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TV & Movies: Pre-Teens


Father and Son with camera

When it comes to TV, one of the most useful tools you can give your preteen child is the power to question. Help her to understand that all TV programs are creations made by people, rather than accept what's on the screen as objective truth. An advertiser may choose a TV series because it will boost the sales of a product. A director may select a certain kind of script to tell an engaging story. And a producer may influence how images are edited to create greater audience appeal and economic success.

The more you encourage your preteen to question how, why and for what purpose a show was made, the more sophisticated her understanding of TV programming will become.

8 Ways to Turn Your Child into an Active Viewer

  1. Help your child develop critical responses to what he sees on TV.
    Start a conversation by asking your child what he feels ( "Do you wish you were that character?"), whether he thinks the show reflects his life ("Do you know anyone who looks or acts like that?") or how much he knows about television production ("Do you think that was the actor or a stunt double?"). Talk back to the TV when a show doesn't make sense or an advertising claim is unrealistic.
  2. Point out the elements that make up a show.
    Use simple, cinematic vocabulary when you observe how characters talk (language is "dialogue"), how they live (homes, schools and work places are "sets") and how they behave ("main plot, subplots, cliff-hangers and twists"). Point out conventions such as laugh tracks or live audiences in half-hour sitcoms; subplots woven through hour-long dramas; unrealistic elements in "reality" shows; or a dominant point of view that drives a documentary.
  3. Tell your preteen about the strong link between TV programming and advertising.
    Ask your child to think about a show's appeal and the products that its commercials are pitching. You might ask of a particular ad, "Who do you think is watching this show? What are the marketers trying to sell? How did that ad make you feel?"
  4. Inspire your child to do, not just watch.
    If something in a show interests your child, encourage him to learn more about it by checking out a book or visiting a Web site on the topic. To see if an idea in a show holds true, he might conduct an experiment or ask a teacher about it. Or he could send a letter to a TV station or a producer, requesting background information.
  5. Find out what your child thinks is real.
    There's no way to know what your preteen thinks of the things he sees and hears on TV unless you ask. Find out if he is getting an unrealistic sense of how people look and act, what he thinks is the best way to resolve conflict, and what connections he is making between himself and the actors on TV and in commercials.
  6. Have suggestions ready when your child complains, "There's nothing to do!"
    If your child tends to flip on the TV when she's bored, suggest she take action instead: She can write a letter to the producer or station about what she does and doesn't like about a program or network. Help your child create her own backup list of activities to undertake instead of watching TV as a matter of habit. And don't forget to draw up a list for yourself!
  7. Have your family take a break from viewing.
    Consider taking part in National TV-Turnoff Week. Or find another time—during a family vacation, perhaps—to experiment with giving up the programs you normally watch. Talk with one another about this experience. Discuss how you might change family viewing habits.
  8. Keep your child moving.
    If TV viewing is lowering your child's physical activity, establish a new routine that will get him up and going. If he has a TV set in his bedroom, move it to a communal location.
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