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Background

My older children have mobile devices, and while they agree to allow us access to them and installation of software to permit us to review how they use the device with them, they also work around those measures and prevent such systems from working well. For instance, play games when they shouldn't be (middle of the night, staying up for hours, not getting up on time, etc), and occasionally obtaining games that they are not allowed to play at their stage in life, among other things.

They aren't very good at keeping this out of sight, and so occasionally a younger sibling will see something that is disturbing for them, given their stage in life. Some of the media they are playing or watching have levels of violence, relationships, or language that isn't appropriate even for the teen, but certainly not for the younger child.

Question

While we are tackling the problem with the older children separately, what I'm trying to figure out is how to encourage my younger children to discuss these things with me.

There's a lot riding against that - they feel it'll be tattle-telling, what they've seen makes them feel yucky, unhappy, or guilty, their older sibling has cautioned them against it, they feel like they might get in trouble with us or the sibling, etc, etc, etc.

When they do tell us, it's relatively easy and painless to explain what they saw, help them understand how it relates (or not) to them and their life, and give them relief from the anxiety it may have caused.

How do we encourage young children to discuss disturbances with us, overcoming the various barriers that prevent them from doing so?

Distraction

While there is a lot that could be said (and has been said) regarding mobile device usage and tracking, and that is one possible source of disturbing media for children, please do not focus on this. They could have been shown disturbing images or stories by a friend in school, or protestors on the side of the street, or even some relatively benign subject was discussed that is new and unfamiliar with them. The technology aspect is my particular situation, but please focus on resolving the fallout, not on preventing the initial exposure.

  • 1
    How old are your kids ? – Moudiz Oct 20 '15 at 14:11
  • @Moudiz I have several kids across a wide range. If your suggestions target a specific age range, go ahead and write an answer and specify that range. If you can cover children from 3 through 16 with different strategies for each stage that would be better. – Rachelle Oct 20 '15 at 14:43
  • You've put a rule in place that you acknowledge makes it harder for the children to talk to you, but you then say that rule is off-topic? – DanBeale Oct 22 '15 at 9:40
  • @DanBeale I don't understand your comment. What rule makes it harder for young children to come and talk that is off topic? – Adam Davis Oct 22 '15 at 14:08
  • @AdamDavis installing filters means, as op says, children are reluctant to come forward when they see something distressing because they don't think "filters are leaky", they think "I have done something wrong, and I will be in trouble". – DanBeale Oct 22 '15 at 14:11
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We've had relative success with this with one of my children: my six-year-old daughter. My other daughter has cerebral palsy and has trouble with communication period. My eight-year-old son hides these sorts of things from us, and always has. I think it has to do with the impulse control and stimulation-craving parts of his personality. So your results may vary.

I think the main thing we do is have lots of open conversations about media standards. My kids know about the rating system and what they are allowed to watch without prior approval. When they start talking about a new show I haven't heard of before, I ask them what they like about it and what they don't like about it. I ask them how it makes them feel.

Then I make time to actually sit down with them and watch an episode or two. During the show, I comment about parts that I think are scary or characters that I think are mean or rude. I ask my kids what they think and gauge what kinds of messages they are taking away from the show. If I decide not to allow them to continue to watch the show, I explain my reasoning. If I like the show, I explain my reasoning.

The effect on my daughter has been pretty much exactly what you're looking for. If she sees something she doesn't like, she talks to me about it, and she knows she won't get into trouble because she made the choice to change the channel. If she sees something she likes, she talks to me about it. If she hears about something that looks interesting, but is slightly above her approved rating level, she comes and asks with reasoned arguments. Because she is accustomed to talking to me about her media choices. She has plenty of practice discussing both the good and the bad.

The effect on my son has been that he better knows what I don't like, so he knows what kind of media to try to hide, and we end up in a technology arms race. I'm guessing what you're going through with your older kids, although probably to a different degree.

I've talked about self-chosen media, but it pretty much works the same for media chosen by her brother. The difference is, you might have to deal with the extra disincentive for tattling, which we've never really had a major problem with in our family. If you search the site, that's been addressed at some length.

I also want to say a little bit about comfort zones. I think it's helpful if parents are around when the boundaries are expanded. If you occasionally watch shows with them that are just a little bit scarier than shows they've watched before, it will help them think of you as the person to come talk to when they see something scary.

If you do that, you'll have a better idea of what they can and can't handle and when they are growing. You'll have opportunities to demonstrate the proper response of what to do when you thought something that would be okay turned out not to be. Kids need good examples and opportunities to practice.

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