You are on the couch reading. Your daughter, four, is sitting next to you fiddling with your iPad. She’s been on your iPad for twenty minutes. You decide she’s had enough and ask her to put it down. She refuses, so, like all parents, you bribe her: “Hand over the iPad and I’ll let you watch My Little Ponies.” She readily agrees and hands over the goods. You start her show and flop back onto the couch. In the end, your daughter will have received fifty minutes of media, unless this is a repeat episode, and then who knows how much media your daughter might have today.
Is this okay? Are you honest with yourself about how many hours either you or your children sit behind a glowing screen each day? Do you feel guilty about your media intake? Should you? These are the questions that Doctors Stewart M. Hoover, Lynn Schofield Clark, and Diane F. Alters raise in their book, Media, Home, and Family. Their assertion, at its core, is that parents believe media affects their family life and that management of their family’s media intake directly affects their parental confidence. In other words, parents worry about media and how it affects both their children and their family.
The minds behind Media, Home, and Family assert that the stories we tell ourselves in regards to our media intake contribute to our collective familial identity, which is an ongoing and fluid negotiation. Are you the family that doesn’t own a T.V. and proudly condescends to those who do, while secretly streaming Netflix on your iPhone? If so, then why do you tout your T.V.-less house? What does that say about you and your values? Is there import, for your family, in espousing those values even if you don’t always adhere to them?
Hoover, Clark, and Alters posit that, yes, even if we don’t always embody our standards; we are modeling for our children the importance of having a worldview that informs our decisions. This is an interesting thought, because it is so often, parentally, coupled with guilt. We tell ourselves that our children only watch thirty minutes a day, but, in actuality, we know they watch up to two hours a day. Yet, there is purpose in both our intentions and lessons, and, even in our failure and guilt, we are teaching our children important lessons about worldview and moderation.
Media, Home, and Family is a fascinating book about what it means to be a family in a digital age. It is both scholarly and well researched, but also accessible. It is an essential read for any parent seeking to understand their family’s relationship to media and how their family’s negotiations around media contribute to their family’s collective identity.
In the end, I found that what matters most is not so much what my children are watching (though that, too, is important) but how well we, as a family, dialogue. To take an example from Media, Home, and Family: Should I turn off The Simpsons because Bart is rude, or should I watch The Simpsons with my children and then foster an environment where conversations about Bart’s rudeness are commonplace? Though I lean towards the latter, to be honest, I don’t do it. And why? Because it’s harder. It’s easier—much easier—as a modern-working parent, to turn off what I don’t like and command it’s banishment. But, even if it’s not easier, dialogue is the root of good parenting. I guess I should power down my MacBook Air and go.