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  • Writer's picturedocschleg

Exposure Limits

Parents have to make daily decisions about what to let their children watch or listen to. Parental Controls are mainly tools and cannot make these decisions. Parents are ultimately left with making a case-by-case decision on what they want to expose their children to. The reality of these decisions about this video or that song is that eventually, most children will become adults with unlimited access to whatever they choose. I have discovered roughly three philosophies parents can follow to help them make a decision.

Hands Off

Let's get this one out of the way right away. I have heard many justifications for the hands-off approach. And the hands-off approach doesn't just mean letting children make all the choices and do whatever seems right to them; it can also be about not allowing children to make any choices. The role of the parent is to teach, advise, instruct, and discipline. Sometimes parents throw up their hands. Sometimes parents won't take their hands off. The result is generally the same: the child is unprepared to be an adult.

Graduated Exposure

Some parents choose a graduated exposure to the inevitable. They take what the child will eventually be exposed to and find age-appropriate levels to expose their child to intentionally. This approach works very well for things like the Internet. Children can start with simple, age-appropriate exposure to the Internet with graduated levels of exposure and independence. How children use the Internet when they're not being directly observed determines their progress and pace of exposure. I have also heard this philosophy regrettably applied to substance use like alcohol. Parents flout the law by allowing their children to drink alcohol only under parental supervision. This is ostensibly to train their children for future, measured use as adults. On the surface, this can sound somewhat enlightened and rational, but it's hard to escape the fact that parents are breaking the law. There are several things people experience as adults that are safe at no level for children.

Delayed Exposure

As stated above, there are several things that children should not be exposed to at all due to their immaturity and vulnerability. Most adults have childhood memories of being exposed to things they wish they could unsee. I can recall horror or overly-intense movies I saw as a child that shook me. Even though they don't scare or upset me now, I can't shake the memory of being an upset child. If experiences are technically OK or not prohibited, parents can withhold them from the child as long as possible with the understanding that increased maturity due to aging will provide healthier processing at the inevitable exposure. We are grappling as a society about how old a person should be before engaging in social media. The Surgeon General recently indicated children under 13 shouldn't be on social media, but it would make sense that some parents would set the bar at 16 or 18 based on the relative maturity of the child.

Perhaps you can see how you've used each of these strategies. I think this is pretty normal for the average, competent parent. Everyone knows that if you don't train a child, you will regret it later. There is no actual vacation or time off for parents. Some things lend themselves to graduated exposure, but some things, though inevitable, should be kept from children as long as possible. Interestingly, whether more liberal or conservative in their views, most parents I talk to agree on the vast majority of exposure decisions for children. I can comfortably say parents should go with their guts on these decisions, consult various professionals or trusted sources, and be careful about abdicating responsibility to children if they know the child cannot handle it.

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