A Trusted Guide to Children’s Media

Now that summer has arrived, are you looking for an appealing game for your child to play on a long drive, or a family movie to watch together? For a guide to the best in children’s media, bookmark the website Common Sense Media. This nonprofit site help parents separate the wheat from the chaff in a vast sea of media, with smart, honest reviews of the apps, games, movies, TV shows, music and books created for children.

The Top Picks section can help you pick out a beautiful picture book or decide whether the newest animated blockbuster is appropriate for your 5-year-old. Top Picks also highlights the best apps to support specific skill sets, such as “building and making” or “mapping skills.” If your child is fascinated by digital games, look under Family Guides for ideas about channeling that interest into learning to code and inventing new games. And the Parent Concerns area has a thoughtful selection of apps to strengthen a child’s empathy, compassion, gratitude and teamwork skills.

The mission of Common Sense Media is help children grow up wisely in a media-saturated world. To that end, it offers authoritative advice to parents for raising children who are responsible consumers and interpreters of media. To help with the anxiety so many parents feel in this area, the site gives talking points for issues that arise when children use media. For instance, a young child may not understand what an advertisement is and how it is different from the TV show she is watching. With older children, you may be having conversations about a frightening newspaper photo, gender stereotypes and casual violence in games and cartoons, or ads that glamorize drinking during a sporting event. These confusing or manipulative aspects of the media can be important entry points for talking about your deepest values with your children. A calm and clarifying chat with you will reassure your children that they can come to you if they come across upsetting images or behavior in the digital world.

The fundamental takeaway from Common Sense Media? That there are positive, affirming ways to share media with your children and valuable conversations to have about its power to shape our behavior and self-image. (Ever seen children pretending to smoke after seeing a classic movie? Common Sense Media has some tips for that.) Your awareness of media’s impact will help you guide and support your children as they begin to interact with the digital world.

Lastly, Common Sense Media offers important guidance that applies as much to adults as to children, particularly when it comes to privacy. Keep in mind that some app, game and digital-toy companies collect data about their users. Check the terms and conditions—that fine-print document you usually click past—to see what data an app is collecting from your device. Remind your children never to volunteer personal information, like an email address, just because they are prompted to by an app. And you might want to update the privacy and location settings on your family’s devices and social media accounts—and put a strong password on your wifi baby monitor.

No force has reshaped family life as much as ubiquitous access to the internet—and this cultural change has happened swiftly. Parents today cannot look to previous generations for wisdom and guidance about raising “digital natives.” Instead, both teachers and parents face a novel but incredibly important task: to teach children, from the earliest age, that that their behavior and interactions online have real-life consequences.

Understanding that the virtual world is not “a world apart” has eluded many young people; Harvard recently rescinded acceptance offers to at least 10 incoming freshmen who were exchanging offensive memes in a private Facebook chatroom. To safely navigate the digital world, children need to develop savvy, restraint and self-protective instincts—all tricky to instill. Hence the importance of resources like Common Sense Media, whose credo is “We can’t cover children’s eyes, but we can help them to see.” As your child’s first teacher, I am sure you will agree that the best way to help your child become a responsible citizen in the “virtual” world is through education, education, education.