Streaming safety: Education is the best media control for families

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 8:00 a.m. MST

However, King doesn't just worry about the scary place the world is becoming with the constant deluge of pornography and violence in readily available media. She's also concerned about "the overall inability for human interaction to be authentic," she said.

With the capability most of us have now to simply sit in bed with headphones and catch up on missed episodes of shows — in contrast to when King would gather with friends in one room to watch "Friends" when it first aired every Thursday night — it takes real effort to make authentic connections with others, King said.

"The old belief — that I'm sure my kids will probably hate — is moderation in everything," she said. "There's nothing in moderation today. It's rapid-fire, there's overstimulation, there's so many options to keep yourself entertained. ... We can't just sit in the quiet and be."

King isn't the only mother who wants her children to become responsible, healthy adults who aren't addicted to constant entertainment that can erode their sense of right and wrong. But having that goal firmly in mind doesn't automatically make it easier to control the barrage of media in the home.

Hydra, the many-headed beast

One mother from Highland, Utah, likens the battle of staying in control of media in the home to dealing with a hydra — once you cut off one head, three more grow in its place.

"That's what it's like being a parent today — you finally feel like you have the computer under control, and then suddenly you can get the Internet on phones and the television and everything else, and it's so difficult to keep tabs on it all," Julie Matern said.

As parents of six children ranging from ages 10 to 24, Matern and her husband have made sure to have rules about media consumption and screen time in their home for years, and all computer and television screens are kept in the main area of the house.

"I think the best control is the kids. We've taught them what to do when something does come up that they shouldn't see. ... You either slam the lid or turn off the power button," Matern said. "But slamming the lid is our favorite."

Of the media controls the Materns use, Google Safe Search comes in at the level of "strict," though they still have to make sure to check that it's on before the kids do any image searches. YouTube is only used with permission and in the area of the house where everyone can see it.

"If you think about it, the younger the kids are exposed to that stuff, and the less mature they are when exposed — they will start experimenting," Matern said. "We are in such a sex-saturated society. ... We need to protect their innocence, and when they are mature enough we have to give them enough information and let them make their own choices."

Psychologist and author Eileen Kennedy-Moore agrees, believing that the issue often comes down to education about media consumption, because children will be faced with decisions outside of parents' control more often than not.

"Technology controls are never perfect, and determined tweens or teens can often find ways to get around parental blocks, so it's important to educate children about what to do if they run across inappropriate content — close the screen and tell Mom or Dad," she said.

Kennedy-Moore has a private practice in Princeton, N.J., where her work with families has helped her in writing several books, including "Smart Parenting for Smart Kids." She believes the most fundamental part of controlling media in the home is keeping communication with children always open.

"You have to have the conversation about the issues; you have to raise the issues and help them to think through what they're going to do," Kennedy-Moore said. "Talking about what kinds of inappropriate things there are out there and why they are inappropriate — you have to talk about your values."

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