Finding age appropriate books and TV shows
When my kids were younger, figuring out what was appropriate media for them in terms of books, music, television and movies was a relatively easy thing. But as they have gotten older, it's become a much more challenging task. Yes, they are capable of seeing and hearing more, but the range of possible has become wider, too. I don't have the time or energy to pre-screen everything they want to see or read or hear, but I do need to know what they are consuming.
What is considered appropriate media is variable according to family. While I don't like violence at all, for example, some families are more comfortable with it - and it seems no matter what your values, it's a part of many forms of media, as is more sexual content and other adult themes. Rather than keep my kids locked away behind high castle walls, I've figured out some strategies for filtering media for my kids. As much as possible, anyway. They will still be exposed to things I haven't "approved" (we live in a big, diverse world, after all!), but we communicate our family's values by how and what we are able to filter.
Screening media is not censoring. It is important for kids with developing morals to have guidance over what they see. We hopefully aren't preventing them from seeing certain media forever - just until we're more confident that our family values have been appropriately conveyed.
Your own eyes and ears
Nothing beats your own eyes and ears for deciding if something is right for your child. Reading a book before your child does, seeing a movie, watching a television show, and listening to music in advance of your child - even your older child - is not only a great way to screen for appropriateness but also learn about what is popular in youth culture and make you aware of issues you need to discuss with your child.
A side benefit of prescreening is that there is some great media out there! You may discover a new musical act, or an author. And just because your daughter likes a certain young adult actor doesn't mean you can't look, too.
One thing to be aware of, though, is gaps in your own memory. As your older child starts to read more adult books, he or she may turn to books you have read and enjoyed, but you read those books with an entirely different goal! There may be scenes and themes you may have forgotten about. A quick review of even favorite or loved books may be in order.
Friends and family
Barring reading, seeing and hearing everything yourself, this is an area where you can take advantage of your community. Ask respected friends and family if they have seen or heard a particular piece of media. If a friend has very similar family values, you may be able to take her opinion on a piece of media as if it's your own.
While tremendously helpful - a screening co-op, if you will - it does have it's pitfalls. Not every family does have exactly the same values and thinks the same media is appropriate. Learn to ask questions beyond those that can have one word answers, such as, "Is it okay for my child?" "Why?" and, "What are the major themes?" are the questions to ask in addition to initial opinion.
What better way to screen media than to use media to do so! The Internet is a great source for learning more about all kinds of media, including the Internet itself. There are websites devoted to reviews of media just for parents like you, trying to navigate the world with and for their children, from tiny to adolescent. There are religiously-based sites as well as sites started by moms just like you.
Navigating media for and with our children can be a challenge, especially as the definition of media has expanded over the years - and adolescents still need our guidance. Soon enough what they see will be beyond our reach - but until then, screen away.