Parents naturally want to protect their children from harm. When that harm comes in the form of cell phones, computers, video games, or any form of media, however, due to media’s ubiquitous nature, protecting your children may become a full time job. BYU School of Family Life professors Dr. Sarah Coyne and Laura M. Padilla-Walker delved into the role and effect of protective maternal media monitoring in a recent study. In particular, the study looked to see if mothers’ media monitoring styles either helped to reduce media use or increased the association between aggressive media use and adolescents’ prosocial behavior, aggression, [or] delinquency.” Media monitoring strategies that consisted of active monitoring, engaging, and conversing about media to connect with one’s children was associated with less media use, although it did not completely deter adolescents from aggressive media.
At two different point of time, roughly at the ages of 13 and 15, 681 adolescents and their mothers, all participants of BYU’s Flourishing Families Project, reported their media monitoring and media use. Parental media monitoring in this case was defined as “parental efforts directed toward supervising and discussing their child’s media use.” Monitoring styles were generally categorized into:
- Active monitoring which entails promoting “education and critical thinking” about media.
- Restrictive monitoring or setting restrictions and rules on time spent on media and media content.
- Co-Use, when parents and children “experience the media together”.
When these monitoring styles merged together, a “family climate” was created that related to the effectiveness of parenting practices and the way media was seen in the home. After modeling and analysis of participant responses, results showed that mothers generally used four media monitoring strategies, all of which yielded different results in regards to adolescent media usage.
High Active Connection (18% of mothers)
High active connection monitoring consisted of very high levels of active monitoring and connective co-use. These mothers were slightly more involved in the monitoring of their children’s media in comparison with other mothers. Adolescents who were monitored in this way still reported moderate use of aggressive media, but had the lowest overall media time and had equally low levels of media use in the bedroom as adolescents moderated by moderate active connection.
Moderate Active Connection (30% of mothers)
This monitoring style included high levels of active monitoring and connective co-use. Like high active connection monitoring, there was still a moderate use of aggressive media among adolescents and had the lowest levels of media use in the bedroom.
Restrictive Co-Use (11% of mothers)
Restrictive co-use was primarily characterized by restrictive monitoring of adolescent media.
Restrictive Connections (36% of mothers)
Restrictive connections showed an equal level of restrictive monitoring and connective co-use in media monitoring styles.
While connective co-use was the most commonly used across the four monitoring styles, no singular style was comprised of only one parenting strategy; all parenting strategies were used by every monitoring style group to some degree. But there were certain adolescent media use and behavioral outcomes that related to more specific parenting strategies within maternal media monitoring styles. Media monitoring strategies that consisted of active monitoring and connective co-use (i.e., when parents engaged and conversed about media to connect with their children) were associated with less media use.
Concerning restrictive media monitoring, reports show that restrictive approaches are generally less effective during adolescence due to teens’ “increased desires for autonomy as they approach mid adolescence.” In fact, this also extends to the promotion of pro-social behavior (voluntary behavior that benefits others), suggesting that protecting children from negative behaviors requires different forms of monitoring than promoting pro-social behaviors.
Even after maternal media monitoring, aggressive media still took its toll, the study showed. Aggressive media content and time were positively related to aggression and delinquency. It also negatively affected pro-social behavior.
There have already been a number of studies of the effects of monitoring on teen media use. This study was different in that it tested the direct effects of media moderation considering dynamic, personal media monitoring styles. More than half of all media exposure occurs in the home and parents should be aware of how their monitoring of that media influences their children and family. There are real differences between media time and media content and there are real differences in the way a parent monitors their children and the positive and negative effect it can have on their behaviors and relationships.
Why Does this Matter?
Parents need to be aware of the effects their media monitoring has on their children and home. Moderating an adolescent’s media time and usage can be frustrating and tiring, but when done right, can benefit people and relationships. “We encourage parents to especially try to create a media monitoring climate that includes high levels of active monitoring and connective co-use, with relatively lower levels of restrictive monitoring,” says Padilla-Walker et al. Adolescents are in school learning new knowledge and skills, and parents likewise need to be learning more skills in regards to monitoring so that they can be prepared and confident to parent in the “increasingly digital world.” Future parents also should heed this information so that they can be ready to teach and protect their children when their time to monitor media and protect their children arrives.