The Media Minded Child Pt.1; Violence and Horror

Someone recently asked at what age should “adult” television be shielded from a child and wondered what other moms did in their own households to gain some perspective.  The responses received were simple; each child is different and every parent should monitor viewing time and content in their own way according to their own standards.  Simple enough, right?  Well, you’d THINK so… but when I dove into this idea through a few random Internet searches, what I found was a whole lot of gray area and absolutely NO standards across the board.  This struck me odd, as we tend to be a culture of general practice when it comes to parenting.  Some do things their own way, and this is usually monitored by a percentage in distance from that norm in one direction or another, but in this case, I couldn’t find a single standard procedure or opinion.

Since there is so much to talk about on this, I’m going to make this a multi-post series.  Today’s topic of the “Media Minded Child” series is the peripheral influence of violence.  We’re talking horror, rage, yelling, killing, beating people up and monsters. The scary ones… not the Disney, Muppet, fuzzy, blue and purple ones.

Every parental unit decides what works for them and their family, based on several factors, such as religion, social status, culture/subculture and basically what they’re comfortable with.  The ironic thing about this, is that even though there are so many different opinions, each of them are very quick to judge the others.  This is yet another topic that sends moms running to jump on the judgy mommy monster train, so you really have to know what you are choosing when you DO decide and be confident with that decision.  When making these choices, it’s important to know that ultimately, there will always be someone who thinks you’re wrong, so it’s best to be able to defend your opinion.  ESPECIALLY when others who may not agree with you are watching your children and may not want to adhere to your parenting decisions in your absence.

Here’s our story on this;

We are a geek household.  I am a lover of horror, vampires, Star Trek and Dr Who.  My husband is a Star Wars geek, loves Call of Duty and Batman. My front room is decorated in a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, the bathroom is Nightmare Before Christmas, my son has dragons and a forest on his wall and my daughter has clouds on hers, with a TARDIS hiding in the sky.  When I say we are geeks… I mean we are a family who is immersed in geek culture and everything created by Joss Whedon, Anne Rice or Tim Burton was probably somewhere in this house or on TV at any given moment.  We attend ComicCon, Wonder Con and we help host the Inland Empire Zombie Beauty Pageant in Redlands every year.  My son went to ComicCon when he was 9 months old and he was approached by Adam Baldwin because ADAM wanted a photo with my son. No, seriously.  That actually happened.  I just want to make it perfectly clear that we are not just “mildly interested” in these things… it’s literally who we are.  Before I had babies, I had the Hellraiser Mcfarlane toys toy series on the wall in my office- all still in their boxes, tacked up there with push pins, right next to a giant statue of The Joker and a sexy Catwoman, across the wall from a 3 foot tall Ash with a bloody chainsaw arm.

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In addition to being total geeks, we were also into subculture music.  I was into Goth/Industrial and my husband was into 80’s goth and punk.  In fact, I went to see VNV Nation when I was 7 weeks pregnant with Liam and I played them, Funker Vogt, Fictional, Flogging Molly, Depeche Mode, Souxie and several other, similar artists for Liam through my womb speakers. (basically headphones that stick to your tummy and pump music into your gut for your baby to listen.) 🙂

There were several reasons why we chose to actively shelter our kids from certain things when it came to violence.  Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice, but I know for now it’s the best one.  I also should make it clear that I know I will likely change my mind and modify these decisions as they both get older, but for now- this is what we have decided.

First thing; I have no desire to shelter either of my children from the subcultures we love.  There are plenty of child-appropriate versions of our interests in most areas to introduce them safely.  Second; we realize our choices are not set in stone.  We may decide something works now and realize we want to change it later.  It’s important for us as parents, to know that we are able to change our minds when appropriate.  And third; Protecting their innocence is paramount.  We want our children to be allowed to be children.  This does not mean that we will carelessly teach them nothing about the dangers of the world, like cars, strangers, mean dogs, etc., but it does mean that we don’t need to share with them all the horrors of the world before they are ready.

With those fundamental decisions in place, the final verdict was the following; If there’s violence with blood and a lot of hand-to-hand combat, animated or real-people alike, it was off limits.  We decided long ago that Bugs Bunny, Animaniacs and other “old school” super violent cartoons would be completely off limits until they were older.  Super Hero shows and movies will have to wait until a better understanding of good vs. evil is established.  Mild sword-play with no blood is acceptable, such as the Lego Batman, Star Wars and Clutch Powers movies.  Minimal gun usage is acceptable, but as he grows, we will need to be very careful that he understands guns are not toys.  Pirates like Jake and the Neverland Pirates are okay, but that’s about it for now.  He can watch anything on Disney Jr and most Disney movies, but we learned recently movies like Tangled and The Incredibles might have a little too much hand-to-hand combat just yet. (Watching Flynn Rider beat up some bad guys caused him to turn right around and deck me in the eye last week, so we decided that was a no for now.)

As far as adult TV being viewed in front of them; We can’t watch Angel, Buffy or Supernatural. No horror, no punk rock documentaries, we have to be mindful of the action we watch and we’re still deciding if the REAL Star Wars will be something we introduce before he’s 4… I’m thinking no, but we’ll see.  No more playing Arkham City, Call of Duty or Silent Hill.  No cartoons like Adventure Time, even though I LOVE that show, because every episode has some scary thing happening.  These shows just have too much violence, killing, screaming, bloody encounters, people yelling or just being mean to each other.  Basically, anything that I don’t want my little tape-recorder of a child to repeat is going to have to disappear until he has a better understanding of what is right and wrong, good and unacceptable with both attitude and action.  Too strict you say? Maybe- but I’d rather not find out that I wasn’t strict enough because he tries to drop something heavy on his sister or hit her on the head with a hammer or even worse- jump off something like a table, dresser or other high place because after all, Bugs does it all the time and the’s okay after, right?

Kids just don’t understand things the way adults do and we tend to forget that, shrug the warning that it might not be good for them and pass it off as being over protective. Here’s the thing; we KNOW that it’s not real and we can differentiate the bad behavior in the villains from the good behavior in the heroes.  All a toddler sees, is a character in a show and fun action they might like to repeat because it was silly and made them laugh in the show.  He doesn’t understand that the bad actions are happening to teach a lesson about good vs. evil and they don’t have a comprehension of true consequence in those cases.  I felt it wasn’t not fair for us to put an influence like that in front of them and then try to teach them not to hit, yell, fight or push.  Allowing them to see that sort of activity as entertainment and then scold them for enacting it just makes me a big ‘ol hypocrite sending mixed signals to my kids.

Many parents I know don’t do any censoring at all.  In fact, I have a friend whose children at age 7 and 10, are fully immersed in the horror culture that his 8 year old had a Living Dead Doll birthday party- at her own request.  They, and many others… don’t believe in sheltering children from horror, profanity or violence of any kind because they feel it’s best to show them the realities of the world, to prepare them, to teach them not to fear those things, but to understand their rightful place in our society.

I understand that to a certain extent, but here’s why I disagree:  While I LOVE the Addams Family, in the real world, I don’t ACTUALLY want to teach my daughter how to chop off the heads of her dolls or encourage ideas like pyromania and harming others.  Some of us understand that this show was satire- and others… well, they want it to be real.  Real enough to teach their babies that it’s okay to hate everyone else and that homicidal daydreams are “cute”.  I mean, because really, they don’t ACTUALLY intend on killing anyone, right? It’s all just for fun… isn’t it?  We could say yes of course, but at the same time, what lessons do we teach them by allowing this?  Apathy for our fellow humans and a lack of respect for life.  Our world is lacking so deeply in empathy, we don’t need to encourage it because we think it’s cute for a child to have a snarky attitude and talk about murder like it’s a game.  It might be awesome for Wednesay Addams, but it’s not actually cute in real life.  It’s not “parenting done right” to teach your child to make throw up noises when they see pink or to scoff at “normal kids” who like Football and cheer leading.  That’s obviously the parents superimposing their own personal ideals on their children and I don’t agree with that in any area- even if it’s something I personally don’t like.

That may be an extreme look at this, but truthfully I don’t want my children growing up feeling like any of that (the horror, language, violence, meanness, yelling) is the norm. When they’re older, I’ll have no issue introducing them to some of it, once they are mature enough to compartmentalize what they’re seeing and understand it for what it is… but for now, there’s just no need to bring that energy into their lives. The day I have to have the conversation with my child that starts with the question; “mama, why do people kill each other” will be a very sad day, indeed and if I constantly allow images of death and violence into their minds, that conversation will happen a whole lot sooner than if I don’t.  For at least the first few years, I have the power to protect them, shield them long enough to help them build a strong foundation of understanding before they have to see it. I can keep them innocent for a little while, let them be children- blissfully ignorant of the evils in the world.  I believe I owe them that much.

There is so much evil in the world, so much pain and violence and rage that they’ll be forced to deal with in real life that eventually I won’t be able to protect them from it.  The horror of the REAL world is terrifying.  War, hate, terrorism, bombs, teenagers murdering senior citizens, people drowning babies, dying bees and poisonous food, apathy, rape, murder, Miley Sirus… we have real life tragedies surrounding us all the time and they’ll get enough of that eventually.

When a parent decides to shield these things from their kids, there is a measure of opposition that some receive about denying their children the ability to see the real world.   There’s nothing wrong with innocence and sweet, peaceful nature.  Our modern, cynical society seems to have some strange idea that it’s wrong to be innocent.  There’s a whole “I’m worse off than you” culture that loves to flaunt it’s tragedy and stand haughtily, looking down on those who didn’t have such hard lives and instead of thinking, “wow, good for you for not having had it so rough”, the culture shuns innocence and revels in it’s own pain.  It delights in finding company in it’s misery and it tries to make itself feel better by scoffing at anyone who had a decent upbringing.  That culture is the #1 offender at allowing their children to view adult content television because they honestly just don’t care.  They never had innocence, so why should their kids?
With that in mind, when it comes to the influence I give my kids through television, I don’t believe I have any right to take away a child’s innocence so soon.

Babies are sponges.  It seems that every day we learn something new about the infant brain, something about how every single action and vocal inflection is recorded and cataloged, processed and stored for later use.  Knowing this, I don’t feel I have a right to watch “my” TV in front of them just so I can watch Sam and Dean save the world at my leisure. I can wait till they’re asleep.
Even if they doesn’t pay attention directly, peripherally I know they are taking in the information. Subconsciously, those images are going to find their way into their little brains and there just is no need for it.

The jury is still out on a 100% verifiable fact that early exposure to violence is dangerous but honestly for me, it boils down to one question;

Is it NECESSARY or am I just being selfish?  Can I, as the adult… just wait a while so the baby/toddler/child who deserves to remain ignorant of what a gunshot wound looks like doesn’t have to see it? That answer for me, is yeah, I can.  It’s about self control, letting go of “me time” and respecting the childhood of my children.

Remember, I say this now as a mother who lives in a subculture that is showered with blood and violence.  I played Silent Hill games through both pregnancies and Arkham Asylum, then later, Arkham City with a newborn nursing on my lap and we watched Adult Swim pretty much every night after dinner.  But I’ve put all that away for now and I’m just fine with that.   It’s not some mother-martyrdom situation, it’s just the right thing to do.  Like so many other things in life now, it’s not about me anymore.  I had 30+ years of ME TIME.  It’s not my turn anymore. It’s my children’s turn.  I am a grown up and I can wait.  They shouldn’t have to be subjected to anything in ANY area of their lives just because I can’t give up my turn or because I believe my desire is more important than their development.  Liam doesn’t need to see zombies eating people and then getting shot up all over the screen, or an animated baby beat up his pet dog while spouting profanity and meanness just because “mommy deserves to watch HER shows, too!”  Because honestly, I don’t.

That’s pretty much it for us.  Does that mean this is the ONLY answer? Nooooo of course not. This is just what we decided because it makes sense for us.  I want to raise compassionate, loving beings and I can’t do that if they’re being directly OR peripherally influenced by negativity.

Here’s some additional reasons that come from people who have degrees in areas I don’t, in case you need something a little more substantial than my opinion;

“[Literally thousands of studies since the 1950s have asked whether there is a link between exposure to media violence and violent behavior. All but 18 have answered, “Yes.” The evidence from the research is overwhelming. According to the AAP, “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.” [14] Watching violent shows is also linked with having less empathy toward others [14a].

An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18 [15].
Two-thirds of all programming contains violence [16].
Programs designed for children more often contain violence than adult TV [17].
Most violent acts go unpunished on TV and are often accompanied by humor. The consequences of human suffering and loss are rarely depicted.
Many shows glamorize violence. TV often promotes violent acts as a fun and effective way to get what you want, without consequences [18].
Even in G-rated, animated movies and DVDs, violence is common—often as a way for the good characters to solve their problems. Every single U.S. animated feature film produced between 1937 and 1999 contained violence, and the amount of violence with intent to injure has increased over the years [19].
Even “good guys” beating up “bad guys” gives a message that violence is normal and okay. Many children will try to be like their “good guy” heroes in their play.
Children imitate the violence they see on TV. Children under age eight cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, making them more vulnerable to learning from and adopting as reality the violence they see on TV [20].
Repeated exposure to TV violence makes children less sensitive toward its effects on victims and the human suffering it causes.
A University of Michigan researcher demonstrated that watching violent media can affect willingness to help others in need [20a]. Read about the study here: Comfortably Numb: Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media on Helping Others.
Viewing TV violence reduces inhibitions and leads to more aggressive behavior.]”
http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm

I know this probably a lot more words than necessary to explain my thoughts on this, but I know how confusing these decisions can be – especially when you have a tendency to lean in a direction opposite of that of your spouse or other family who may be inclined to do things in another way.

Being a cautious mom means always having lots of info to back you up.  🙂

Pt. 2 will focus on Commercials! Yay marketing….?

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