My teenage son watches violent films on the internet even when I ask him not to and idolises characters who are ruthless and mean. It worries me that he thinks they are cool. How can I stop him watching these without coming across as preachy?

This is an issue that worries many parents – how to balance giving your child the freedom to explore while protecting them from being exposed to potentially damaging influences. And how you come across is vital. Come down too hard and you risk alienating him at a time when he very much needs you to guide him; too easy and you can become concerned that his moral compass might be in need of some serious reorientation.

The reality is that most kids know right from wrong and they can distinguish between fact and fiction. Though you don’t elaborate, it is concerning that you feel your son might be having difficulty with that. It’s important to ask yourself whether you feel the virtual action he is seeing on the screen is translating into his real life behaviour. If your son is displaying aggressive tendencies or is getting caught up in conflict with his peers or teachers at school, then it’s likely that his enjoyment of these films is having a damaging impact. If this is the case, I suggest you seek professional counselling to help him better understand his anger issues and learn to manage them.

Teenage boys are in a phase where they are beginning to explore what it means to be masculine. I would suggest a couple of approaches that might help restore some perspective for him. Firstly, it is vitally important that you make sure the films he is seeing (and if games are involved I would include those too) are appropriate for his age. You are the parent and if you don’t feel they are suitable then he shouldn’t be seeing them. Where games are concerned, limit the time he spends playing them, set the ground rules and try to encourage wider interests.

But the most important thing you can do is to talk to him openly about the negative consequences of violence and encourage mature debate. Many teenage boys feel they have to impress their peers by ‘talking tough’, but in reality they are still feeling their way when it comes to learning what being a man is all about. We are surrounded by images of violence, not just in films, but in games, TV programmes and daily in the news.

It would be impossible to protect him from all of this, but talking about it with him and even going to see the films together will allow you to engage him in debate. Discuss real-world situations and put forward more positive male role models as an alternative. He might enjoy violent films, but there are so many other genres you could introduce him to that could broaden and balance his more extreme viewpoint.

You’re absolutely right to be wary of sounding preachy… he will more than likely tune you out. However, approach his level and begin to understand why he thinks like he does through discussion. Offset the violence with examples of resolving conflict and achieving your aims peacefully and you are likely to see a more compassionate attitude emerge.