Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Barney than Tarantino

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 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 week 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 (and I have photographic evidence to prove it) 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: 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 desensitise 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 Horace: 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.

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Cat said...

I read Maria's post too. Your response is eloquent.

My kids are 5 & 3. They're both comparatively naive. We've introduced the Star Wars movies into our mix, but only the old ones. Somehow I can draw a line between generic, over-there violence and hand-to-hand combat. It's a fuzzy line, but I understand where it is.

My son knows who sponge bob is because school friends talk about him, but he's never seen an episode. I think it's too sarcastic. Not that I personally am above sarcasm.

No Hannah Montana, Zack & Cody, etc etc. We're still grooving to Backyardigans. I assume that'll change once kindergarten starts though.

My kids are children and therefore it's still my job to control them. Part of that is controlling their media. They don't turn on the TV without asking. They have no idea how to change the channel or make a movie come on. And I'm grateful for that. I've been to friends' homes where they say, oh he turns on the TV and there's just nothing I can do about it.

I call bullshit there too.

While I'll not take my kids to the same movies Maria takes her girls to, that's her call. As long as they don't interrupt my movie-going experience :)

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I totally agree!
I am very picky about what my kids watch and play, but it is extremely difficult at times. Especially when their best friends, whose parents have similar values allow their kids to, say, play a particular video game. There is a lot of guilt when I still say no. Sometimes I have investigated more and changed my mind. But it is hard either way.

Oh! Congrats on making round 2 of CBA, I just voted for you:)

Kayris said...

agree with you. I don't let my 4 year old and my 2 year old watch certain TV shows or movies because aside from the violence, there is way too much sex on TV these days too. And I think they are way too young to be introduced to that. They have years to grow up and learn about things like violence Whys atrt now?

Janae' said...

My babies are now 20 & 22 :( But I have felt the same way you do since they were babies. You would not believe the arguments my husband and I had over having them watch Private Ryan at the ripe ages of 10 & 12. We all realize war is bad. We are blessed to not have to witness the horrific scenes ourselves. Why pay money to have that terror bounce around an adolescents (and my) heads.
My boys are proof they can grow up and be strong, intelligent, (and very cool) well rounded fathers and husbands without all that bulls$#t.
Now....really who is the uncoolest?

Vered said...

I agree. It's easy for me to shield my kids, because I shield myself too. Violent scenes get stuck in my head for months, giving me terrible nightmares. I too worry about what will become of humans if we keep being exposed to all this violence and at such a young age.

María said...


(I think that's sufficient for the girl fight rumor mill, eh?)

You know how I feel and you know I appreciate how you feel.

There are things that I *do* censor. I won't let them watch things like Criminal Minds or CSI:. To me there's a difference between Iron Man blowing things up or Beatrix Kiddo being a kick ass female than actual human suffering and things that exploit how messed up our culture and society is. One is mainly fantastical, and one is too real. Bella is pretty capable, and she surprises me quite often, with how easily she differentiates between things that are possible and things that aren't.

But I dunno, I don't let them watch True Blood because I think the fear factor there is too much. But I let them see Twilight. So I do censor, I just don't overdo it and I have my own guidelines.

You're very right when you say that it's also easier to let them watch it than not. It is. But 100% of the TV time of my day? Spongebob and The Backyardigans. Not joking. My stuff is DVR'd for later, or I watch it online the next day. Movies we see together, unless I feel I need to check it out first. I did that with The Dark Knight this year, and I'm doing it with The Watchmen next year.

I don't think it's anymore unhealthy than the alternative. I just refuse to parent the way the rest of the world thinks I should - I'm making the choices that I think are best for them. I'm not trying to be cool or anything else, and my post (I hope!) didn't portray me as attempting to say I was. I'm just doing my own thing.

Also, you're pretty hot for an uncool overprotective fossil. :P

María said...

I wrote a book. I'm sorry!

Indy said...

Totally agree with you on the movies. I can't imagine letting my boys watch mature movies or even PG-13. I hope I can be as protective as you as they get older. Always a struggle.

Stomper Girl said...

You have to parent the way you see it, and when he gets older you'll hear yourself telling him that all families have different rules, and this is one of ours. I'm the same, I'd rather protect rather than desensitise, because I think these things are awful and not entertainment. But hey, I don't even allow my kids to watch advertising so I'm speaking from what could be seen as an over-protective corner. But they are our kids and we have to call it as we see it.

Angella said...

I read Maria's post, and your response is amazing.

I love you both (and kissed you both at BlogHer, I believe)

I left a comment on her site that my kids watch Transformers, because they do, and because I ate to disagree with people on their own posts.

I have to say that I agree with you wholeheartedly. While my kids have watched Transformers, it is only because there is no blood involved. The bulk of there TV time is Teletoons and Playhouse Disney.

I am a pretty sensitive girl myself; I cannot let them watch things that offend ME.

Heather said...

My kids do not watch even many PG movies. Generally G around here.

We just let them watch Star Wars a couple of weeks ago. (The kids are 6 and 4) They were scared in a few spots, but we reminded them that it is make believe and they were okay then.

I think there is plenty of time for them to watch the other movies. No need to rush things. They grow so fast as it is.

Corey~living and loving said...

I am having trouble getting to Maria's post, but I agree with your post 100% very well said. :)

AdriansCrazyLife said...

I second the motion! I hate how much violence and creepy ugliness has crept into our everyday TV shows. Horror movies - ugh! Not only will I not watch them, I won't let my 20 year old son watch them. I don't care if he's an adult, I just don't want that ugliness going into his head. My husband loves them and I can't control what he watches because he's a big boy now, but he's going to watch them all by his lonesome 'cuz we're not going.

And sleeziness - yikes! I'm really going to have to re-think my own TV habits. House, Grey's Anatomy and several other shows have major gay themes going on right now. I mean, I'm OK with the gay thing, but that doesn't mean I want to watch them kissing and making out right in my living room. Geez!

The industry just pushes the line a little further each time and I don't think it's a good thing at all and I'm just fine with laying down the law to my kids - even the grown ones.

InTheFastLane said...

With kids aged 14, 9 & 3, it is harder and harder to maintain age appropriateness when one is watching the TV and the others want to. Obviously the 14 year old wants to watch different things that I want my 3 year old to and sometimes this mean that they get different TV times. I do monitor what they are watching and my then 13 YO was not at all happy with me when I put my foot down on Sweeny Todd. She argued for weeks that the violence was not realistic. i read a ton of parental reviews and watch some clips and in the end, still had to say no off of what I believed to be right for my family.

Laura said...

You are sooo right.

We are currently dealing with a slip up my hubby made- he let the boys watch and play the start of the Wii Game Zelda - now they are adiicted and want to watch Daddy fight the bad guys all the time. I am trying everything I can to pull them away from this..

So, I guess the battle has begun to monitor and use parental control.

Congrats on making it to round two of the Canadian Blogging Awards, I voted for you!!!

Whitenoise said...

Although I'm with you (mostly), I just posted something in the same vein concerning Bugs Bunny cartoons. The need to shield is unarguable. The question becomes- to what degree?

Shauna said...

I read her post back when she first posted. I'm still undecided as to my position but I can see both sides.

I think that I will try to shelter as much as possible but who knows. As it is, I keep Chicka's viewing restricted to Treehouse and not even all the shows they have. Just a chosen few.

I tell you, if I didn't need the occasional Play With Me Sesame for sanity reasons, I'd probably try to keep the tv off altogether at this stage.

However! I grew up in a household where my Mom decided Dukes of Hazzard was a bad influence on me therefore making me the only kid around who wasn't allowed to watch it. I hope never to go so overboard.

karengreeners said...

I know that it is ineveitable that my kids will eventually be exposed to violence, commercialism, consumerism, unrealistic standards of beauty, general cruelty and otherwise idiotic behavior, much of it vis a vis the television.

But I'm gonna do my darndest to make sure that that is as long a time from now as possible.

We turned off Happy Feet because it was too scary for a 3-year old.

Mary Lynn said...

I agree with you. I remember a friend of mine mentioning she was shocked how many very young children she saw at the theatre with their parents when she went to see the latest Batman movie. That movie is pretty dark and disturbing...and I don't imagine that all those parents were using the occasion to teach their children about the darker side of humanity. They brought their kids because they didn't have a sitter to watch the children, but still wanted to see the movie anyway.

That's not to say that I would avoid showing my kids any movies that are meant for adult audiences, but I would certainly be careful which ones I chose.

ewe are here said...

I'm one of those people who thinks exposing young children to violent movies/television desensitizes them to such things in real life. And that's a problem, a serious problem.

I know the makers of violent video games and movies don't agree with me, but the level of violence among young people is only getting worse... and it's risen with the rise of these things.

Anonymous said...

I can't handle lots of those movies. Seriously, the violent ones give me creeps that I just can't shake, and the horror movies give me nightmares. The older I get, the less violent & scary movies/shows I watch. I figure if I find them overwhelming, a three or four (or a ten!) year old would likely find them even more so.

Gretchen said...

Okay, first off, congrats to you being brave to tackle a controversial subject!

Second, I agree with you, and it is one of the hardest things in my society-influenced-but-Christ-directed parenting. My kids don't have a Nintendo DS or Playstation or Gamecube or anything. We don't have cable or Dish. We have PBS. We have Gameboy color (almost a dinosaur by now). We have plug-n-play games of Cinderella and Pac-Man. All their friends see tons of movies, too old for them in my opinion, but I always say "no".

Bottom line: My kids are so so so very important to me. And, ONCE THEY SEE SOMETHING THEY CAN NOT "UNSEE" IT. Society has desensitized us all to WAY too much sex, violence, rude behavior, materialism, etc etc. All the more reason to protect them as long as you can.

Great post!

Pregnantly Plump said...

I completely agree with you. But I just realized that my husband and I do have the NFL on on Sunday aftenoons. Still, we've had several discussions on violent shows, movies and video games, and have both decided to shield him from those. Right now it's not hard. But I know that will be an issue for us as he gets older.

Beck said...

Letting kids watch horrifically violent stuff is just bad parenting. I have a brother with severe aggression issues and you will never be able to convince me that it is not a direct result of him being able to watch violent movies and video games from a young age - there's an obvious, proved connection between violence and lack of empathy and the media that kids consume.

Mara said...

Nicely said!


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your stance on tv/movies. Having grown up in Don Mills myself, my parents were able to shelter me nicely from media that was too mature for me until I hit middle school (the middle school in Don Mills was the great equalizer though and I learned enough in the first two weeks to fill in the blanks in my social education).

I commend you for taking the time and making the effort to limit Graham's exposure for as long as possible. I plan to do the same with my two boys, 3 and 3 months for as long as I can. We will remain a Treehouse home for as long as possible.

On a completely different note, I love your blog because it helps me remain connected to the DM (a really geeky nickname for home your husband will probably roll his eyes at).

Parent Club said...

I think "age appropriate" and "common sense" are the right terms here.

My dear Thing 1 asked me once what sex was after hearing it on Will & Grace. Which demonstrates...violent shows aren't the only ones needed to be switched off.

Threeundertwo said...

An excellent post, and lots of thoughtful commenters.

I turned on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade many years ago, and was shocked to see it interrupted about 20 times with ads for a new show - "Fear Factor." The ads depicted worms in a blender, and then participants drinking the results. Over and over.

This was the last straw for us and we pulled the plug. I miss the parade, and football games, but our lives are quite sane without any tv whatsoever. My children (12 and 10) are voracious readers, straight-A students, and wonderfully imaginative and creative. And they are still children, not mature beyond their years.

I'm an overprotective fossil, and proud of it.

Anonymous said...

A difficult topic. My boys are 3 years and newborn so right now only the 3 year old watches any TV - and he is only allowed Disney Channel and Treehouse. Movies are pretty much Disney and Pixar. I plan on keeping them from the scary and violent stuff for as long as I can. And, when it becomes impossible to keep them from it, I hope that I can be there to answer questions that come up. As someone mentioned common sense and age appropriate seem important here.
That said I also swore my kids wouldn't watch more than an hour of TV a day...and then I had number two. So I hate to pass judgement on a "place" I haven't been before.

OHmommy said...

When Graham starts school you will have a much harder battle to fight. What other parents allow their children to watch at home, will totally arouse his curiosity.

It is hard to play the "bad" parent. My husband and I watch Star Wars sitting next to our son. Always. We will continue doing so for as long as we can. It's our job.

Woman in a Window said...

Did my comment evapourate or are you holding it in your pocket.
And such an important post.

You and the Immortal are wise and brave. It's nice to see a connection between two opposing views.

And then I gave you props.

And then my comment disappeared.

Unknown said...

I also read Maria's post. I don't remember if I commented on it or not but I personally am opposed to exposing children to violence. This post is so eloquently written - I think it would be great if both this one and Maria's were posted side by side somewhere so everyone can read opposing views of the issue.

~Swankymama said...

Well said. And amen.

My blogging/girlfriend circle here in Dallas calls itself the SAWs.

But I am sure it is completely different than the movie.


Ours stands for skanky a$$ whores.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You are absolutely right--you'll have to reevaluate a bit as he gets older, but the basic idea remains the same.

Leanne said...

I'm with you too. AND I have the only eleven year old in the WORLD who isn't allowed to play teen movies or so he tells me. HOld your ground, it only gets harder.

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...

Now why'd you have to go and use BARNEY?!? I'm annoyed by Barney more than I'm annoyed by Handy Manny.

I haven't read Maria's post, but for now I'm in the "you" camp. My kids are just too little to be watching much violence on TV. Nick (now 4) wants to watch Transformers (the movie) but no dice! Maybe when you're five... ;-)

JCK said...

I loved this post! You should submit it for a magazine publication.

Zoeyjane said...

I find that Maria's and my parenting styles are quite parallel. If there's a movie that I think Isobel would enjoy but am concerned about the violence factor - I watch it myself, first. We don't have cable - everything is DVD viewing (except for the shows that I watch online, after she is asleep)...

I restrict gratuitous violence - no Saws, war-based movies or ganster kind of stuff, and anything with blatent sex just isn't done with her in the room. But other than that - it's pretty much free reign.

To each their own, right?

Anonymous said...

I agree but would add many non-violent films to the list. I am old-fashioned about kids and sex.

Jo Beaufoix said...

I love Maria's post and I love your response. As I said on Maria's, my kids are wusses like me and would not handle certain stuff so I do shelter them to a certain degree, but I think as long as you know your kids well you will make the right decisions for them.

Ellyn said...

I browsed both posts. I have to say I agree with you. I protect my kids a lot. Maybe even more than I should. Each parent does what they think is best though.

I loved the first two lines of I.M. response. Funny.

Mandy said...

I commented on Maria's post. I think I said something along the lines that I wouldn?t judge her for taking her girls, but I wouldn't expect to be judged because I choose not to take mine... there are lots of parents out there who shield their kids... we're all fossils I guess :)

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on what you consider too violent for kids. My kids don't watch most adult movies... but they've seen Star Wars and Harry Potter. So I guess I'm not sure which side of the fence I fall on.

Although, probably on yours, cause I won't let them watch the Spiderman or the X-men movies, for example, and they'd really REALLY like to... So yeah, I do make decisions about what is and isn't appropriate for them.

Karen MEG said...

I remember Maria's post too and it did resonate with me, that there are several views on this issue and I'm amazed at the eloquence and respectful commenting shown in both places.

I'm a fossil too, as I'm sure you know. In all honesty, my boy seems to know in his gut whether he'll want to watch something or not, he self-regulates. He has friends who are allowed to watch pretty much anything, and he knows that we won't go there. He's even refused to watch something over at his best buddy's because he finds it's inappropriate for his age. He tells me that they turn it off and do something else. I don't know what I did to deserve this, but on this subject at least, he makes my job very easy.

The girlie, we're still on Treehouse and that's a very, very good thing.

Unknown said...

I completely agree. There's enough "junk" out there in the world for our kids to see (unfortunately) and I don't believe their own parents should be putting in their faces.

Lisa said...

I'm with you. Even the commercials that are on at 8:30 in the evening can be offensive any more. In a society where kids are often forced to grow up MUCH TOO FAST, I think it's healthy, good, and our job to shelter them a bit.

April said...

I don't know how I missed Maria's post.
I think, to be fair, there's a massive difference between SAW and Lost, a fairly adult show that I let my girls watch. I don't even want to see Saw (sorry).
I have let them see other shows like Rent and Sweeney Todd (because all Sondheim is acceptable around my household) and I think Rent had a great message overall.
I read a comment of OhMommy's on Maria's post that I basically agree with: sitting down with your kids and being involved with it is really the key, NOT just letting them watch whatever they want to watch to get them out of your hair. Which is one of the reasons that my kids don't have cable in their room.
You know me, DMD. It's all about balance. Using some "adult" material that you as a parent feel your child can handle is okay, so long as the parent keeps control of the situation.
MY big beef is with the parents of the world who don't want ANY of us to be able to watch something like The Sopranos or Big Love. I'm a grown-up and when my kids go to bed, I'd like to have some quality, adult-oriented TV to watch, thank you.

Jaina said...

I absolutely agree with you. My parents shielded me from these things up through high school (in staggered degrees of course) and hey, I turned out just fine. And to be honest, I am GLAD they didn't let me watch just anything. Too many people today use the excuse "I can't stop them" in parenting...that's a pitiful and as you said, a bullshit excuse. The lack of responsibility taken by many parents sickens me, and I'm not even a parent yet.
I really liked this post, thank you so much :)

painted maypole said...

amen, sister! I am SO strict with what MQ is allowed to see, and horrified at what parents allow their kids to see. Heck, Hanna Montana is too advanced for any 6 year old, let alone most movies out there

(but Saw, you know, we all watched that together. KIDDING. I couldn't even watch it myself. I'm too freaked out by that stuff!)

Ernesta said...

My daughter is almost 6 now and she has been sheltered, and will continue to be because tv and violence can be very, very scary for a young mind. I've just started exposing her to Hanna Montana and I agree with painted maypole above that it may be too advanced!!