Swimming Upstream: How to Share Your Family's Media Standards with Other Parents
This post is a guest post by Andrea Davis of Better Screen Time and contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting our work.
Do you ever feel alone in the battle to keep kids safe from digital dangers? Like you're going the opposite direction of everyone else with your family media standards? It reminds me of salmon.
If you’ve ever watched salmon swim upstream to return to their birthplace, you’ll note that it looks incredibly taxing! At times, it appears the fish aren’t even moving as the water continues to flow in the opposite direction. Other times, their efforts are Herculean, as they hurdle waterfalls and splash around logs and boulders.
Why do salmon fight so hard to return to their home? In order to ensure the survival of their offspring. They must return to freshwater to start the life cycle all over again.
Like these salmon, parents of the digital era must swim upstream to ensure our children survive growing up with the internet at their fingertips. Our children are being bombarded with pornography, fake news, self-comparison traps, deadly online challenges, and 3-D violence that looks so real. We must make every effort to communicate with our children’s friend’s parents about our family’s media standards and teach our children to uphold those values when we are not around.
But, how do we swim upstream and help those swimming beside us? Here are my answers to some common questions from parents.
How do I share my family’s media standards with other parents?
Nurture relationships with other parents through conversation
Start with getting to know your kid’s friends and their parents. This has been especially challenging for many parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, but even a simple text introducing yourself is a good start!
For many parents, building relationships with your kid’s friend’s parents becomes more difficult as your kids get older. Playdates are long gone, and pre-teens and teens tend to just hang out without parents tagging along. I’ve been working on going to the door to pick up or drop off my kids more often so I can at least check in with the other parents.
One parent in our Better Screen Time community said when she gets together with other parents, she asks what they are doing to teach their kids (about a variety of topics). She said it always opens up a great conversation—sometimes she learns and sometimes she teaches! When we have real face-to-face conversations with parents (versus texts or social media comments), parents are more likely to open up about hard lessons learned with their children.
Another parent has gathered parents together in her local PTA to go through our course, Creating a Tech-Healthy Family, together! You can do the same with our course and with Defend Young Mind’s Brain Defense: Digital Safety curriculum. These are both excellent ways to get the conversation started.
Use code DEFEND to get 10% off the Creating a Tech-Healthy Family course by Better Screen Time.
Find like-minded parents in places that share similar media values
For our family this has been library story time, the park, hiking and biking trails, museums, church, and local interest groups (such as gardening, Legos, a Makerspace, etc.). Strike up a conversation and take some time to get to know the other parents and children in the places that you frequent. Screen time is such a hot parenting topic, it eventually surfaces in conversation and you can often tell if you have similar screen time philosophies.
Communicate your family’s media standards by letting other parents know what type of media you use in your home
My 14-year-old recently had a birthday party. I let her friends' parents know what movie we’d be watching and gave them the opportunity to text me privately if they had any concerns. It was a way for me to say, “I’d love for you to do the same when my child comes to your house.” By speaking up, I’m letting them know that I care what kind of media my child consumes.
Teach your kids to make decisions ahead of time and to speak up
As kids get older, they will inevitably be exposed to more questionable content. The average age for a child to be exposed to pornography is nine—nine years old! When this happens, we may not be right by our child’s side to tell them to close the tab, shut the laptop, or to walk away.
Our kids will need to know how to do this when they are all alone, but also in social situations with their peers and friends. Other kids can share a YouTube video faster than our kids can say, “No.” We have to teach them that it’s never too late to speak up and to change course–even when someone has derailed the play date or hangout with inappropriate images or videos.
Teaching our kids what to do when they are exposed to pornography is critical here and there are incredible resources to help.
Here are some of our favorite resources for teaching this topic:
- The Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of read aloud books by Kristen Jenson teaches kids age-appropriate definitions of pornography, warns them of the dangers, and gives them a plan to reject it.
- The Brain Defense: Digital Safety curriculum from Defend Young Minds teaches kids ages 8-12 skills to defend themselves against digital dangers.
- The Creating a Tech-Healthy Family course from Better Screen Time will help you to reduce screen time, restore family time, and raise kids who thrive—yes, even in a tech-obsessed world!
- The Untangling Teens & Tech program from Better Screen Time is a step-by-step plan for parents and teens to build a relationship together and create tech boundaries they can both live with.
All of these resources will help you teach your kids to make decisions ahead of time and to speak up for themselves!
Related: Babysitters & Tech: 5 Tips to Keep Kids Safe From Pornography
How do you bring up topics like concern over pornography with other parents—helping them understand the need to talk to their own kids?
Don’t assume other parents know what you know and be willing to bring up tough topics.
Years ago, several parents were volunteering at my children's school and as we walked the kids from one location to another, my conversation with another mom drifted toward devices at school. I brought up pornography and my concern for the many threats facing our kids, including child sex trafficking, the rise of child upon child sex abuse, the inability to connect in real romantic relationships, and more. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I never even thought about all of that!”
If you are reading this article, chances are you know more than the average parent about the ill-effects of pornography. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You could very well be the lifeline that saves someone else’s child from the harms of pornography.
Keep a loaner library to share with other parents.
As I share my own experiences of talking to my children about online safety, pornography, cyberbullying, online predators, and more, parents often ask me how to start these conversations. I keep a stash of my favorite resources on hand so I can easily loan them out to friends and family.
Here are a few of my favorite books to help parents get started:
- Good Pictures, Bad Pictures—I’ve loaned these books out many times! Bridging the conversation about pornography can feel so daunting, but Kristen has made it so doable with her books. Keep these both on hand to use in your own home and to share with other parents.
- Creating a Tech-Healthy Family—Five years ago, I wasn’t sure where to start in safeguarding my kids in a digital world. As a former teacher, I created simple lesson plans to prepare my kids and now they are available for all parents. These are our 10 must-have conversations so you can worry less about technology and connect more with your kids.
- Glow Kids—Do your kids or kid’s friends play video games? You must read this one and share it.
- 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week - Many families feel they must have their devices on and available 24/7. What if you could set them aside just one day per week? We love Tiffany Schalin’s Tech Shabbat and share this one frequently.
- The Tech-Wise Family—Andy Crouch’s book is a favorite. It contains relevant research and very practical application from a real family. (Note: this is Christian-centered.)
- Reset Your Child’s Brain—If you have a friend who feels their child is addicted to a screen, hand them this book. Dr. Victoria Dunckley provides a 4-week plan for getting kids off screens and back into life. Every parent should read this book.
Related: 7 Digital Parenting Books to Help You Raise Screen-Smart Kids
How do you talk to other parents about the amount of screen time during playdates?
Plan playdates with families with similar media values.
This is your first line of defense! If you know another family allows violent video games and that doesn’t line up with your family’s standards, then either offer to have the playdate at your home or choose other friends to spend time with, unless they are willing to respect your family’s rule when your child is there.
Prioritize non-screen activities when other children are in your home.
Lead the way! Set up your home environment to prioritize your family’s values. Place books, craft supplies, outdoor activities, open-ended toys where kids will naturally gravitate to them. As a family who has kept their TV in a closet for 15 years, we know a thing or two about this!
Related: 5 Easy Tricks to Manage Screen Time and Get a Happier Family, Too
Communicate your standards from the beginning.
Share your family’s media standards with other parents and how you will do your best to protect their child from online dangers. Ask what devices or media they use in their home and if they have any screen time rules you should follow or know about. Again, when we share our family’s expectations, that gives others a chance to honor your family’s standards.
Keep the conversation going.
If your children's friends use a device or watch something when they are in your home, let the parents know what the activity was and how long the kids spent doing it. We’ve always done this when parents arrive to pick up their child. If we don’t know the parents well, we will text them during the playdate to get approval before starting a movie. You don’t want other parents to be surprised to learn this later and it also gives you a chance to make sure they are okay with this in the future.
Related: Safe Playdates: 3 Strategies for Setting Media Ground Rules
How would you talk to another parent whose child showed something inappropriate to your child?
Say something, gently, and don’t send a text.
Give yourself a bit of time to cool off, give the other parent a heads up that you’d like to chat in person or over the phone. Don’t text this information. Based on my own experience and that of other parents, texting can get it all wrong! No one likes to be told they’ve done something wrong, and as parents we especially don’t love hearing that our child did something wrong, even if it wasn't shared with malicious intent.
However, you must speak up! Even if your child isn’t involved, this child is in danger. It takes a village! Let the other parent know you are not judging them or their child, but sharing out of concern for both of your children.
Seek to understand and ask questions.
Remember there are two sides to every story. We don’t want to accuse another child without hearing from them. Give the other parent time to process what happened and to talk to their child when they feel calm and collected. We often feel panicked when this happens and that if we don’t take care of this right away, something bad will happen. If you feel you need to keep your child from playing with this friend until you’ve had time to sort it out, be honest with the other parent and your child and say so.
Related: My Child’s Friend Has a Problem with Pornography! What Should I Do?
Make a plan moving forward.
What was the situation when the incident occurred? Were screens being used in a bedroom? Who did the screen belong to? Ask, “how can we avoid this happening again?” Create screen time boundaries that will be followed at each house and then share these with your children individually. Ask your child if they can help the other child be accountable, too. If the other parent is not willing to create boundaries with you, then the friendship is likely not one worth keeping. This may sound harsh, but as parents our children’s safety and wellbeing are ours to safeguard.
If you’ve had a nagging feeling that your child is spending a lot of time playing video games and watching YouTube videos at a friend’s home, first speak with your child to see if reality matches your hunch. If it does, then talk to the other parent on the phone or face to face to see if it’s possible to change things up. Maybe the other parent is stressed with work or has other demands that are resulting in them turning on a screen too much. Perhaps offer to host the next playdate or send some fun activity (a game, a craft, a special snack to make) with your child to share with their friend in their home.
If you’re not sure what your family’s media standards are, it will be really challenging to share them with other parents! Take 30 minutes and use our free Quick Guide to Create a Family Tech Plan or our book Creating a Tech-Healthy Family. You will rest easier knowing that your child understands your family’s media values both in and out of your home.
Just keep swimming!
It’s not easy swimming upstream in the digital era, but it has been worth it for me. Not only do our kids need us to ease the current, but other parents need our guidance and tenacity as well! The more parents who are aware of digital dangers and the harms of pornography, the greater our chances of raising kids who will thrive, even swimming against the current, in a digital world.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent