With the recent release of MTV’s new show, Skins, many parents and child advocates are outraged more than ever due to the nature of the content on this show. Although the show is not a true “reality show” because the actions that the teens do are performed by actors, there is still a fear that the vulnerable minds of both teenagers and any other child that may view the show could internalize and possibly emulate their behaviors which include the use of drugs, open sexuality, and other stereotyped adolescent behaviors. It is a well-known fact that teenagers are impressionable and want to be both cool and even famous. From movie stars to fashion, being in the limelight is a common wish of all children and adolescents irrespective of the cost it might be to their health and future. After all, teenagers are still in the process of development and personality formation and are often normally looking outside of their homes for models of success and this includes in the eccentric minds of teens, what they see as making it on TV and in the social world. Unfortunately, being on television these days can be for an array of reasons, some good, and some not so good. But, in the mind of many teens, especially the most vulnerable ones, television and other media-related avenues might cause them to tilt into idealizing the fame of unhealthy behaviors. Albeit, most teens still do not get pregnant, fail out of school, and become addicted to drugs, parents need to be aware and on top of what their teens are up to these days. In other words, we do need to be careful of the many influences that our teens come into contact with these days and be alert to what potential exposure media, social media, and their particular peer groups might have in influencing them to take their adolescent moments too far. As any television network will tell you, watching any show is voluntary and parents have every right to forbid what they deem as inappropriate. However, many teens will watch shows when their parents are not home or at a friend’s house where the rules may be different than yours. It is essential for all parents to talk with their teens about risky or unhealthy behaviors and lead them to think in ways that they may not be considering, like how what they do NOW can seriously effect their health and future and that being on television is not all it’s cracked up to be. All parents need to set limits when their teens take things to far, break the law, and fail to focus on what their job is to do as a teenager: be a student, take care of their bodies, have solid healthy relationships, be considerate to others, and have healthy passions to help them better manage the various stresses of adolescence. When teens do not have these pillars of health as a guide, they may fall short of developing into a healthy independent adult.
Now, when most parents sit down and talk with their kids about the hot topics for teens such as sex, drugs, texting while driving, and bullying, most teens will tell their parents that they are “fine” and not to worry. However, we all know that actions speak louder than words and kids have a way of showing us when they are struggling. This is a good thing for us as parents for then we have evidence that what they say may not be how they feel, we can point out this discrepancy out to them. But, parents need to know what to look for in order to determine if their teen may be overwhelmed by something they are experiencing, including media that might be too much for their developing minds.
Inattentive, oppositional, rude, too aggressive or overly sexual, anxious and dis-respective behaviors are all symptoms of a child or teen who may be over-stimulated by something in his or her environment. Such symptoms are often mistaken for some sort of psychological problem when the first thing that should be evaluated is whether or not a child is being exposed to material that may be too much for him or her to handle based on their developmental age. Between television and social media these days, the world of sex, aggression, and overly mature contents are at the fingertips of children’s cell phones, computers and even prime time television and many parents have no clue as to both whether or not their child is watching or viewing these materials or the potential effects that they have on their child’s psyche.
Over-stimulation is when a child takes in or internalizes material that causes too much anxiety for them to handle due to either making them feel afraid or guilty. Unlike most adults who can calm themselves down when faced with explicit stimuli, kids and teens are different. If you have a child or a teen, then you know what I am talking about. They get caught up in the moment and often can’t get out of it. An an example would be when you try to reason with your child about something and no matter what, they can’t let it go and a breather is often the only solution. But, if you do not get to the bottom of what is causing distress in your child, then it will continue to manifest itself and the child continues to suffer.
In the old days, television and the computer were relatively benign. These days, the world of technology has made parenting ten times harder and makes us baby boomers and others have to reach deep to better help our youth navigate through the world today. In a sense, culture has become more primitive and less civilized whereby basic biological drives are shown in the most raw forms in all aspects of the media. This is not a good thing. In fact, I believe that most children who watch television or have a computer or a G3 phone are subject to some form of over-stimulation at least weekly and we as parents don’t even know it until some sign appears which catches our attention.
Here are some statistics that show just how much of a problem we have on our hands. The average age an American child is first exposed to pornography is 11 years old, an article in the current issue of Family Therapy Magazine reports. And, a recent study found that the majority of teenagers look at pornography while doing their homework. It will surprise you to learn that the largest viewers of online pornography are children between the ages of 12 and 17. These statistics come from the non-profit advocacy organization Enough is Enough.
Aside from the curiosity that may draw a teen onto a website that might overwhelm them is the fact that most kids often inadvertently stumble upon sexual or aggressive explicit material while doing otherwise innocent internet searches, or by simply opening up an email. In fact, according to one study, 34 percent of adolescents reported being exposed to unwanted sexual material online. Another study conducted five years later showed that that figure to have risen to 43 percent.
One component of over-stimulation that has received much attention has been that the effects it can cause may lead to actions that might negatively affect the development of a teenager’s personality. For example, young viewers of pornography are statistically more likely to engage in sexual intercourse at an earlier age than their unexposed peers. It may not be too surprising that 80 percent of online pornography viewing by children occurs at home right under mom and dad’s noses.
These new studies focus on how over-stimulating, or age-inappropriate material, can negatively influence both the behavior and potential character of a developing person. The studies that confirm similar negative consequences concerning the exposure to overly-aggressive materials through television, gaming, and social media are now pretty much “old news”. So, in a nutshell, kids these days are being bombarded with “too much, too early” and it is clear that parents cannot rely on outside regulators to parent or protect our children. The truth is that each parent should do just that. Parent your own child and take responsibility for what your child comes into contact with when they are with you. Parents have little control what kids these days come into contact with at school and at other people’s homes unless you go with them which would obviously not be welcomed by any child over the age of 9. But, what is taught at home by parents is the heaviest weight that goes into decision making for any healthy child. In other words, your kids carry you and your rules, actions, opinions, and caring with them 24 hours a day, even when they are 14 and tell you that they “can’t stand you”. When they come into a situation which carries conflict, home is a heavy contender for the outcome of their decision. Therefore, what you teach and preach at home goes a long way even if your kids tell you that you are “crazy and no other parent is like you”. Sound familiar? Every parent of any teenager is “crazy” for they are the reality checks for illogical logic a lot of the time in the mind of a young teenager.
One additional point to consider is that when teenagers view other teenagers engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors, the modeling of the behavior is greater than if the age of the actors is either younger or older. This is because adolescents, like children, identify most with their peers because they want to “fit in” and be “normal”. Unfortunately, television these days is anything but normal, in fact, much portrays the pathological, but teens are only beginning to understand what is considered healthy and normal which is based on being an adult, not a child or teenager, but then again, we are parents, do know what is best and that is irrespective of any shifts in what becomes popular on television or on the Internet.
So, here are some “crazy” things parents need to do to better help their child from becoming overwhelmed with the plethora of stimuli presented to their eyes, ears, and fingertips.
1. Keep all modes of social media in public areas of your house. Pick a place in your home where everybody has their computer operating. Kids are less likely to go onto an inappropriate website of their parents are close by.
2. Follow the ratings for computer games, television, movies, and other forms of materials that your kids can get their hands onto. M means mature, and T means teen. They may find ways to get there at someone else’s house, but Your House is Home and that matters most.
3. Tivo or record your shows and watch them after the kids go to sleep. Often times we as adults get sloppy and sometimes forget that we are watching a show too mature for our kids together.
4. Have a cell phone basket in the kitchen where everybody places there phone at a certain time of night and signs off until the morning. Teens often text late at night after everyone is asleep and the material that goes back and forth can be too much sometimes especially late at night.
5. Parents need to determine the “right time” for their kids to be exposed to certain things based on both their child’s development and maturity in conjunction with the parent’s beliefs and standards.
6. Talk to your kids about the unhealthy themes on television these days and try to help them understand that fame for having problems or doing risky things is a train heading for a disaster. Just look at the many actors who practice unhealthy behaviors and end up in rehab again, and again, and again, or worse, dead.