A new study by CcaM researchers shows that when parents talk with their children about rules and content of media, their style of communication can help or harm outcomes of the discussion.
Parents who are concerned about their child’s media use – for example because they use too much media or particular content that may not be appropriate – can try and reduce potential negative outcomes in two ways. First, they may set up rules and regulations, such as not playing games for youth aged 16 and older or not using your mobile phone before bedtime. This is called “restrictive parental mediation”. Second, parents can talk to their children about media content and try to explain that particular content is unrealistic and not how things happen in real life. This is called “active parental mediation”. Restrictive and active mediation have been studied quite extensively as ways to reduce potential negative effects of media use. This body of literature shows mixed effects: sometimes parental mediation is successful, sometimes it is not.
In this new study, CcaM researchers Karin Fikkers, Jessica Piotrowski, and Patti Valkenburg investigated whether the style in which parents communicate about media with their children may play a role in enhancing its effectiveness. Three styles were distinguished. First, an autonomy-supportive style is characterized by providing a rationale for media rules and recognizing the perspective of the child. Second, a controlling style is characterized by pressuring children to think and behave in certain ways. Third, an inconsistent style is characterized by inconsistent application of rules – sometimes allowing the child to play a certain game and at other times restricting it. The expectation was that an autonomy-supportive style of restrictive and active mediation would result in positive outcomes, such as reduced media violence exposure and aggressive behavior. Controlling and inconsistent styles, on the other hand, were expected to result in negative outcomes, such as increased media violence use and aggression.
To test this, 1,029 Dutch early adolescents completed a questionnaire twice (with one year in between) about their own media violence exposure, aggressive behavior, and how they perceive their parents to communicate with them about media. Analyses showed that restrictive mediation communicated in an autonomy-supportive style was related to decreased aggression via decreased media violence exposure. In contrast, inconsistent restrictive mediation was related to increased aggression via increased media violence exposure. Both relationships were only found when measuring media violence, aggression, and parent mediation at the same time point. Parental mediation styles were not related to media violence and aggression one year later. A controlling style of mediation, and all styles of active mediation neither helped nor harmed effects on media violence and aggression.
These findings suggest some guidelines for parents who are concerned about the potential negative effects of media violence exposure on their children’s aggression. When talking to children about the time and content of their media use, an autonomy-supportive style in which parents provide a rationale for rules and listening to the child’s perspective seems more helpful than pressuring children to follow rules (controlling mediation) or being inconsistent in restricting or allowing media use.
Click here to read the article “A Matter of Style? Exploring the Effects of Parental Mediation Styles on Early Adolescents' Media Violence Exposure and Aggression”, published online first in Computers in Human Behavior.