Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use.
Last week he answered your questions about how to talk to your kids about scary stories in the news.
Here’s this week’s question:
Q: We just found out that our 6-year-old son has a central auditory processing disorder. We do not have TV or video games in our house, but when he visits friends’ houses, they sometimes play the older brother’s extremely violent video games, such as Call of Duty. Since there are fewer screens in our house, when he visits friends with these games, he is very eager to watch and play. Are these very violent games more damaging for children with a central auditory processing disorder? Would even a small amount of screen time with violent games have a harmful effect?
–Learning about Learning Disabilities, in Brooklyn, NY
A: Dear Learning about Learning Disabilities,
There seem to be a few questions here: How do violent media affect any child at age six? And does the central auditory processing disorder put your son at increased risk for being influenced by media?
The greatest concern about violent media is that when people use them, they tend to think the world is more violent than it is. While some segments of the world are certainly very violent (such as a war zone), a child who has very little real-life experience with violence will base his understanding of how the world works on the virtual experiences he has. And even when he says he knows that it’s make believe, he won’t really be able to separate fantasy from reality until he’s about eight. For kids his age, believing that the world is violent is particularly anxiety and fear provoking. That is an issue in and of itself, but in your son’s case, this kind of anxiety has the potential to make the symptoms of his disorder worse.
To answer the second question, any kind of learning disability or processing problem makes it more difficult to become a critical consumer of information and a self-protective viewer of media. It might sound counter-intuitive, but getting a screen in your own home might help you address this issue. How? By giving you the opportunity to expose him to screen media in ways, for lengths of time, and with content that he can tolerate. You can help him practice responsible, critical media use in his own home. That way, when he visits friends’ houses, he has some practice with handling this stimulus, and he won’t have that forbidden fruit effect that you describe.
Addressing these issues when your son is in the care of other adults can be tricky. But it is certainly within your rights to ask what he might be exposed to at their house. You can ask that he not be exposed to things that might be harmful to him—just as other parents might tell someone about their child’s food allergy or fear of dogs. Ultimately, what will protect him in such situations is teaching him to take care of himself. He will learn to put his seatbelt on in other people’s cars, and he can also learn to say, “I really don’t want to watch this. Can we go play in the sandbox?”
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