Tips for parents about media-related problems

Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL) offers support for parents about media-related problems with their children through parents’ support services. MLL also runs a helpline for children - Child and Youth Phone and Chat. MLL’s helpline expert Anna Weckström writes about the concerns that parents have regarding digital media and children. MLL’s helplines are a part of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre. 

Date 2023-01-31 Author Finnish Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic cyberbullying, excessive use, love, relationships, sexuality (online), media literacy/education Audience media specialist, parents and carers
A girl sitting on a sofa and scrolling through her mobile

You are not alone with your digital concerns 

When someone contacts MLL’s parenting support service, you never know what the problem will be. But their concerns often involve digital media, since we are living in a near-seamless symbiosis with the digital world – whether we like it or not. Many parents have concerns about setting limits, bullying of children and young people, and peer relationships, and these phenomena are intertwined with the media environment. From time to time, we are also contacted about sexual harassment or sexual violence suffered by children and young people on social media.  

Setting limits is a challenge for parents and carers

My 14-year-old girl has the most terrible tantrums when I make remarks about her phone use or try to set limits on it. I don't really know what kind of rules we should try to agree on.  

The overwhelming majority of questions involving digital media sent to our parenting support channels is related to the excessive media use of children and young people. Often, the parent is concerned about their child’s gaming or amount of time spent on the phone or online. The parent can feel helpless, uncertain and at a loss when it feels like their child is lost in the game world or apps that the parent may have no experience or information about. Few of today’s parents have grown up in a similar media environment as their children.  Many parents find it helpful to find affirmation for their thoughts in discussions with another adult. Talking about the importance of balancing the various aspects of a child’s everyday life, such as sleep, friends, outdoor activities and gaming, also helps. Children can get too preoccupied with games. In such cases, we discuss ways of influencing the situation and supporting the child in reducing their gaming time.  

Concerns over frightening content  

The kid has watched really violent videos on the internet with his friend and has had difficulties falling asleep every night since then.  

Parents and carers might feel at a loss if their child or adolescent has encountered pornographic, violent or otherwise scary and age-inappropriate content online. In some cases, the child or young person has sent pictures of themselves to an unknown person on the internet. Their online acquaintance may have pressured them into sending pictures or engaging in other interactions with sexual overtones. In such cases, talking with another adult is especially helpful to the parent. Processing the shock or irritation with another adult instead of the child or young person shields them from further distress.  

Common rules for everyday digital life  

Our three-year-old no longer wants to sit at table without cartoons. I constantly get into arguments with my spouse about this.  

The messages sent by parents show that many children start using media as toddlers. Differences in media use habits and principles between the family's adults are reflected in the family’s rules. Some people consider it perfectly fine to browse the news on their phones while eating, while digital devices at dinner are an absolute no-no to others. 

Since social media use is a part of many parents’ everyday lives, it is smart and responsible to consider how the parent’s own media use is reflected on children, no matter how young.  Being able to take the child’s perspective and the example set by the adult play a big role in this. It is important to discuss media use with children from an early age. One way of doing this is to explain to the child what the adult is doing on their phone. When the development of digital skills is supported from an early age, the child will learn to act in the digital environment in an informed and safe manner. 

Help from counselling services  

What to do if media use is the source of arguments, grey hairs or puzzlement? How should you react if your child has been bullied or harassed, or if you would like to exchange views on age-appropriate content? The media use of children and young people involves risks and drawbacks, and it is the job of adults to protect children from them and support safe media use. Talking helps - no parent should be left alone with their troubles.

Read more information about MLL’s media education for parents on the website.

Find more information about the work of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.   

Related news