CEDAR HILLS — It's like any other weeknight for the Lloyd family. Seventeen-year-old Jackson sits on the couch in the family room watching his favorite show via his Netflix account. Thirteen-year-old Slater listens to music on his iPod while doing homework at the table. And their mother, Marci, sends an email from the laptop next to him.
And though Marci Lloyd's oldest isn't in the room with her — he's most likely watching YouTube videos with roommates, while attending Brigham Young University — she doesn't worry about the media her boys are consuming.
Because of media controls she and her husband, Dan, have implemented in their home, and the education on the potential dangers of media — specifically of streaming media — they have provided, the Lloyds have worked to protect and prepare their children to make wise decisions about what they watch, especially when no controls are in place.
As technology and personal devices continue to become more advanced, the content available for access at any time or place increases. On YouTube alone more than 4 billion hours of video are watched every month, with 72 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute. From music videos to do-it-yourself craft tutorials to television clips, YouTube has it all — and more.
For those more interested in streaming full-length movies and television shows on demand, Netflix is a popular option, along with Hulu, Amazon Prime, Vimeo and many others. With more than 27 million subscribers for its streaming service just in the U.S., Netflix's ever-growing library continues to feed consumers what they want, right when they want it. As Netflix continues to gather in-depth data on people's watching habits, the world may soon have shows tailored specifically to what each viewer wants.
Kids can now view media just as easily at school on a friend's phone as at home surfing the Web with a parent behind one shoulder. Though TV ratings and V-chip technology have been around since the mid-1990s, such controls are, in many ways, ineffectual in today's world of always available streamed media.
Because of the free and easy-to-access content now available on a variety of devices, families must actively deal with the issue of what is appropriate for children.
"I feel like, if you aren't conscientious about what (your children) watch, you're just throwing your kids to the wolves; you're just allowing the whole entire world to influence your kids' values," Lloyd said. "We just don't want the Internet in our kids' hands with the whole world around but us."
With so much liberty in browsing the World Wide Web from almost any device — phone, tablet, computer, television, game console — it isn't possible to control everything a child or teen sees, as the Lloyds well know.
However, effective tools are available now to help parents manage media. In addition to these external mechanisms, a family can implement greater awareness and education to help children understand how to make decisions surrounding media usage and information finding. Then, when they are out in the real world, they will have it within themselves to make wise choices.
The possibilities — and dangers — of streaming media
Even though her children are still young, Heather King said it's "freaky" how easy and natural it is for them to keep up with technology and media, which is why she believes it is more and more vital for media in today's world to have boundaries.
"We're always drawn to the train wreck, and right now it is the porn that is such a big deal, and these kids are so inundated," said King, a writer and founder of the blog The Extraordinary Ordinary. "Kids are vulnerable because they're kids."
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."
Aside from teaching younger children to "slam the lid" when something inappropriate comes on the screen, parents need to engage children, particularly older ones, in serious dialogue about why viewing certain things can be so damaging, Kennedy-Moore advised. No matter the locks and passwords and screen-time limits, teens are going to be able to find a way to see what they are curious about and will need to make the final decision for themselves.
"Our teens, the fact is that you can never protect them completely," Kennedy-Moore said. "What you can do is try to foster good values and judgment."
Streaming control guide
There are numerous controls parents can use in their homes, for all kinds of devices. With online streaming sites such as YouTube and even with Google searches, basic safety settings are available to keep inappropriate content from coming up when kids are searching on the Web.
Though Lloyd's boys love it, and she wants them to be able to search and watch things that interest them, giving them free rein to use a site like YouTube just opens the door to too many risks, she said.
Another control Lloyd takes advantage of in her home is the capability of making personal profiles on Netflix for each person in the family so that everything is set at a level of PG-13 and below.
All it takes to bring an avalanche of unhealthy content down on anyone is for a word to be misspelled in a search bar, and the effects can only be negative for still-developing minds, a result the Lloyds want to avoid at any cost. However, their children still get to choose what they watch and expose themselves to, within boundaries.
"It's such a fine line — it's a fine line between wanting to keep your kids safe and wanting them to make their own choices," Lloyd said. "We want them to fill their lives with good things, to help them kind of structure their own value system as a teenager, and not make decisions now that they will have regrets about later. It's something we actually talk about a lot with our kids."
Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News, reporting on issues surrounding both family and values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying journalism and political science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland.
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