Proactive parenting combats harmful media, devotional speaker says

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Jimmy Hebda

Parents should be proactive in their efforts to teach their children about the media they encounter and warn them of the potential temporal and spiritual dangers of the media, said Laura Padilla-Walker, Tuesday’s Devotional speaker.

Padilla-Walker, from the Department of Family and Life Studies, shared her thoughts about using correct methods to help children and adolescents learn of the dangers of the media. She said parents oftentimes want to cocoon their children from media instead of letting them encounter the media with their parents, however this is not always the best option.

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Laura Padilla-Walker, Associate Professor in the School of Family Life speaks in the De Jong Concert Hall on Tuesday.
“Research suggests that strict cocooning of the media is not very effective,” Padilla-Walker said. “Especially as adolescents get older and can view media at a friend’s house or on a portable media device. It seems to be more effective to use pre-arming, which is to talk to adolescents about media that they may encounter and to offer them strategies with which to deal with potential inappropriate types of media.”

Padilla-Walker shared an example of pre-arming and the benefits that it can have in teaching children. She said a video game researcher told her his pre-arming has been so effective that his daughter often criticizes the video games and media that he wants to participate in with her. This example highlights the strong influence pre-arming can have on children, and shows potential benefit of parents engaging in media with their teens, she said.

“If parents use media with their children, for example, playing video games or watching movies with teens, or even texting their teens, this can strengthen family ties,” Padilla-Walker said.

Playing video games as a family creates opportunities where parenting can occur, she said. This provides a “platform” for parents to teach children about media content. Watching appropriate media or playing appropriate video games have been shown to lead to a greater parent-child connection, she said, adding that it can open up communication within families and allow discussion about key issues.

“I remember numerous conversations I had as a teenager that began as a result of something we watched together on television,” Padilla-Walker said.

Parents should use different methods for teaching children of different ages, genders and temperaments, she said, adding that certain parental methods work better for each group. Parental cocooning may be appropriate during early childhood, but pre-teen and adolescents are benefited most by pre-arming, she said.

Some children are more susceptible to aggressive peer or media influences, so reasoned cocooning in childhood may be appropriate, she said. In contrast, a child who is good at regulating on their own may need less cocooning. She said gender is different. For example, playing video games with girls seems to be more beneficial to girls than boys. In contrast, texting and calling on cellphones is negatively related to girls but more beneficial to boys.

Padilla-Walker shared one study focusing on early adolescents around age 11. She said any strategy of pre-arming seemed to be positively associated with healthy outcomes for early teens, whereas deference, or allowing children to make their own decisions without parental discussion, was not.

“Mothers and fathers who used pre-arming, reasoned deference or reasoned cocooning all had children with higher levels of empathy, and self-regulation than parents who used deference alone,” Padilla-Walker said. “We also found that mothers who used these strategies had children with lower levels of depression and delinquency than those who used deference alone.”

She added that correct methods are different for middle-aged teens around age 14. The best method involves allowing young adolescents to internalize correct principles, focusing on fostering independence instead of getting compliance. As adolescents internalize values, they are more likely to live the principles than if they are forced to comply, she said.

She gave an example of an internalized value with her own daughter’s behavior.

“A few weeks ago when my daughter asked me if I was going to thank her for helping me, I said ‘did you help me just to get a thank you?'” Padilla-Walker said. “To which she replied, ‘no, I helped you because I love you.'”

Internalized values bring about pro-social behavior, she said. The parents who talk to their adolescents but also allowed agency had the biggest effect on pro-social behavior.

“If parents start early, talking to their children about values and behaviors … it is likely that once teens hit mid-adolescence about ages 14 or 15, their values will be beginning to solidify and will be at least moderately reflected in their behavior … allowing parents to step back and defer to the child,” Padilla-Walker said.

It is important to lead by example and acknowledge our own faults and be willing to face them, she said. At the same time, parents should be aware of children’s potential pitfalls in helping them individually and spiritually.

“It is my prayer that we will seize the opportunity to be proactive today,” Padilla-Walker said. “In our own lives, and in the lives of our children; and actively use the daily opportunities we have to strengthen ourselves, our families and those around us.”

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