Keep an eye on what your children watch, play and read

By Smriti Daniel

You know too much TV watching isn’t a good thing, but in this, our fifth instalment in a series on parenting with parenting coach Dr. Maya Cockeram, we talk about how Harry Potter isn’t the universal entertainment you think it is and why you should consider reading a Percy Jackson book before you allow your child to. Maya shares handy tips on how to judge videogames by their ratings and the basics of how to protect your child from sexual predators online. If you’d like to know more, do visit the new Mums in Colombo website: or their page on Facebook:

How can parents turn off the T.V and still keep their sanity and their bored children entertained?

Children do not need to be, and should not be entertained all the time. If left to their own devices they will find ways of entertaining themselves. We did not grow up with TV and what did we do during our childhood? We played, read, explored, built dens, made mud pies and had fun.

I believe in the phrase ‘Turn off the TV and turn on life.’ In my family we do not have cable or terrestrial TV out of choice. My older sons watch a suitable DVD once a week on the weekend, and my five- year-old daughter watches half an hour a day of educational age appropriate DVDs. We are too busy experiencing life as a family to watch TV and that is a fact.

How much attention should parents be paying to the content of TV shows and movies?

Television has a big influence, and a lot of it is negative. While experts concur that television can entertain and inform, youngsters can also become less sensitive to the terror of violence, accept violence as a way to resolve life's difficulties, or even imitate the violence they've seen.

Cartoons like Tom & Jerry, Sponge Bob, Square Pants, Ben 10, Pokemon are violent and should not be shown to children under the age of five years. You can check a website like (which is an excellent resource for all kinds of media ratings) to see if a show is age appropriate for your child. Also, encourage your children to be media critics. Help them question why certain characters in TV shows act the way they do, or how advertisements work.

Governments have failed to censor the internet, how should parents approach the same challenge?

The internet is not an expert teacher or an insoluble source of information nor is it really designed for children. Children can accidentally stumble onto pornography or be targeted by deviants online. You can help your children use the internet safely by monitoring, protecting and teaching them, and by learning about the internet yourself. Parents should instal internet filters that will bar access to dangerous websites. Also place computers in an open space, so that it is possible to monitor children's online activities. Get teachers and librarians involved as well.

Should parents be concerned about the violence in video games? Should they be concerned about the values children may absorb from a game?

More and more kids are playing video and computer games especially ultra-violent ones like Grand theft Auto that are top sellers. Children spend a great deal of time with violent video games at exactly the ages that they should be learning healthy ways to relate to other people and to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Tom and Jerry

Teenage brains too can be impressionable. Just when teens are wiring the circuits for self-control, responsibility and relationships that they will carry with them into adulthood, violent games activate their anger centre while dampening the brain's "conscience." And think of the more subtle impact:

What do you think the effect is when your kids spend time with violence simulators that glorify gang culture, celebrate brutality, lionize crudeness, and trivialize violence toward women?

How can parents minimize any potential harm?

Begin by choosing the game wisely. Entertainment Software Board rates a game ‘EC’ if it’s suitable for players aged 3 and up and gives an ‘E’ rating for games suitable for 6+. ‘T’ is for Teen, ‘M’ for mature, suitable for persons ages 17 and up while ‘AO’ is for "adults only."

M rated games like “Grand Theft Auto” are meant for adults as the person playing the game (in other words the child) leads a life of crime, shoots police officers, drinks and drives,does drugs and has sex with prostitutes. Parents need to be more aware and keep an eye out for the educational, non-violent electronic games out there. Psychologists have found that when parents limit the amount of time as well as the types of games their children play, children are less likely to show aggressive behaviours. Consider alternate activities that allow you to interact with your child, such as playing a board game or exploring.

Are popular films like Harry Potter and Twilight suitable for children of all ages?

The movie rating system in Sri Lanka leaves much to be desired – it appears to be focused almost entirely on nudity and sex whilst ignoring extreme violence.

Recent movies such as Avatar, 2012, Transformers, Tron, X-men and Harry Potter all shown in cinemas in Colombo have adult themes and significant violence, yet were given the U or universal rating which means ‘suitable for all.’ By contrast, it is rated PG 13 abroad, suitable only for children above 13 years old.

Do DVDs like the Baby Einstein series actually make babies smarter?

Babies under the age of 18 months who watch TV are more likely to have delayed cognitive development and language at 14 months, especially if they're watching programmes for adults or older children. Several studies, including this one by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine have come to the same conclusion - TV watching is not educational and worse, it seems to stunt babies' development. For children younger than two years, the AAP recommends no TV at all. A child’s brain develops rapidly during those first years, and children learn best by interacting with people, not TV screens.

Not all books are good books - what should parent do if he or she is concerned about the violent or sexual content of a book?

I’ve often heard it said, “I don’t care what he’s reading, as long as he’s reading.” I couldn’t disagree more. Better your child not read at all than read books boiling over with destructive messages poured right into the mind and heart.

There are scores of books available today that suck children into dark spiritual worlds –bestsellers like Percy Jackson, Vampire Diaries, the over-the-top successful Twilight series, all dabble in dark spiritual content cleverly sugar-coated as “fiction.” Try to read the book yourself or at least the reviews before allowing your children to read it on their own.

For more tips on helping kids make positive media choices, visit the AAP’s website,

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