Do You See What I See? Parent and Child Reports of Parental Monitoring of Media

By Gentile, Douglas A.; Nathanson, Amy I. et al. | Family Relations, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Do You See What I See? Parent and Child Reports of Parental Monitoring of Media


Gentile, Douglas A., Nathanson, Amy I., Rasmussen, Eric E., Reimer, Rachel A., Walsh, David A., Family Relations


Research on parental monitoring of children's media use suggests parents can reduce the negative effects of media exposure on children, although this research is rarely conducted with elementary school children and leaves open questions about whether parents or children are better reporters. Participants were 1,323 children, their parents, and teachers. Parents and children reported on four aspects of monitoring for TV and video games: co-using, limit setting on amount, limit setting on content, and active mediation. Parents gave much higher estimates than did children. Monitoring was moderated by child age, child sex, parent marital status, parent education, and parent income. Although parent- and child-reported monitoring correlated rather poorly, both types were almost equally good predictors of children 's screen time, media violence exposure, and teacher reports of school performance. When there were differences, the child reports tended to be slightly better predictors, demonstrating the validity of child reports of parental monitoring.

Key Words: active mediation, media effects, middle childhood, parental monitoring.

Elementary school children spend a sizable portion of their waking hours in front of a screen, either watching TV or playing video games (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). The typical 8- to 10-year-old watches an average of 3 hours and 41 minutes of television and spends over an hour playing video games every day. Despite parents' concerns about their children's media use, the amount of time children spend with screen media continued to increase dramatically over the last decade (Rideout et al., 2010).

The latter part of middle childhood (approximately ages 8- 10) is a critical period of child development in which children's selves begin to emerge (Jellinek, Patel, & Froehle, 2002). Children in this developmental stage begin to make independent choices and to develop and express their personalities. Middle childhood also is characterized by a desire to fit into peer groups, which can include pressures to smoke, drink, use drugs, and have the perfect body. As a result, media consumption may have especially important consequences during this developmental period. Televised content may reinforce messages from peers and provide both potentially positive and negative models of behavior. Video game playing may provide an escape or relief from an increasingly complicated social life and may also provide models for behavior. Indeed, some have suggested that the media act as a type of "super peer," where the media are like powerful best friends who are able to make risky behavior seem normal (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 2009). Jellinek et al. (2002) have suggested that limits on media violence exposure are especially important during middle childhood because this is a period when norms of behavior are being internalized (see also Gentile & Sesma, 2003). Therefore, parental monitoring of children's media is of potentially great relevance during this period.

Parent Monitoring of Media

Three primary forms of parental monitoring have been studied: active mediation, restrictive mediation, and coviewing. Although some research has investigated parental monitoring of the Internet (Lee & Chae, 2007; Livingstone & Helsper, 2008), the majority of work to date has focused on parental monitoring of television. Each form is associated with unique sets of predictors and outcomes. Of the three forms, active mediation has been studied the most frequently. Active mediation involves parent-child conversations about the media and its content (Austin, 1993, 2001; Chakroff & Nathanson, 2008; Nathanson, 2001a), and has been referred to as instructive guidance, discussion, and explanation (Bybee, Robinson, & Turow, 1982; Livingstone & Helsper, 2008; van der Voort, Nikken, & van Lil, 1992). Active mediation can involve educating children about the technical aspects of media programming (Nathanson, 2010) or providing children with opinions about content (Nathanson, 2004). …

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