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Child & Adolescent Development: Overview
Impulse Control Disorders

Set Limits on Media Use

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Parents also need to communicate limits and rules about media use, including when different kinds of media may be used and when they must be turned off. Children and teens will probably not like these limitations, and will probably feel they are "unfair." It's a good idea for parents to communicate an age-appropriate rational for why the rules are being set (e.g., because they help keep the family safe; because they help the family to be stronger and more loving, etc.) so that children have some basis for agreeing to follow the rules even if they don't like them.

Limits are meaningless without enforcement to back them up. Parents need to enforce the media limits they set on youth by monitoring youth's media consumption and offering appropriate disciplinary consequences for compliance or disobedience. For more information about discipline and children, see the discipline sections in the Middle Childhood Parenting article and the Adolescent Parenting topic centers.

Here are some suggested limits that parents may decide to place on their children's media use:

1. First, children should not have computers or Internet connected devices in their bedrooms or other hidden, private places within the house. Instead, computers and Internet access should be provided in public spaces, such as the kitchen or living room. This way, it's easier for parents to monitor what children are doing, and children will feel less comfortable engaging in negative conversations or interactions online because of the lack of privacy.

Parents need to recognize that the family computer is not the only way that youth can access the Internet. The Internet can now be accessed through telephones, video game consoles, and through some televisions and cable or satellite set-top boxes as well as computers. Therefore, there should also be rules about no video games in bedrooms, as well. Cell phones may also connect to the Internet. Parents may choose to have Internet features disabled on children's phones, not only to limit children's use but also to limit cost on the family's overall monthly cell phone bill.

2. Parents should set other limitations on cell phone use, as well. Adults should be clear about just when it's okay to use cell phones and when it is not. Specific rules about what hours of the day children can use their phones, the number of minutes or texts children can use each month, and who children can talk to might make sense to lay down, depending on family needs. School may also have a cell phone use policy which should be worked into the general policies lay down so that the rules are consistent across environments. Furthermore, parents may wish to set a cell phone curfew, limiting how late at night youth can use cell phones. Once policies have been set, it's important that parents enforce them.

3. Parents also need to limit how much time children spend on the Internet, in front of the television, or playing video games each day. They will also want to make rules about what television channels, stations, websites, magazines, video games, or other media are allowed. Parents may want to set up some rules for how they will review new video games, MP3s, and DVDs that enter the household so that one parent does not allow something that worries the other.