When my older children were very young, I sought to shield from them every offensive and potentially mind-harming television program, song, or video. This meant nothing that contained any sex, nudity, drugs, or violence, or anything crude or distasteful. I understand that many parents take this further, to eradicate as much pop culture as they can — from Disney Princesses and brand characters, to nearly all commercialized TV and music.
Within every family comes the individual choice of what we will allow to permeate our sanctuaries and possibly influence our children. Some parents choose to heavily censor society, while others have very few limitations as to what they let their children watch or listen to. It is a deeply personal decision and one that is based on our own ideas of morality and logic. Certainly, religious and psychological determinations play a role. How far we go to filter society is something we must each work out for ourselves.
It seems prudent to me even now to block certain content from my very young and impressionable children. At one point, however, I realized that blocking content with blanket parameters could actually cause my children more harm than good.
The revelation came when my young sons and I were watching a movie that I had not considered inappropriate, though I hadn’t seen it in years. I knew the movie had very little in the way of sexual content, and the violence was minimal. I almost regretted it halfway in when a scene of a fully nude woman appeared on the screen. The woman was bathing and had captured the attention of my young sons. I immediately went to shield their eyes, when something stopped me. The woman was simply bathing. There was nothing inappropriate in her actions, and I felt that hiding her nudity would give them the wrong impression of bodies in general, especially of women.
I find it rather odd that in our culture, simple nakedness is considered shameful and ratings on a film will be much more stringent than on scenes where two individuals are obviously participating in sexual acts but no genitals are shown. I now choose to look at context rather than only content, and I will preview any movie over a G rating before allowing my children to see it. I wish that censorship were necessary only for film and music, but the unfortunate truth is that the reality of our society tends to be much more frightening to expose my children to than the nonfictional entertainment it creates. Because my children are in school and away from home frequently, turning off the news doesn’t prevent them from being exposed to it. That only keeps me in the dark.
With the latest Miley Cyrus scandal, and the many outlandish celebrity stunts that have preceded it, I often feel the strong desire to turn off all media and wrap my children in a tightly secured bubble. I don’t simply mean her sexual exploits or her naked “Wrecking Ball” video, either. But her choice to sing in a celebratory manner about drugs and other destructive choices makes me worry for her. Of course, she’s not the only one; there are so many singers and actors, even athletes, glorifying a lifestyle that scares me to pieces when I consider my own kids thinking it would be an acceptable way to live a life.
With my two younger children, we still do a lot of censoring in the case of adult-themed content. They are simply too young to have meaningful discussions about adult topics, but I also know that very soon, way too soon, these topics will be on the table and at that point, I will use society’s models for my teaching aids. And likely, Miss Cyrus will be an effective role model when I can use her to show my kids what drugs and too much alcohol can do to a person. I hope for her sake, she won’t be.
Older children can be especially difficult to shield, particularly when they are in school or begin visiting friends outside of our control. With teenagers, we have much more limited ability to determine what they hear and see. Teenagers and young adolescents can and do find a point when they are bombarded with culture and I try to find ways to prepare mine for it. If I don’t tell them how I feel about these things that are going on in their generation, they will likely be impressed by other opinions. With my sons, it is especially important to point out rape culture references and veiled sexism, as well as talking to them about “Molly” and the latest potentially devastating pop culture craze.
When we encounter media that is offensive, distasteful, or even possibly harmful, we don’t switch it off, but we will take time to explain to our kids why we consider it to be wrong. I’ll ask their opinions on what they saw or heard. I’ll ask them if they’ve heard or seen such shows or songs or viral internet videos at school (you’d be surprised!) or at their friends’ homes. I’ll ask them what their friends and classmates say about it, and we’ll discuss it openly.
To help deter kids from using drugs, we need to talk to them about drugs and teach them why they shouldn’t use them. If we want them to refrain from smoking, they need to hear it. If we want them to go to college, that needs to be discussed heavily. And if we don’t want our kids to turn out like Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke or any of the other bad role models our pop culture is offering up, we need to tell them so and explain why. This means we can’t hide it from them forever, as much as we wish we could.