeky and buys your daughter a "How to Flirt" book, explain to your daughter that you'll have to keep it until she's older, even if she gives you the stink eye.
- Stay flexible: You may have had a great plan for how and when your toddler could watch TV or play with the iPad, but as she gets older, new choices open up.
- Compromise: You have to agree on some basics so you can present a united front to the kids. Often one parent is more lax, and this can really irk the more restrictive partner. Hopefully you can work out something you both can live with. Just make sure to have this conversation behind closed doors. Try: "I'd like to start eating dinner at the table instead of in front of the TV. How do you feel about that?"
- Fix mistakes: If one spouse breaks the agreement, hash out the issue after the kids are in bed. "We agreed the kids weren't ready for PG-13 movies. I'm upset that you took them to see Twilight after we'd made that agreement. How can we talk to the kids about this change to our rules?"
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