July 16, 2012

Filtering for your Children

It happens when we least expect it. You’ve got the TV on in the background while you play Legos with your seven year old and a program begins on the 9/11 Memorial, and he asks, “What’s 9/11?” Your response? “Uhhh…well…it stands for September 11th… and umm, a few years before you were born…a long time ago…some evil people wanted to hurt the United States and, umm, kill a lot of innocent people…”

As parents we are genetically programmed to protect our children from harm, and we try to limit their exposure to negative situations. However, the reality is…we can’t always prevent them from uncovering a sensitive topic that will require an explanation. In order to maintain our children’s sense of security, we can filter the way these topics are presented, what is seen or answer questions with an age-appropriate response.

Claire Haas, vice president of education for Kiddie Academy, offers the following tips for filtering content for your children, and dealing with the aftermath when the filters don’t work:

Tips for Filtering

You have Two Options. Filtering for your child doesn’t have to mean filtering for yourself as well. You can choose to only play the G-rated versions of your favorite music, movies and TV shows, or you can choose the R-rated versions and play them when the kids aren’t around.

Keep Other Caregivers on the Same Page. Make sure your partner, babysitters, grandparents and other caregivers know your rules about what content is appropriate for your child. While this may be a tough conversation to have, you should be able to choose what music, movies, games, TV shows and books your children can be exposed to while in others’ care.

Curb the Potty Mouth. This includes curbing your own bad language and determining what words are acceptable for your family.  What words can you handle your child saying and which words are entirely not unacceptable? For example, some parents don’t like to hear “shut up”, while others find it acceptable.  Decide what works for your family.

Tips for Explaining Sensitive Subjects

Be Truthful, but Selective. Topics or questions that include violence can make your child feel vulnerable or threatened. Explain the situation or answer their question truthfully, but briefly; tailor the information you share based on their age and maturity. If they appear worried, address their concerns and always reassure them that they are safe. See below for how to address topics, such as violence or even hitting/biting, at certain ages:

Ages 18 months – 2 years: At this age, toddlers are very attuned to emotions or reactions. Use words such as “sad” to make it more literal for them and reinforce with lots of hugs.

Ages 2 years – 4 years: Young children need brief, simple information about violence or hurting others. They are beginning to develop empathy and can understand what hurt means. It also means you can work through these topics by letting them talk and express how they feel.

Ages 4 years – 6 years: Children at this age understand consequences to violence, such as hitting, and can be coached through it. With more broad conversations about violence, you can engage them in a conversation by asking open-ended questions to find out how much they know and understand.

For all ages, provide information to clear up misconceptions and point out positive stories in the news.

“As educators, we help parents understand where children are developmentally, which can assist them in making decisions on what content is appropriate for their child,” said Haas. “Children often learn about inappropriate content from other children, including older siblings, but generally hear it out of context and look to their parents for clarification. This is where the parents have the opportunity to filter while fulfilling the child’s need for answers.”

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