you responsible and informative choices … here’s more
kids exposure to media
have been wringing their hands over their children's entertainment
choices for hundreds of years. Mozart's opera Così fan
tutte was considered scandalous in the nineteenth century.
In the 1920s, short-haired flappers shocked their elders
with their brash, androgynous look. Even the early rock-n-roll
music of the '50s, considered quaint today, was so disturbing
to the general public that when Elvis performed on the
Ed Sullivan Show, television censors only showed his body
from the waist up!
Today, moms and dads are navigating an entertainment minefield
littered with sexually suggestive dolls aimed at little
girls, nightmarishly violent video games for boys, and
musical lyrics celebrating misogyny, promiscuity, and
What's a beleaguered parent to do?
Take a breath. Take control. Take a step back.
Take a Breath
Before you decide what's appropriate for your kids, consider
the big picture. "Parents should know that the rate of
violent crime among juveniles has plummeted in the last
10 to 12 years," says Dr. Karen Sternheimer, PhD, sociologist
at the University of Southern California and author of
Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today's Youth.
And there's more good news: statistics show that the teenage
pregnancy rate in this country is at its lowest level
in 30 years.
Considering the big picture also means asking yourself
if your child's choices are harmful or just different
from what you liked as a kid. Your daughter is wearing
tons of black eyeliner to achieve the Goth look that drives
you nuts—but is that worse than the layers of blue eyeliner
you caked on a la Madonna in the 80s?
Are the lyrics in your kid's favourite song actually more
suggestive than the raunchy double entendres from the
Grease soundtrack that kids memorised in the '70s?
How about toys? You may think the makeup set and plastic
nails your young daughter received for her birthday are
sending the wrong message about beauty and self-esteem,
but are they any more harmful than the big Barbie salon
heads with the long fake hair and makeup from your childhood?
"There's a perennial fear that kids are taking us down
the road to the end of civilisation," says Dr. Sternheimer.
"Confucius and Plato both asked, 'What's wrong with kids
these days?'" and the answer is that there's nothing wrong
with them. Kids are kids—they've always been attracted
to what's exciting, scary, shocking, titillating, gross,
and just about anything that will get a reaction out of
their parents. If this sounds like your child, he or she
is likely perfectly normal—and you are normal for wanting
to protect your kids from undesirable influences. Just
try not to overreact, because you were once a kid who
saw things, read things, and heard things that would have
given your parents conniptions… and you turned out all
right in the end.
So how do you decide what constitutes objectionable material
when it comes to your kids? Dr. Jim Taylor, PhD, parenting
psychologist and author of Your Children Are Under Attack
says, "There are no set rules. It's up to parents to decide
based on their values."
Parents need to understand their own values, he says,
so they can make rational decisions regarding their children's
entertainment. Beyond basic values of peace over violence
or polite manners versus rudeness, Dr. Taylor suggests
teaching kids to value traits like honesty over physical
attractiveness or sportsmanship over greed.
Additionally, Dr. Taylor wants parents to recognise that
television producers, music companies, and game manufacturers
create products with the sole intention of making a profit.
"Parents need to understand the power of pop culture and
study it," he says. "Play the music, play the video games,
watch the movies, and understand the underlying messages."
Consider something as simple as a soft drink commercial
with its catchy music and images of cool kids laughing
and slapping high fives. Children are slammed over the
head with the message that drinking soda will make them
attractive, popular, and deliriously happy. If parents
are tuned into those commercials, they can ask their kids,
"When you drink a Coke, does the room suddenly erupt into
a party? Do you become more popular?" Kids will most likely
laugh at the absurdity, but you've given them a basic
tool for seeing beyond the hype and thinking for themselves.
Seeing through the hype also helps you explain to your
children exactly why you object to something. If Bratz
dolls bother you because they celebrate the sexualisation
of little girls, tell your young daughter that you won't
buy them for her because everyone knows that it's rude
to walk around half naked and you don't want her playing
with rude toys.
Similarly, if your son wants to listen to music with lyrics
that degrade women, not only are you in the right to ban
it from your house and his iPod, you're responsible as
a parent to explain to him exactly what those words mean
and how offensive they are to women… including his mother!
Sometimes you might agree that a certain movie is great,
but that your child isn't mature enough to appreciate
it yet. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I know your
friends have all seen it and you've heard all about it.
But there is material in there that you and your friends
aren't old enough to fully understand, so you may absolutely
see it when I think you're ready."
On the topic of taking control, never ever forget who's
defining the values in your family. Dr. Sternheimer says,
"Parents are under a lot of pressure to exercise these
controls over their kids, often from other parents! They
wonder if they're not good parents or if they're doing
something wrong if they let their child do something other
parents don't allow."
Taking control means becoming familiar with what is influencing
your children and making decisions based on your family's
set of values.
Take a Step Back
You've done your homework, you set limits that are appropriate
for your kids, and you're feeling pretty good. As hard
as it might be to hear, it might be time to back off a
"Parents need to decide what their threshold is, then
take it up a notch or two. Kids need victory to become
independent," says Dr. Taylor. That means if your curfew
is 11:00 and they want midnight, bump it up to 11:30.
Dr. Taylor says, "If you give them little victories, they
won't push for the big ones."
Dr. Sternheimer agrees, "There's nothing wrong with families
defining their standards and saying 'not for us,' but
they have to realise that their child is developing an
identity separate from their parents. Young teens do this
by embracing popular culture that their parents don't
like. It's how they define themselves as 'not their parents."
That means picking your battles. Disallow movies with
graphic sex scenes, but consider letting your kids read
valuable literature containing sexual themes such as The
Scarlet Letter. Go ahead and ban death metal music, but
don't go on a musical witch-hunt and ban songs by James
Blunt (You're Beautiful) or even soft rock icon James
Taylor (Steamroller) because they contain a single curse
Stepping back also means realising that despite your best
efforts, your children will undoubtedly be exposed to
objectionable material in the hallways at school or at
a friend's house. In fact, they'll probably even go looking
for it. Chances are that when you were a kid, you tasted
forbidden fruit now and then too.
"Kids are going to watch bad stuff, hear bad stuff, and
still turn out all right,"
Dr. Taylor says, adding this is why parents need to establish
values when kids are young and help them to view the media
with a critical eye.
"There's very little that going to interfere with a parent
who's really plugged into their children's lives,"
agrees Dr. Sternheimer. "Playing a video game or seeing
a single movie won't override that."
The next time your child wants to watch, read, or listen
to something that turns you off, consider two points before
making a decision. First, ask yourself why you object
to the content. Does the message conflict with your values,
or are you reacting to something new and unfamiliar to
your generation? Next if the medium is a book or movie
with a scene or theme that you find questionable, think
about using it as an opportunity to introduce to your
child a difficult topic like racism or mental illness
before she gets sketchy information about the subject
from her peers.
However if the entertainment clearly violates your moral
and ethical beliefs, it shouldn't be allowed in your home.
Discuss your decision with your kids so they understand
your objections, even if they don't agree with them. Hopefully
they'll take those lessons with them when they're away
from home and have to think for themselves.
"You can't lock them in a cage," Dr. Taylor says, "But
you can protect them until they're old enough and arm
them with the tools they need. Teach them how to use pop
culture instead of being used by it."
By Deborah Bohn