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How to Navigate Controversial TV Programs With Your Teen

I feel like everywhere I turn, I hear or see something about the latest fad in TV programing. It seems television is looking for increasingly controversial ways to handle special topics of interest. From eating disorders to suicide, just about anything you would want to find out more about is now at your fingertips in the latest television show content.

As a parent, this can leave you wondering what to do about these fad programs and how to handle them with your teenager. Even schools began issuing warnings to parents about these television shows and their fear that it glamorized the struggles (see this source). It is imperative that as a parent, you are willing to navigate these topics with your teen instead of wondering in silence if they are influencing your child. Most teens have been influenced by these shows in one way or another—it could simply be hearing about it in the halls at school, in conversations with friends, or watching it without your knowledge. Don’t think your child is immune from the current fad, because chances are, they probably already know all about it.

First Steps First

Parents must first consider if a particular show is right for their teen to watch. Current shows dealing with controversial topics such as suicide or eating disorders are intended for mature audiences. Their ratings not only indicate strong language but also the graphic nature of their content. Parents should think about their own teenager and if they can handle such language, topics, or images in a healthy way.

For one particular show on suicide, The National Assocation of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series for ‘vulnerable youth’ or youth that may already be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts (National Association of School Psychologists, 2017). If you decide that your child does not need to watch these shows for whatever reasons, sit down with them and explain why.

Attempt to come alongside your child and ask them why they would be interested in watching them in the first place. Be willing to have the hard, sometimes awkward, conversations about these topics with your child so that their desire to watch the show can possibly decrease. Explain openly and honestly why you do not feel it would be helpful for your child to see these images and to hear this graphic content, which could be harmful.

Next Steps

If, however, you do decide to give the green light on watching these episodes, plan as a family about how you will handle the content. I would encourage parents to be willing to watch the show with their child. Co-watching offers the opportunity for you to engage in natural discussions about what you are both seeing and how you are both being affected. These shows are not something you would want your teenager watching alone, feeling they have no one to process what they are seeing with.

As you watch the show together, talk about what you are watching and ask your child their impressions of the scenes. Do not judge what your child says or blow off things they find difficult. Listen openly to their thoughts and affirm them for being willing to share in this dialogue with you. If while watching the show your teenager becomes upset or finds the content overwhelming, stop watching and talk to your child about how it is affecting them negatively.

There may be a need for further conversations on the topic in the time ahead. These topics surround your child daily, so don’t be afraid to bring it back up with them. The more you are willing to talk with your child, the more you can help guide their thoughts on the issues.

Remind your child what they have watched is fiction and does not always depict reality. Also, encourage your child that if they ever struggle with the same heavy topics that they are watching, to feel that they can tell you or another trusted adult. Be willing to take your child seriously and find them the help that they need to overcome those feelings too.

 

Further Resource:

Parents Guide to Watching 13 Reasons Why with your teen: https://save.org/13-reasons-why/

 

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