How should I manage media use with kids of different ages?

How should I manage media use with kids of different ages? 150 150 Mediatrics

Q: My kids are four years apart (ages 8 and 12), and I’m not sure how to manage their media use since their needs are so different. Should my oldest watch only programs that are appropriate for the younger child?
Stuck in the Middle with Two in Old Bethpage, NY

A:  Dear Stuck in the Middle with Two,

This is a tricky situation for many parents. The short answer first: If your differently aged children are using media together, then yes, make sure that the media is appropriate for the younger child. This advice may pose a challenge, but I assure you that following it is both important and possible.

Now for the long answer. Why is it so important? Because when children are exposed to content that is not appropriate for them—such as adult sexual situations—at the very least they will feel insecure and unsure of what’s going on. As parents, I think many of us want to believe that if kids don’t understand the content, it will just go over their heads. But in reality children have a tremendous desire to feel more mature than they are, and they don’t want to feel left out of what everyone else understands.  They often find a way to understand, and may get misinformation from peers and other sources rather than talking to you directly.   

Since your oldest will likely want to watch programs that might not be appropriate for the younger child, make sure that happens when the younger sibling is asleep or not around. I recommend using a VCR or DVR to record programs appropriate for both kids. Then, when it’s time to use media, you can decide who can see which programs.

If your children do want to use media together, make sure that the media are appropriate for the younger child and that they will both enjoy it. You can watch the material yourself before they do, or you can poke around on Common Sense Media, where parents and experts rate all kinds of programs and describe what they are like.  It might take a bit of looking around, but there are plenty of options that can be fun—and appropriate—for everyone.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician