If you’ve ever wondered how to figure out what’s acceptable for your kids to read/watch/play/listen to, you’re not alone. Most parents want to walk that line between letting their kids enjoy social culture – movies, music, books, apps, games – and keeping them from being exposed to material that is inappropriate. Few parents do any research.

After I had my first child, the first few years were pretty simple when it came to this topic. Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and VeggieTales were on repeat. For a while, it’s pretty easy to protect your kids and feel like you have this piece of parenting under control.

But when your kids get older, and especially once they have the ever constant peer pressure telling them “what everyone is doing,” it’s a great idea to have some trusted resources to go to for guidance.

Over the years I have found a few key sites and platforms that I use for parenting advice, book reviews, movie recommendations, and app suggestions.

Today’s Challenges

Being a parent is getting more challenging as technology becomes more accessible and pervasive in our kid’s lives. After elementary school, most of them need to be on a computer for school. Most teens have their own phones by the time they’re 13, if not before. One study showed that in 2019, 19% of eight year olds had their own phone.

We’ve talked before about how to put parameters and boundaries on what your kids can watch and have access to on their devices. It’s extremely important that you be the parent and set limits in this part of their life. The long term affects of unrestricted technology use is still being researched, but none of the results are coming back in a positive way. For more on putting these limits in place, see our earlier post on Teens + Technology.

House Rules Rule

Even if you’ve been strict at keeping them off screens, eventually they’ll go to a friend’s house and watch a movie or play a video game that you don’t have at home. Or they’ll sit next to someone on the bus or in the cafeteria who has an app you haven’t approved. It’s just bound to happen at some point because technology is ingrained in our kid’s lives at a far deeper level than parents ever had to deal with at their age.

Because of this, it’s very important to put in place some house rules that you expect your kids to adhere to when they’re not around you, or away from home. Some of these rules can look like:

  • They have to check with you before watching any movie at a friend’s house
  • They’re not allowed to create any account or profile on a game/app/website without checking with you and giving you the password
  • The only way apps get on their phones is by you (because you set their password)
  • They’re not allowed to watch any shows at home that you’ve deemed off limits. If you’re going to hold them accountable, make sure they know what the boundaries are. Make it clear to your kids what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Some people might see these types of rules as overbearing, helicopter parenting, or just plain mean and cruel. I completely disagree. The motivation with putting any rule, boundary, or limit in your child’s life should be because you love them and want good for them.

It’s because I love my children that I make them wear a seat belt, a helmet, or look both ways before crossing the street. I don’t want their physical body to be harmed so of course I’ll teach them how to stay safe physically.

The same goes for their spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Because I love them I won’t let them listen to explicit lyrics that are trashy, disgusting, and do nothing to reinforce the values we follow as a family. Out of love, I won’t let them watch just any movie or read any book. Once they see, hear, or experience something, it cannot be undone. So I show my kids that I love them BY giving them rules to follow.

Rules teach children what boundaries to operate within. They need guidance, structure, and limits to let them know they’re on the right path and doing the right things. It’s what boosts their self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-approval.

Trusted Resources

These are just a couple of my go-to resources. I encourage you to find your own based on your own parameters for what you’re looking for. My guides support more traditional family values with an emphasis on Christianity. My lens for viewing music, books, apps, etc. is through those values and I use a combination of these to give me a rounded out idea of what’s acceptable as my kids grow up.

The Parent Cue – Great website and store full of resources, articles, a podcast, and more. You can create a free account and download their app to get age specific recommendations for your kids. They also offer¬†Phase Guides that tell you how to make the most out of every year of your child’s life. I’m currently reading the ones for my middle school girls and they’re rich with suggestions, book recommendations, and plenty of blank space to write and journal.

Before buying, check with your church to see if they have (or would purchase) the Phase Guides, because that’s where I first heard about them and was able to get them for less than full price.

Common Sense Media – A great site for doing a quick check on age recommendations for anything from books to movies to apps. With the start of 2021, they changed their website to be more of a paid subscription, so once you look up three items, you’ll hit a paywall that makes you become a Plus Member. However, you can still search for items and see the general age recommendation without paying, which is sometimes all I need to see.

If you decide you want to see the full review of items, which is helpful when you want to look more deeply into language, sexuality, or violent content in movies and tv shows, it’s only $3/month or $30/year to join the Plus Membership Program.

Plugged In – Another website that I use to check age recommendations on media and books. It’s a newer site than Common Sense Media, so sometimes it doesn’t have the full library of what I’m searching for. However, it is a project of Focus on the Family, so it has more of a Christian perspective on the reviews, so I sometimes read this as a supplement to what I’ve read on other sites to help me make a decision.

This is a free resources so there’s no paywall or limit on searches. There is also a blog and podcast you can subscribe to for even more tips on media recommendations.

On Becoming Teen-Wise – Part of a series of books which include the well-known Babywise, this book focuses on building a healthy relationship with your teenager. Most people know or have heard of the Babywise books, but few realize that the books continue all the way through child development. (note: affiliate links)

Keep Learning

Staying one step ahead of our kids is an ongoing challenge. It’s part of the parenting journey and exactly what we signed up for when we became parents. If the above resources don’t speak to you, then I encourage you to keep hunting and searching for resources you can trust.

It’s critical that we keep learning about parenting our kids and meet them where they’re at in terms of their growth, both emotional and physical, so that we can parent appropriately. Keep reading, listening to podcasts, and asking for help from people and organizations you trust.

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