Without meaning to, we’ve let our kids fill their minds with intellectual junk food. We are taught to be very careful about what we eat so that we can keep our physical bodies healthy. In our culture though, we don’t pay a lot of attention to feeding our minds with things that keep the mind healthy. Other than schoolwork, and maybe the occasional church service or bible study, our teenagers fill their minds with social media, TV and whatever they happen to search on the internet.
Adolescents are at a stage where they are heavily influenced by what they read, hear and see. As parents, it’s our responsibility to strongly encourage our teens in learning things that will truly help them in life. This ranges from what they watch on TV to what they read online. I realize that you can’t control everything entering your teenager’s mind. However, you can prohibit them from watching TV shows with nudity, sexual content, cursing, drugs, etc.- whatever goes against how you’d like them to act. Because these things are so incredibly commonplace, even on “family friendly” shows, we have become numb to them. I was watching sports last night and a Victoria’s Secret commercial came on. At some point in our culture’s not too distant past that would have been seen as pornography (a bunch of girls in bras and panties making seductive faces and poses); it would never have been allowed during a sports game that kids are probably watching with their parents. Now though, that’s commonplace. You have to think really carefully about whether you’re okay with your teenage son or daughter seeing this kind of thing.
Okay, so the logical question that follows my soapbox rant is, ‘What should I have my teen viewing/hearing?’ The answer to that question lies within the bounds of your values. In our house we follow the Christian faith, so our kids spend at least some of their internet time using apps that help them understand their faith better. In my cousin’s house, music, education and culture were highly valued so my aunt had my cousin watching movies that broadened his horizons on different cultures. These weren’t boring documentaries, just movies made in other countries that showed another view of life in the storytelling. This was intentional on the part of my aunt, and it paid off as my cousin became an adult.
There also needs to be a limit to social media. It’s up to you how you handle this. Maybe you limit the amount of time your son or daughter spends on it. Maybe you strongly encourage your son or daughter to follow their role models and interact with those people as often as their friends. That is one of the great things about social media- it’s actually possible to interact with people you could never otherwise reach.
The last thing that’s really important is for you to assess how you spend your spare time. Are you watching trashy TV? Are you always posting pictures for your friends on Facebook at the expense of reading a good book? If you look at yourself and realize you are not feeding your mind healthy intellectual food, make a few changes. This is actually really hard at first, but the example you set pays huge dividends with your kids.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT