Originally published Tuesday, 05 May 2015.
What are the challenges particular to raising this generation of kids?
I heard a national parenting expert and best-selling author of three books answer that question last month. I am still chewing on his advice and wanted to share it with you. The author is Leonard Sax, MD PhD of Why Gender Matters, Boys Adrift, and Girls on the Edge.
His crucial advice to parents of boys
If you are raising boys, the most important advice he gave was to monitor their video games. Apparently, there are games designed for adults that are frequenting the hands of children as young as fifth and sixth graders. These games are rated M for "Mature." The most popular example among this age group is Grand Theft Auto.
In games like Grand Theft Auto, there are moral inversions. That means the gamer is rewarded for bad behavior instead of good. Examples from this game include making money by shooting police officers, and paying for sex with a prostitute and then killing her afterward to get your money back. My jaw completely hit the floor as I listened.
The problem is the prevalence in which these games are being played by a young, impressionable audience. Dr. Sax cited research that correlated playing these games for over three hours a day with a moral decline in the gamers. His advice was not only to monitor the games we might purchase and learn the rating system, but also monitor what games are available at friends' houses.
While I know little about gaming, I have two cousins with gaming and computer coding backgrounds. They said what is particularly intriguing about Grand Theft Auto is its design and artistry. It is on a whole new plane of gaming, which is apparent to those playing it, and thus it's all the more impressive and alluring.
Some may argue that video games are no different than watching a violent movie. But the difference Dr. Sax cited is that instead of simply watching violence in a movie, the gamer is actually doing violence in a video game. The onlooker goes from a passive to active role. And the video game design makes this shift that much more real - and dangerous.
It's important to note that Dr. Sax did not advise against all video games, however. There are some games, like Fifa Soccer, that are rather innocuous. The key is the time allotted for children to play them and their content.
His crucial advice to parents of girls
If you are raising girls, the most important advice he gave was to monitor their social media. It poses more danger for girls than boys because girls are statistically much more likely to become depressed while using it. The reason why is that boys tend to post an array of good and bad pictures on social media, illustrating a full range of experiences. Girls, however, tend to only post the positive.
He provided an example of boys and girls going to a party. The party isn't fun. A boy may post a picture of throw up. A girl, however, might take 100 pictures of herself smiling with her friends so that she can post the best picture on her feed. Meanwhile, another girl who wasn't invited to the party sees that feed from her bedroom. She feels excluded and like her life is much less exciting than her peers.
There are a couple of ways that parents can help. First, they can help put social media in perspective for younger girls. Parents can point out that pictures get airbrushed, everyone feels excluded sometimes, and life isn't always happy. Life has ups and downs, and while girls may be posting one positive moment to the next, real life is more of a mixture of happy and sad, and that's normal.
Another way that parents can help is by monitoring social media activity. Dr. Sax suggested parental controls, like Net Nanny, so that parents can watch what their children are doing on the internet as well as what they're sharing. Surprisingly, he advised parents against giving iPhones if they do provide cellphones. The reason being is that children can easily deactivate parental controls from the phone without a password. Wow.
I hope you found this information helpful like me! To learn more expert advice, go to my blog at noellekirchner.com.