Lifestyle

Ask Amy

Big Sister worries about preteen’s media choices

Q. I am a 30-year-old woman with no children.

I am mentoring a 12-year-old girl through the Big Sisters program. “Sandie” is a great, strong-willed kid, but has been through the wringer, with a history of sexual abuse, her dad in prison for most of her life, serious poverty, and her mom giving up custody (just to name a few).

This doesn’t faze me; my question is related to the kind of media she consumes.

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She has never had any supervision at all and has always had unlimited access to a smartphone and the Internet.

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As a result, her favorite music is the most intense kinds of “gangsta rap,” with shocking and horrible language. She loves horror and R-rated movies and her idols are all incredibly trashy reality/YouTube teens with prison records.

I am a total bookworm square and was raised in white upper-middle-class suburbia, so this was definitely new territory for me.

I know this kind of stuff can’t be healthy for a little kid to be taking in, and my question is how I should handle it when she (regularly) pulls up her favorite videos or songs to show me.

I have to keep myself from cringing. I want to be a good role model, and I do not want her to feel like I am judging her or putting down her favorite stuff.

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Should I gently say . . . anything? Should I just keep my mouth shut and nod neutrally?

No Kid Experience

A. Your mentor at the Big Sisters program might have specific recommendations for how to handle this. My view is that you should approach this the way parents the world over are forced to tackle media use — through paying attention and gentle inquiry, and by exposing this adolescent to more positive messages.

When “Sandie” shows you something, you can ask her, “What do you like about this?” “What is it about?” Encourage her to interpret some of what she is consuming, instead of just letting it wash over her. You can also share your own reaction: “When I hear this, it sounds like they are putting down girls. I worry that this language is not good for kids to hear, because it is violent and negative.”

You should also encourage her to express herself through writing slam poetry, rap, or whatever medium speaks to her.

Fortunately, there are more positive media messages for kids to consume. (The reboot of “One Day at a Time” (Netflix) presents a great, funny, positive family atmosphere, where characters regularly talk about racism and class differences.)

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Most importantly, you two should do things together that don’t involve media use. Sharing experiences will give you other things to talk about. Volunteering together at a Habitat for Humanity build or at your local Head Start program will widen her world and encourage her to develop her own strengths to help others.

Q. My daughter has been living with her boyfriend for five years.

She has a very good-paying job, and is supporting this boy, who has not worked at all since he moved in with her. He says that he cannot find a job. My daughter has bought her own home (and put his name on it, too).

He does not do any housework, yardwork, or anything. She does it all herself when she gets home from work.

He plays computer games all day long.

I want to tell her that she should get him motivated, because I cannot keep quiet about this. It is driving me crazy. She is such a beautiful, hard-working and ambitious girl. I know that she can do better. What should I say to her?

Losing Patience

A. Stay out of it. Don’t trash your daughter’s partner. You have no role in motivating him. If she approaches you and wants to talk about this, encourage her to see in herself what you see in her — a lovely, smart, and successful woman who deserves the very best in life. She will have to get the rest of the way on her own.

Q. The question from “Anxious Mother” made my head hurt. We faced exactly the same situation with a teen son who was disrespectful and rude to us, who had a girlfriend we didn’t like. We decided not to compromise our own standards, and told him he needed to move out. Their relationship lasted about a year, and we are still close.

Survived

A. Many parents seem to relate.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.