BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) reports that children watch TV and movies, listen to music, and peruse the Internet more than they do any other activity. With this in mind, think about the content your child consumes regularly through the media and what it suggests. Of the top 20 television shows watched by teens, CMCH reports that 70 percent contain some form of sexual content.

The American Psychological Association concludes that children will be exposed to as many as 8,000 murders on television by age 11. And one of the most popular genres of music for youth – hip hop – tends to feed our children messages of sex, violence, and drug use. With the repeated images of sex, drugs, and violence taken in by children, many of today’s youth are becoming desensitized to the same content in their own lives.

Sensitizing our children to what they watch and hear, or making them more aware and, ultimately, repelled by it, takes time, effort, and consistency. But it can be done. Keep reading to find a few ways how.

Overcome denial
and share your opinions

What do you think your children listen to when they are not in your presence? The Parents Television Council reports, “Fourty-four percent of kids say they watch something different when they’re alone than with their parents.” Because children are curious and easily influenced, understand that they may not always listen to songs of inspiration or watch the History Channel when you’re away. Nevertheless, you still have an obligation to guide them in the right direction when you are with them. Therefore, when sexually suggestive lyrics pop up in a song while you and your children are together, ask them how they feel about it. Then share your opinion as well, letting them hear your beliefs regarding such content. Do the same when you see acts of violence on TV. Even though your children may not watch everything around you, the values that you instill in them will be present to combat the ideas of their peers when the time is right.

Listen and look less

Initiate a “media fast” in your household this month. Challenge your children to cut back on television and film. Instead of the normal four hours that kids spend watching television and movies each day, as reported by CMCH, have them reduce it to one. Instead of listening to Internet radio and FM stations, have them only listen to AM news. Participate in the media fast as a family, just as you would if you cut back on red meat or pork. While restricting the type and amount of media you choose to chew on, have daily discussions instead or cook a meal together. Replace the time you all spend taking in violent and sexually graphic images from television and spend it learning more about each other.

Make comparisons across history

Allow your child to decide for themselves how sex and violence in the media has increased over time. Have them listen to a song from 1980’s hip hop, 1990’s hip hop and hip hop from today. They can compare music videos as well. Have them take note of the number of times they hear or see a violent or sexual reference in each song. Then sit and discuss how music has changed over time and why.

Do a values check

You can identify what a person values by observing his or her behavior. The same can be said by listening to your favorite artists. So, do a values check. First, ask your child what he or she values. Your child might say honesty, respect, and love are important. Then, have your child listen to their favorite artist and identify what the artist values. For example, your child might listen to a Lil’ Wayne song and write down the lyrics that indicate what the rapper feels is most important. Finally, have your child decide if it falls in line with his or her values. For example, if your child values marriage, he or she may come to understand that music touting adultery and domestic violence does not match up with her or his beliefs.

Ultimately, your children will watch and listen to whatever they want. However, it is up to you to guide them toward things that impact their mind and this world in a positive way. Consider that as you let the media into your own home, and find ways to sensitize your children to some of the messages that the media puts out.

• China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.