Parents Are More Concerned about Media Than Peers

We’ve long ago heard the old adage about the importance of picking good friends, but it seems most parents are far more concerned about picking good media, according to a recent study completed by a Brigham Young University professor.

Laura Walker, an Assistant Professor in the university’s School of Family Life, conducted focus groups in the mid-west, followed by individual interviews with 40 mothers of teens ranging from 11 to 16 years of age.

During these interviews (along with ones conducted for an earlier study) she has discovered parents use one of four different strategies to cope with outside influences that are impacting their teens’ lives. They are:

Cocooning—This describes a parent’s attempt to simply shelter their children from outside influences as long as possible.

Pre-arming—Parents will attempt to provide their children with ways and means to deal with conflicting messages. Through discussions or mocking outside media influences, parents provide their children with "ammunition."

Deference—Sometimes seen as a statement of trust, some parents allow exposure to conflicting values without any "pre-arming."

Compromise—Restrictions may be placed on kids, but they still maintain some freedoms. Examples are limiting TV viewing time, but not limiting content; or allowing them to see friends with conflicting values only when they are under a parent’s supervision.

Of these four methods, Laura discovered parents are more likely to use the most restrictive—cocooning—when it comes to media choices, while they are much more likely to "pre-arm" in situations involving friends with conflicting values.

She attributes this to previous media research that shows the prominent role television, movies and music play in a young person’s life. Also, media is being increasingly consumed in private situations making it more difficult for parents to monitor. Finally, it is easier to simply "turn it off" when it comes to a bad TV show versus spending time with a questionable friend.

Of course the question we all want to know the answer to is which of the four strategies is most effective?

"We didn’t look at outcomes… we only looked at strategies," explained Laura during a telephone interview. When asked to speculate, she offered, "Cocooning is easier with media. But overall, based on other literature, I would guess a pre-arming approach would be more effective overall."

Finally, she offered yet another derivation she felt may be effective—reasoned cocooning—where a parent is still cocooning but explaining why.

"You need to give them a justification so they are internalizing your values," says the researcher.

Laura is hoping to have additional findings in early 2007 that will better indicate how parents may be most effective in helping teens avoid moral and ethical pitfalls. Until then, the best advice to parents is to take the time to talk to your teens and explain to them why your values are important. And if you need to take action and ask that a CD not be listened to or a TV be turned off, make sure you take the time to explain why in a non-threatening way.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…