Eric E. Rasmussen (BA ’02, MA ’04) should have seen it coming. As a professor at Texas Tech, Rasmussen researches media’s impact on children. Even so, the father of four energetic girls wasn’t prepared for the transformation that came over one daughter when she turned 13 and got her first cell phone. “Our world turned upside down,” he recalls. When she wasn’t texting, calling, playing games, watching YouTube, or scrolling, she often grew restless and irritable.
Sound familiar? Because technology is so pervasive, it impacts every family—and especially children. “Kids spend more time with screens today than they do with any other activity, including sleeping,” says Rasmussen, who wrote the book Media Maze: Unconventional Wisdom for Guiding Children Through Media. “It’s almost 11 hours every day.” So much screen time means kids face new challenges in managing media, including challenges with identity formation and pornography.
He warns that, unless parents intervene, advertising, actors, models, and video games will teach children how they should look and what behaviors are acceptable.
Given such concerns, parents may be tempted to pull the plug on all technology and media consumption. However, Rasmussen points out that today media and media tools are inextricably interwoven with school and social interactions. “Kids can’t escape this technology—they need technology!” Rasmussen insists. “They just need to be guided in the best way to use it.”
Fortunately, research shows that parents can have a tremendous impact on their children’s media consumption by teaching them to be media savvy, questioning the credibility, truth, and value of the media they encounter.
Rasmussen and his colleagues tested the parental influence on media choices by asking college students how much their parents had discussed pornography with them during their teenage years. They found that the more these students had discussed pornography with their parents as teens, the less they viewed pornography as adults.
“With all the media that kids are exposed to today, the rules [of parenting] have changed,” Rasmussen says. “Research shows that the proper form of media parenting is a kind of middle ground [between] too many rules and free rein.” When parents do take a stand and set media rules, he says it’s important that children understand why the rule exists. “When kids understand the reasons why parents set media rules for them, they are more likely to buy into the rules themselves and, thus, better abide by them.”
Although technology presents a whole new set of challenges for parents to address, Rasmussen says they shouldn’t despair. “We can’t prevent [our children] from seeing things in the media. But we can empower them to deal with [the media] when they do encounter it.”
Tips for Taming Tech
Eric Rasmussen shares best practices for managing children’s media consumption:
• As a parent, change your own media habits to reflect what you want your child’s habits to be.
• Talk about the media. Share your opinion. Don’t leave any doubt about where you stand, but also value your children’s thoughts and opinions.
• Establish media rules right away, and provide reasons for the rules.
• Watch media with your children.
• Bring the TV and computers out of bedrooms and into a shared family space.
• Don’t allow phones in the bedroom at or after bedtime. This goes for parents too.
• Be friends with and follow your kids on social media.
• Have the usernames and passwords to all of your child’s accounts.