It’s no secret that maintaining some semblance of cool as I wade further into the mire of parenthood is somewhat of a priority for me. (It’s right there in my blog’s sidebar, after all.)
But there is one area in which I know I am destined to remain on the non-cool side of the fence, hopelessly old-fashioned and stubbornly dogmatic.
And that area involves violent and crime-ridden television shows, movies, and video games. You see, my current plan is to yield as much of my parental might as possible to shield Graham from these types of media. And my plan is borne of an often-refuted, decidedly uncool, but nonetheless steadfast belief that it’s harmful for children, and indeed adults, to be exposed to them on a casual basis.
I got to thinking about this whole subject a few weeks back when I read this post over at Immoral Matriarch in which Maria says she has no compunctions about allowing her two young girls to watch a variety of mature movies. And all the commenters agreed with her and talked about how violence can provide teaching moments and how it’s fine for kids to watch pretty much whatever they want if you watch it with them and the real harm comes when parents try to act like control freaks and shelter kids from the world, etc., etc., etc …
Well, I adore Maria, but I’m calling bullshit.
Full disclosure: I work in the film and television industry, as does my husband and almost everyone I know. I had a small role helping to administrate SAW IV and SAW V and am peripherally involved in SAW VI, which starts shooting in March. Rob interviewed for a key position on SAW V at a time when we desperately needed to pay our mortgage and while he didn’t get the job, it caused us really examine our views on the impact of increasingly violent movies on our society. I have even had a variation of this conversation with one of the producers of that franchise. And while I don’t think anyone is talking about letting kids watch SAW (Maria certainly was not!) I bring this up only to illustrate that the issue of violence in the media is one I have examined at length from a variety of perspectives.
And this is what I think: Violence and human suffering has permeated mainstream television and film to the extent that we barely notice it anymore. I do not think exposure to it will turn an emotionally healthy person into a serial killer, but I do think that it has the capacity to desensitize people to horror and to human suffering and I think that the impact of that over a generation or two is completely unknown. I fear it is not good.
I am sure that a good parent (and I presume we are all good parents) can indeed find teaching moments in the latest blockbuster, but what exactly does that prove? Every damn thing in the world can be a teaching moment. If Rob decides to rob a bank tomorrow, you can be sure I’ll find a way to turn it into a teaching moment for Graham. That doesn’t negate the fact that my child has been unnecessarily exposed to something negative and unpleasant.
Mainstream television and movies are not produced in order to facilitate learning for you or your child, they are produced make money, and I don’t think movie producers are best qualified to teach my child about the dark side of human nature or anything else.
Does this mean I’m shielding my child? Hell yes it does. I’m a parent; it’s my job to shield my child from things I believe he doesn’t have the maturity to contextualize. Graham is a typical three-year-old and yesterday he told me he plans to marry our family cat. I’m pretty sure he’s many years away from the ability to absorb and put into context any graphic depiction of man’s inhumanity to man, however much of a reality it might be.
It’s possible that you allow your child to watch movies and films intended for mature audiences because they are startlingly mature for their age. But I suspect the more likely reason is that it’s simply easier and more convenient. It’s easier because they’re bugging the hell out of you and all the other kids are watching them. It’s convenient because you watch them and you don’t get enough time away from your kids to be able to watch them yourself.
And I get that, I really do.
And I don’t think it makes you a bad parent by any means, but let’s call it what it most likely is: an acquiescence to the rigors of parenting, much like the chocolate and cartoons I let Graham enjoy at 9:30 a.m. this morning. It may not be dangerous, but it’s not the healthiest choice either.
And finally, call me old-fashioned if you must, but letting kids watch violent films and television does not make a parent more honest, enlightened, or evolved than uncool fossils like me who choose to shelter children from it.