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Play Date Media Protocols: To Play or Not to Play
My 4-year-old daughter is pretty princess-obsessed at the moment -- with all princesses, including the ubiquitous Disney Princesses. This usually isn't a big issue. (Although she does demand to wear a dress. Every. Single. Day.) But one of my friends doesn't allow her daughter to watch any Disney movies. I know and respect my friend's decision, and she knows that if our girls play, chances are my daughter will want to dress up and pretend she's a princess, which means Cinderella or Aurora or Ariel will likely be mentioned (although I would never put any of the movies on while she's over). If that's a deal-breaker, well, then our girls just couldn't play together anymore.
This issue -- how different families manage media for their kids -- has caused me to think more deeply about how to negotiate the rules around what kids watch, do, and play at play dates.
In my home, I've done everything from facilitate no-media, Waldorf-approved afternoons featuring silk scarves, crafts, and wooden blocks to permitting a Star Wars mini-marathon on both the Wii and DVD. My children have friends whose parents don't allow them to watch any television, much less movies, and they have friends (usually the ones with older siblings) who've seen or played movies and games that I wouldn't consider age-appropriate for my kids.
Turns out, everyone has different rules. Call me crazy, but I think media rules should be handled like allergies. Just as I'd expect a parent to tell me that their child can't have nuts before a play date, I expect a parent to tell me they're a "no-TV" or "no-X-Box Live" or "no-Disney" family.
Take my 14-year-old niece and soon-to-be 12-year-old nephew. Until recently, they weren't allowed to play T-rated video games -- so when we all got together for holidays, my brother's same-aged kids would shelve their T-rated collections. If my sister had kept her preference to herself, my brother's kids wouldn't have known to only bring E-rated games to our Thanksgiving or Christmas reunions.
Luckily, so far, I haven't had to deal with any serious, deal-breaking play date situations, just a couple of awkward-but-livable "you watched what again?" moments. I've learned that the best thing is to be up front before and after the play date.
You can’t expect another parent to be as hands-on or hands-off as you, even if they're your friends. If you're OK with video games but not unsupervised Internet surfing, say so! We're parents, not mind-readers. Otherwise, don't be overly surprised if your pre-teen comes home talking about the latest YouTube sensation: "Mom, you won't believe what Christian Bale said on the set of Terminator!"
How do you negotiate media rules with your kids’ friends? What are the gray areas, and what’s a deal-breaker?
Sandie Angulo Chen has been an entertainment writer and editor for her entire professional career and is the mother of three. Her work has appeared in Variety, Moviefone.com, EW.com, Entertainment Weekly, and InStyle. The opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of Common Sense Media.