How to Handle Inappropriate Media at a Friend’s House

A: There was a time when it was easier to protect children from stimuli and information they were not ready to handle. There was much less of it around, for one thing. Now it seems to sneak in from every direction. Also, in the past there seemed to be a greater consensus than there is now among adults about what children should be exposed to — and what they should be protected from. Parents differ in their judgments about the appropriateness of particular movies, videos and video games. The greater availability, and even intrusion, of what some consider inappropriate content, coupled with the variety of views among parents about what is appropriate and what is not, combine to create a complicated issue for parents who wish to protect their children from being overstimulated, overwhelmed or confused. Here are some reflections on handling this parenting challenge.

Be your child’s advocate

It can be uncomfortable asking the parents of another child what your son or daughter might be exposed to in their home. Fortunately, you will know some families well enough that you don’t need to ask the question. Inquiring can be awkward, and might not always be well-received, but this is one of those times that requires you to rise above any natural tendencies to avoid the unpleasant potential of the conversation.

You should ask the hard questions, unapologetically. If you get answers that concern you, you and the friend’s parent can develop a plan that sufficiently accommodates your wishes so you can feel comfortable allowing your child to visit. If you do not feel confident in the plan, consider not allowing the visit. Your child may be upset, but you are acting in her interest and on the behalf of your family’s values.

In the long run, your relationship with your child will be strengthened by your commitment to follow through with the implication of these values.

Your power is limited

All parents wish they could protect their children from disturbances, small and large. Sometimes parental frustration over their own limitations can lead to overreactions. The likelihood is that for every situation you learn about in which your child has been exposed to something that you consider inappropriate, there are probably others that occur at school or in other homes that you do not find out about.

It helps to keep your cool about situations that develop in which your child has been exposed to something that disturbs you. After all, the cow is already out of the barn.

Positive steps to take with your child

Help your children understand why you believe they should not be exposed to certain things. For example, the following guidance suggests ways to address certain aspects of exposure to sexuality and violence.

With regard to sexuality, your challenge is to protect them from content that is confusing or overstimulating without conveying that sexuality — or their childhood curiosities and excitements about sexuality — are wrong. In a way that seems right for you, explain to both of your children, in language appropriate for each of their ages, that you understand they may be interested in and curious about learning more about sex.

You may want to simply answer questions in a developmentally appropriate manner and share that you are open to future discussions. This is just one possible way to respond; addressing it this way may or may not be right for your children and your family. The important thing — whatever you say — is to dignify and respect their interest and curiosity and provide context for your values.

Explanations about your limits regarding exposure to violence are similar in some ways. Acknowledge that violence has its attractions, if your children indeed are interested. They may think it is cool or fun. You can simply say that you want them to learn that violence is not a good thing and, depending upon your values, either that it never has a place or only has a place in emergency situations, such as war. Violent video games or movies confuse children about how wrong violence really is.

If parents watch videos with violent content, you have a bit more of a challenge, but you could say that grown-ups have learned to watch violent movies without getting confused about violence, and your children can watch them when they are older. The language about confusion can also be used to explain limits about sexuality.

If you keep your cool – and provide respectful explanations for your limits and for their interest — your children are much more likely to come to you when they have been exposed to something that is beyond the family boundaries or with something that confuses or upsets them. Since they will ultimately be exposed to many things that you wish they wouldn’t be, the most important task is to keep your communication with them open so that you can help them with what they do experience and learn.

To submit a question about children’s emotional development and behavior, send an e-mail to:

The Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood in Cary is a private, nonprofit agency that promotes the healthy emotional well-being of children and their families.

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