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Your child and mature media

As our children get older and older, we start to wonder whether certain topics or scenes are appropriate for their ability to understand.  Do you censor the media that your child is exposed to?  Are you inclined to let your child self-censor?  Emily recently emailed her question, wondering if she and her spouse were the "squarest parents ever":

Our almost eight year old son thinks we are the squarest parents ever. Maybe we are, but we feel pretty strongly about limiting television, not owning any sort of video game system, and carefully screening movies for appropriateness, etc. I do feel somewhat hypocritical, however, as both my husband and myself were not raised by such picky parents. My husband has his old comic book collection in the basement, and is knows minute details of most science fiction and martial arts movies. WE both saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977, and WE were only 8 and 9 years old. We have planned on letting our son watch SW when he turns 8 in a couple of months, but he seems to be the last kid on the planet that hasn't seen it. Many kids in his class have seen ALL the Star Wars movies. And all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Transformers, all the Spiderman movies, Fantastic Four, and other mostly PG 13 movies. I don't get it, these are seven year old children. And younger. Many of these kids (including younger cousins) even have several different game systems and play fighting games that are rated for teens. II often refer to http://www.kids-in-mind.com/ to check out the scenes that might be violent or too mature and am curious about whether other parents do the same. We have bent on a few things: we'll allow supervised computer games on my laptop-even on controversial websites (to us, anyway) like bionicles.com lego.com, or even some cartoonnetwork.com games. We let him watch Saturday cartoons till nine-thirty or so. He's allowed to read some comic books.

My son really thinks he's ready to see more mature films, but I know he is not. We recently watched Black Beauty together and he covered his eyes and cried when one of the human characters got stabbed. He would probably react the same to the violent imagery in PG-13 movies, and once those images are in his head they are not going anywhere. But he's feeling left out and too sheltered, and maybe he his.  Are we surrounded by inattentive parents, or are we too paranoid?  Anyone else in a similar situation?

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Not that this resource will help your son, but Common Sense Media is a great resource: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/. My oldest is 4 and 1/2, so we're not quite there yet, but there are a lot of toolso n this site to keep parents in the loop about what's out there, and ratings that are useful - if you agree with their approach. You can do a search on Star Wars and there's loads if info. They give some of the episodes a rating of appropriate for 8+, and others older. I guess the violence, etc... must vary.

Hey, don't worry, my hubby and I are "square" as well. In fact, our kids didn't see anything remotely scary or grown up until age ten or so. They are now ages 13 and 11 and have just this year, seen some PG13 stuff with us, the parents, at their side. Also, of those things we have watched, they've been on dvd so that we can use the "pause" button and stop and talk about about bad choices the characters are making and how they could have handled things better.

It is very important to us as parents that our kids don't think violence is common place or the answer to all problems. We strongly discourage the sexist stereotyping of women characters.

As far as school goes, my kids now go to a large middle school with many types of families in its populace. Some no tv types are always around and the Muslim children appear to have "strict" parental codes placed on them as well. So not everyone saw the latest "Pirates" movie.

I'm coming from very far on the media censorship side - as we have no tv in house and don't plan to allow for any tv/videos/computer for many years. My son is 3, so I haven't yet decided the years we will introduce - but I'm sure if will be far behind the "normal"/"mainstream" timeline.

I just wanted to add support that you as the parent are allowed to make these tough decisions about media. Certainly important to consider his environment and peers, but do not let this color your choice if you make a different decision than most parents. This is your child, and as you mentioned, you can't "take it back" once he's seen something or been affected by it.

Many children see things they aren't ready for - and it seems to be a system of deadening the senses. This happens to adults too - watching violence and getting used to seeing it, etc. I think it's a great idea to respect his sensitivity to things and help shield him from seeing things - even if he thinks he is ready. Of course, this is the struggle to face - how to protect him without hurting his feelings.

Just adding support that being a parent and making these choices can be hard. Someone once told me that sometimes you just have to be MOM - standing for "Mean Old Mom". I agree - it's part of our job. You are not being paranoid and you are not being overprotective. Kids are definitely facing media content they should not be facing in our culture. Regardless of your tv/media/computer choices I think most would agree with this issue.

Be strong. :)

I am also square. Lots of kids in my son's kindergarten class know intricate details of the Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter movies. He, on the other hand, watched his first full-length movie just this summer -- Mary Poppins. We walked out of Curious George because there was a scene that scared him too much.

There's plenty of time for kids to be exposed to the violence, adult ideas. In the meantime, I firmly believe their imaginations are more vivid and more alive than any movie could be. I'm happy to let that flourish for awhile.

I have a 20 yr old son and a 8 mo old son. With the older son, I was not selective in his media exposure. He grew up with the Simpsons, inappropriate movies and computer games. He still argues that these things were healthy and a part of modern society and if I want our younger son to be up-to-speed with current technology, that he should be exposed to these things at a young age as well. We currently do not watch TV when baby is awake and are pondering how/when to expose him to computers so he will be tech savvy but not a game junky (as is my older son).

As a young child, my parents took me to see the Godfather. I can't tell you how that scarred me. At 40 years old, I still can't get those horrific imaged out of my mind. I saw Star Wars when it came out, but was 9 yrs old already and thought nothing of it. I was already a veteran of R movies. When the 20 year old was a toddler, he watched a movie with his father and picked up the "F" word, which took him nearly a year to stop using. It didn't help that strangers laughed when he said it. The point here is that you don't know what will affect them, what they'll pick up and if will have lasting impact.

I think you are very wise to limit the child's exposure to certain and frankly much of the media. It is our job to be parents to the children and help them make responsible choices. If they cannot make those decisions, we must be strong enough to do it for them. While he may think you are lame, square or not cool, that all is inconsequential when you consider the effects of media exposure. Parenting isn't about being cool. I applaud your decision and hope for the same strength when it comes time for me to be the uncool one.

I think there are plenty (read majority) of parents who do not allow their children to see PG13 movies until they are 13. I don't think these children talk too much about this fact at school. I have a good friend who did not let her oldest see the "Pirate" movies until last year when he was 13, and her 10 year old still has not see it. They have seen the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies (and read all of the HP books as they came out). The most violent thing my daughter will see in the coming years is Sunday Football. I may not wait until 13, but 7? I don't think so. Does anyone remember the made-for-tv movie, "The Day After" which must have been aired in 1982? It was about the consequences of nuclear war, and after I watched that, at age 13, I could not sleep for over a year, without laying in bed every night scared to death that it would happen the next day. Most kids just cannot handle the concepts until their brains have developed the ability for abstract thought. Just my opinion.

I feel your pain. I have a 15 month old that I am extremely adamant about not letting watch any tv etc. for at least the first couple of years and I don't want her watching anything I deem age inappropriate. The problem though is that I have a 12 year old stepson who was never censored. He watched PG-13 (and even a few R!) movies at a very young age. He was 6 when Lord of the Rings came out and he was glued to the screen, was never frightened, and still watches them over and over. He plays violent video games, and gets irritated when I try to censor what he watches and plays. He was watching Mad TV at age 9 or 10 which I thought was EXTREMELY inappropriate and I got into more than one heated discussion with my husband about it.

But hubby claims that though these things weren't available to us as kids his own imagination played out the same scenarios as the contents of current movies. For example the whole Dungeons & Dragons phenomena of the early 80's practically required imaginative violence. At least, that's what he and his friends came up with and they spent years playing the game.

Thankfully, my stepson is a very kind, sensitive, imaginative, and normal kid. I think his dad allows him to watch/play violent media because he knows he can handle it. So maybe the long story short here is to know your child and trust your gut. Your kid is going to be exposed at some point or another and there is no way to avoid SOMETHING getting imprinted that has a lasting possibly negative affect but hopefully you can limit the impact and help your children grow from the experience.

I'm just beginning to enter this world. My three year old watches some PBS and a few select movies. So far, he parrots everything he hears, acts them out, etc. I suppose that's my guide for what he watches? If I don't want him playing it, I don't show him. Right now it's only annoying when he Tigger bounces on us. I can't imagine any other chopping/shooting, etc. He also does the same for radio, so sometimes I think I should be censoring NPR, but what are you going to do.

What I'm finding though is that no matter what I limit at home, he's picking stuff up from everywhere else. The other day we're walking along and he finds a stick to "kill stuff." Came at me out of the blue. I think all of our good intentions are just not enough to counteract everything once we start to lose control of their little world. I long for the days when I was in charge of everything he saw and heard!

My final thought is, I know my son is happy to watch something if he doesn't have something else to do. That's the hard part. The peace and quiet of media is alluring. But engaging him in play for 10 minutes can still buy me 30 minutes of peace. And I just feel better about it.


Sometimes I do wonder whether being scared, a little bit (or even sometimes a lot), by the things we see as children isn't part of growing up ... if you're never scared, how do you learn to set your own limits? .... and if you have a parent with whom you can talk about your feelings, and who helps you to think critically (even at the age of 8, or 6) is the key thing. Of course as parents we have to act as filters, but as soon as your child is old enough to express frustration at your "censorship" perhaps he's old enough to try watching and discussing some new things.

One friend of mine from childhood had no TV in her house until she was 13, and then only to watch the Olympics. She just snuck in as much TV (and junk food) at other kids' houses as she possibly could, lied about going to see R rated movies, and learned very early how to deceive her parents about what she was doing and seeing and experiencing. Another friend was a true latch-key kid, had a TV in her room, as much junk food as she wanted, and she was certainly messed up later - but coming from a home that extreme, there were obviously other issues at hand. My parents were down the middle - they turned the sound off on all commercials, they carefully decided what we were allowed to watch and what we weren't, we had family night when they aired the early Disney specials or Wild Kingdom or Fraggle Rock, and we had a set, monitored limit on after-school TV. We talked about the shows - sometimes just a joke or reference, other times practically a deconstructionist analysis, but my parents were good about checking in with us on what we were absorbing, etc. I guess my point is that moderation can be a good way to go - open communication, discussion, etc. At age 8, your son is going to have to create some kind of narrative about his parents' rules, to explain to the other kids why he doesn't "get" the popular references, etc. You don't want him to start to resent you - to feel that you don't trust him - whereas letting him choose to watch something - with you - a few times, talking with him about it, letting him know that if it bothers him it's OK not to watch, etc ... might go a longer way toward making him a confident, critically-minded child/teen/adult (who can genuinely tell his friends that he isn't interested in participating in whatever he doesn't want to). Not to mention starting the seeds for a trusting, respectful dynamic between the two of you as he enters the perilous years ahead. Eh ... maybe?

Debby, as an aside - one of the TV shows strictly forbidden by my parents was football. They considered it more insidious in its "culturally accepted violence" and commercialism than anything else. (-:

Okay, I'll be the first minority poster here--I let my boys watch (some) PG-13 movies. They are 5 and 3. We did not have cable tv until about 2 years ago, although we did have a tv, mostly to watch videos. My husband was 3 when the first Star Wars hit the theaters. He was hooked, and has been since then. When I was pregnant with our older son, dh started buying him Star Wars collectibles. I was very anti, having grown up in a (mostly) non-tv family (at least until we were older), where we weren't even allowed to play with water guns. Dh is also a rabid comic collector, and the boys have grown up around comics and their characters. So when our older one was about 3, he started asking about the Star Wars movies. We started him with the Luke ones, and moved on to Episodes 1 & 2 later (after we had seen them first.) He is absolutely not allowed to see Episode 3. (Spoiler alert--for those who haven't seen it, this is when Anakin turns into Darth Vader and all the Jedi's get attacked by their "friends".) We are thinking when he is about 12 before he gets to see that one. (After all, dh had to wait 30 years...)

As far as Marvel movies (Spidey, Fantastic 4, etc.) he has already been exposed to a lot of this in comic-form. (He loves to read comics with his dad, and upon entering a comic shop, can usually stun the clerk with his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure characters.) The movies are an extension of what he already knows, and we make sure to point out the differences between real-life and what he sees in movies. (The three year old hasn't been exposed to as much, yet, although will watch cartoon Spidays, and such.) I have also noticed that some of the more violent scenes, many of which happen off-camera but are alluded to, my son tends to not pay attention to. There is a surprisingly small amount of death and violence in the Star Wars and Marvel worlds.

I haven't noticed a penchant by either of my boys for being violent. They are definitely rough-and-tumble, but they are boys, so that is to be expected. They are not allowed to play "kill" games, although they can "sword-fight." (And from what I have noticed, they generally do not like to play to "the death," usually a little clank-clank and they're good.) I do not think movies necessarily create a predisposition toward violent behavior, provided that the movies are viewed with proper supervision.

Interestingly, most Disney movies are not allowed in our house. Aside from the really annoying musical numbers, I find myself very offended by the fact that most (classic) Disney films feature main characters who do not have mothers, for whatever reason. (Really, Nemo's mom dying was a whole lot more traumatic than Spiderman.) I don't know what Walt Disney's mom did to him, but geez, why are the only mom's Evil Step-mothers?

This is all so interesting. My friend that I mentioned that does not let her kids see violent movies? They are totally into dungeons and dragons, and have been for years. They sword fight "to the death." Somehow, boys pick this stuff up, I think it's hormonal! But they are still very good kids, and not the least bit violent in "real life!"

Frankly, I'm more concerned about my son seeing something disturbing/violent/scary on the 5 or 6PM newscast than in a movie or tv show. He's only 3, and about once a week gets to watch a program of his choosing--usually Bob the Builder, Diego, or some other commercial free show that I've saved for him on TiVo. Or, we have a number of Norwegian videos that he enjoys that my husband justifies because of the language acquisition aspect. I know that someday he'll start asking about other shows, hear about things from friends, etc. and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, how am I supposed to explain the violence we see coming from Iraq or Pakistan these days? Or plenty of stories in the local news about shootings, rapes, etc.?

Your child is lucky you are so aware of his viewing habits. What's the hurry for mature media? My 2nd grader still loves the old Pippy Longstockings DVD box set (circa '69, Sweden, dubbed in American English) and events for younger children like Puppets with Penny. He has the rest of his life for all the regular stuff everyone else is so consumed with. Once they start with the mature stuff, there's no going back. Also, Star Wars of today is nothing like Star Wars of the 70's. It's more like a violent soap opera than the outer space fun of yesteryear. No hurry for the lil' ones... even 8 year olds can enjoy "slower" paced old shows like "Land of the Lost" and "The Muppet Show"! My 7 yr. old is interested in shows other kids talk about and I don't prevent any interaction around stuff like Pokemon. He doesn't see it at home but he plays with other kids' cards- not such a big deal. I'm OK with limited exposure thru other kids.

I'm in the "what's the hurry?" camp and also of the "you're the parents, you make the decisions" persuasion.

My 8yo has never seen Star Wars. And he won't be seeing it until he's 10, either. So your kid isn't the last one on the planet in that boat! We don't have a TV (I was raised that way) and he only uses the computer once a week to play Marble Madness. He does not know that we have the technology to watch DVDs on the computer and we are keeping this a grown-ups only top secret for now.

Why? Without tv, I grew up to be a passionate reader and I want my kids to have the same experience. Plus, the very limited three networks + PBS that I grew up with and watched over at Grandma's is a far, far different matter from the gazillion channels available these days, and the content is a whole different story now, too.

I know that kids will engage in mock-violent play whether they see these images on tv or not. My siblings (and my sons) are proof of that! But I am far happier that they do this using storylines from their own imaginations as opposed to mimicking cartoon characters designed to get them to buy the associated merchandise.

I think choosing movies and shows for your child to watch is one of the situations where it's important to really know your child. My eight-year-old son has a very vivid imagination and a tendency toward nightmares. Sometimes he gets scared from books (had to stop in the middle of the second Harry Potter), so we are pretty careful about what movies he watches. Yes, he has friends who watch all of the Lord of the Ring. No, he's not allowed to. Geez--I didn't want to watch some of those scenes (he comes by his imagination honestly). My son just isn't ready for a lot of what is in "kid's movies" and certainly not ready for adult movies. He's a sensitive kid--even when he was a baby, if we watched a show or movie that had angry people in it, he would start to fuss.

So consider your child first and the content of the movie/show/book second.

I also think that sometimes kids appreciate the restrictions. I'm not saying they're going to jump for joy, but my son knows he gets frightened by violent movies and our rules give him a face-saving way to avoid seeing them.

One other tidbit that I remember from my ed psych classes: children are affected by media portrayals of violence. They are more likely to imitate human actors than cartoon characters, but they respond to both.

Grew up with TV--also read voraciously--MA in Lit and working on my dissertation for my Ph.D. My seventeen-year-old was allowed to watch Star Wars at 6, and I am far more distressed about "hit a minute" images on kid cable shows (no more cable for us) than a coherent narrative based upon myths.

That being said, we do not have cable and the little kids watch PBS and DVDs that we "approve" on a case by case basis.

I think it's interesting that a lot of posters seem to think once a child sees these more mature films, etc., they seem to lose a sense of child-ness. I am the mom who lets her kids watch mature films (funny--that phrase almost makes it sound dirty), but I would also like to point out a few more things. My boys love to read/be read to; they still watch (and enjoy) Fraggle Rock, the Muppet show, most kiddie shows--which make of the majority of their tv viewing; they have beyond-active imaginations--the older tends to set up story lines (not necessarily based on anything he's seen or read) with his action figures, while the younger one tends to illustrate little stories on his art easel.

This is obviously a decision that needs to be made on a child-by-child basis. I just wanted to point out, though, that because a child watches some PG-13 movies, doesn't necessarily turn the child's mind into that of a 13 year old.

I'm am 13 years old and my mom doesn't 'censor' anything I watch or listen to, but I know a lot of other teens who's parents do and their actually the ones getting they're asses into trouble all the time so I don't think this has anything to do with media. It's probably because they're all ways being controlled and that causes them to want to rebel and get into drugs, stealing, drinking etc, because we all need to get free some time.Know what I mean.

I'm tired of hearing this bullshit.

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