Every child is unique. That is perhaps the greatest advice I ever received regarding parenting and media choices. I don’t even remember who I was talking to at the time, but we were discussing how to decide whether or not certain content was appropriate for children. I was a young father at the time, with one or two toddlers in the home, and my friend was someone older who had already raised his children to adulthood. I think the conversation was spawned over the kind of movies I had watched as a child. Re-watching some of those eighties favorites caused considerable shock when I realized how much language and sexual innuendo there was in some of these movies. Was I shielded because of my youth in that I didn’t notice or was affected by that material before?
My friend told me at the time that, through trial and error, he and his wife learned which of their children were sensitive to different things when it came to the movies and television they watched. Whereas one child simply could not watch anything with violence, another child wasn’t phased by it at all. That other child, however, responded quite negatively to any kind of sensual or sexual content. Language also affected the children differently. “Hmm,” I thought, “how do we watch movies as a family then, if each child is sensitive to different material?” I suppose the obvious answer is to just filter everything out of your family movies. That’s a lot easier said than done.
My ten year old son has been bothering me for months and months, saying “everyone in my grade has seen Avengers: Infinity War, except me.” My wife and I had watched it before and decided that, even though our children had seen all of the other Marvel movies over the last few years, we were going to wait until we could show them both Infinity War and Endgame together so that the depressing cliffhanger at the end of the first movie would have less of an impact on them. Well, last night we watched Infinity War for the first time with the kids. Afterward, my twelve year old daughter came into my room and cried in my arms.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her. “I just…” she was having a difficult time composing herself, “I just worry about losing people in my life.” What followed was a long conversation about death, life after death, angels, etc. This was all spawned by her negative reaction to the violence and killing in a Disney movie. Yes, I said it. Marvel is owned by Disney, so they can own it. In fact, there’s a lot more Disney needs to own up to, especially with all their corporate acquisitions. In this article published today, Jason Aten demands that Disney, which currently owns Hulu, take responsibility for the “commercials for rated-R horror movies, alcoholic beverages, and some of the most violent, graphic, Mature Audience-rated shows on television” shown between so-called “kid-friendly” programming. I find the same problem when I’m watching the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon with my kids. In between shows like Paw Patrol and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, commercials are filled with women shaking their rear ends in jeans and swimsuits, and a host of other sexualized material that I find completely unsuitable for children. I’m sure the argument is made that these ads are targeted toward parents, but let’s be clear about something. Your audience for the shows are children, so the commercials should not flip all of a sudden toward adults. There’s a reason why those filthy phone sex commercials never appeared on television until after dark.
What does this all have to do with parenting and choosing the content appropriate for our unique children and their individual sensitivities? Well, I don’t mean to sound defeatist, but the fact is that the media, whether it’s HBO or Disney, will never be able to filter appropriately for our children. In fact, as is clear, they don’t even try. Like anything else in life, our children are best parented by… you guessed it, parents. We may have to sacrifice certain films for family-togetherness consumption, or allow kids to watch some movies without certain siblings present. We may have to split family movie nights into two rooms with different movies in each. We may need to have long conversations with individual kids if we know they’ve watched something that harmed some of their sensibilities, and then try even harder to shield them from that kind of content in the future.
I don’t think we should beat ourselves up when a child has been negatively affected by something they’ve watched. I look at it as an opportunity to have personal and growing conversations with them. Disney and other so-called “kid-friendly” organizations will continue to push agendas and even immoral lifestyles into our children’s faces. It’s up to us to control the conversation, … because we know our children individually, and we definitely know better than Hollywood.