Once my husband and I took a rare opportunity to have a date night leaving our six-year-old twins with what we thought were capable babysitters. Well, were we surprised when returning home we found the twins finishing up the R-rated movie The Matrix.
We have found it virtually impossible to shield our boys from Big Media’s bombardment of images and lifestyle choices of the current crop of celebrities. Yesterday’s Snooki is today’s Kardashian. The Simpsons used to be horrible, now it’s South Park and The Family Guy.
Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality had this to say about the subject a few years ago: “From Anthony Comstock’s late 19th-century crusade against ‘obscene’ literature to present-day parents’ anxious suspicion that news reports on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal introduced adolescents to oral sex, Americans have blamed the mass media for inciting youth to ostensibly inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Then there’s Bella’s influence in Twilight showing teenagers that it’s totally cool to have sex with a vampire, just in case they ever meet one (or a werewolf) at high school? I think Bella has a lot more influence than Clinton ever had on the sexual behavior America’s teens.
Parents have always worried about the influence media has upon their children’s behavior. Did you hear that in 1905 a Brooklyn librarian banned Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from the children’s section? The librarian said these two characters were “bad examples for ingenuous youth.” She ordered the books removed from the children’s section because of their "coarseness, deceitfulness, and mischievous practices."
So what’s a parent to do? Is there a strategy beyond banning books, pitching the television in the garbage and never, ever, allowing children to have access to a cellphone? Most media experts recommend a sane strategy for dealing with the influences, both good and bad, of media in a child’s life.
1) Co-Watch: Parents should consume the same media while using the time as a teachable moment, not a starting point for a lecture on the evils of media. As adults we’ve erected a filter to combat the need for all of the sugary cereals and cheap plastic toys being hawked by corporations in the endless commercials. How did we learn to discern? Teach your kids those same filters.
2) Provide Alternatives: My mother was disgusted by the quality of television we consumed when I was young – think endless hours of Gilligan’s Island. Every time I watched another mindless television show, it left me feeling bad and bloated – much like consuming too much Easter candy. I wish, instead, that she had come alongside of me as an advocate for my mind and offered a tasty alternative. How about switching over to PBS, sitting down and having a heart-to-heart conversation, or taking me to the library for a new stack of books?
3) Discuss My Choices: I don’t think we explain our behavior to our children enough. We think they “get” our thinking just because we’re older. Explain why you refuse to watch certain television shows because they demean women or are full of violence. This will empower them to make their own intelligent decisions.
4) Spend the Time: As a parent in a busy household, I have an overwhelming To Do List. Which would I prefer to do? Watch a vapid episode of Family Guy or South Park, play another round of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, or wash the clothes that are piled on the laundry room floor? It’s awful tempting to accomplish my list while my children are occupied, but raising children well takes lots of time and lots of energy. And talking. There’s a heck of a lot more talking than I ever did with my own father or mother.
David and Paul have actually grown into pretty decent human beings, despite their early introduction to The Matrix. And there have been benefits. David to this day can walk on walls and dodge bullets but Paul took the red pill and may grow up to become a philosopher.
Remember, it was Morpheus who said, “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
For more info on Raising Media Savvy Kids, go to: www.Commonsensemedia.org where they post reviews of the latest movies, television and media targeted to your kids.