Does good parenting mean controlling kids’ media?

March 19, 2015

I am someoneOur world is consumed by violence and it’s only getting worse. While international horrors have taken center stage lately, closer-to-home killings at Sandy Hook and other places have faded into the public’s background. But I haven’t forgotten.  We all, all of us, bemoan our violent culture and want to do everything we can to ameliorate it, to make it go away.

There are some ways we can do that. They’re just not popular.  Gun control is badly needed, but the gun lobby has legislators firmly in their deep pockets.  Still, there are things we CAN control.

For the most part, kids are only as good as the parenting they get.

For the most part, kids are only as good as the parenting they get.

As a woman who didn’t have children, parenting decisions sometimes seem inexplicable.  Then again, I look at the world around me and wonder if I would make different decisions.  Still, I feel like a stranger in a strange land because some things seem so obvious to me.

My exposure to parenting issues comes from reading blogs, from my friends and from the children of my friends who are now well into parenting.  My role as “observer” gives me some strengths, as well as some weaknesses.  There is always benefit to an outside view, a fresh eye. But I lack the perspective of someone who’s been on the front, so to speak.  Still, I’ve got my thoughts and here they are.

Concerns I have center on parenting as it involves three popular culture vehicles: television shows depicting adult and violent content, and films and video games with those themes. The environment for all this is the internet, where information of all kinds–fact, fiction and fable–float around for kids to pick up  and… and do what with? That’s the question. It’s one parents need to take very seriously and I’m not sure most take it seriously enough.

I taught for a year in a college for bright, digitally-oriented kids, many of whom were developing their own video games. Some of the gentlest souls developed some of the goriest games. I know, because I played some with them to learn what it was like.  Armed with medieval weaponry for the game, I slashed and cut and hacked at people, because score was kept by killings.

truth__splashThere’s no way that these violent games can avoid having a deleterious effect on the kids who play them. No way.

And in fact, that’s what social scientists at Iowa State University found when they studied effects. High levels of exposure to violent video games “predicted aggressive personality measures of  anger, hostility and aggressive and violent behavior.”  Is this a surprise to anyone?

Why are children playing these games in such large numbers?

Or how about this Orlando Sentinel guest column from Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment:

A new study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that adults who repeatedly view scenes of extreme violence or sex makes them more tolerant of such content — and more lenient in allowing children to watch the same….parents were shown clips from movies and then asked about what age a child should be before watching that film. At first, a majority of the respondents’ reactions were that children should be 17 before seeing those films. After watching more clips, parents’ responses grew more lenient, saying similar content was acceptable for children age 14.  

The rapid rate at which the parents were desensitized surprised even the scientists. Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the lead author on the study, said, “We expected there to be a certain amount of what we call desensitization,” he says. “But what was so stunning was how clear the pattern was and how dramatic it was.  That is certainly cause for alarm. If parents become rapidly desensitized to harmful media content, it’s logical to conclude that children would also become desensitized if they watched the same content.”

Probably the best advice to parents there is.

Probably the best advice to parents there is.

This is real folks. And it gives us insight into the kinds of parental behavior–and especially controls — that could make a difference. And yet, I don’t see that happening.

It shocks me when I see so many of kids under 14 going to R movies with their parents, movies that present adult sexual situations, horrific war and criminal violence in very adult situations. Situations set up for a story rather than reality.  What can pre-adolescents or even adolescents do with that kind of input?  Their very limited life experience gives them no frame of reference to process what they see.

Here’s an example: Every 12-year-old boy I know of has seen the film, American Sniper.  In this, I see the ugly hand of peer pressure and the inability of some parents to buck up against it.

Parents mustBut what is it these boys see and even more frightening, what is it they understand from all that killing? Their youth does not prepare them to understand any of this–the world we live in– at any level except the simplest.  Some friends’ kids had the benefit of a discussion about the movie with their parents and another adult. By all reports, it was a good discussion.  Even so, an explanation and discussion are no substitute for life experience and what kids do with information at that young age is not what they’ll do with it after they mature.  They are just too young for this kind of content. Way too young.

Did you read about the two 12-year-old girls in the Midwest who stabbed their friend 19 times in an attempt to kill her after a slumber party? They said they were influenced by the fictional, supernatural character, Slender Man. Whom they believed to be real. Slender Man apparently stalks, abducts and traumatizes children, got broader distribution among kids as a viral video series and is even the subject of an alternate reality game in which kids film fictional experiences with the character and pretend they are real.

Listening to the interrogation tapes of these girls made clear the depth of their belief that this character was real and that they needed to kill their friend.  “It was necessary,” said the girl who masterminded the attack.

It was a chilling comment that illustrated just how thin the line is between fantasy and reality for kids that age.  Think this sounds unbelievable? Here is a short clip.

Where do they get those ideas?  You know where.

No parentAre parents aware of the link between violent media content and kids’ aggression?  Are they willing to step up and set limits with kids? To actively parent in some of the hardest ways, knowing that they are fighting peer pressure all the way? Are they willing to make tough decisions?  Or would they rather ignore the whole thing, take the easy way out or rationalize?

I know, tough words. But this is a tough situation. If you haven’t heard those interrogation tapes I linked to, you should. They’ll give you a frightening view into how media content and peer pressure influenced young girls so that they nearly killed a friend.  They stabbed her 19 times. They felt no remorse. None. Was it even real to them? And if it wasn’t, why not?

Parents have influence. They need to own it.

Parents have influence. They need to own it.

These events are not unrelated to the violence we say we want to end.  And yet, the chance to make an impact on the level of violence is available to every parent in the country.

I’ll leave you with Tim Winter’s thoughts as he ended his guest column. It’s a call to action that I hope parents will heed:

It is difficult to believe we, as a nation, can make any meaningful progress against senseless real-life horrors that stem from domestic abuse, gun violence, sexual assault or sexual exploitation if our entertainment culture continues to trivialize and be awash in such material. If we are to move forward in a positive direction, we must begin to push back against the tide of harmful images, attitudes and actions that are so ubiquitous in today’s entertainment media. Parents need to be parents, and the entertainment industry must take responsibility for its actions.

I’m interested in what parents have to say.

31 comments on “Does good parenting mean controlling kids’ media?
  1. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    We are on the same wavelength today, with kids’ safety in this digital age on our minds. I hate the level of violence that kids are exposed to online. Pa guess they develop an immunity to its shock value.

  2. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    My 5th grader came off the bus the other day and told me that one of his classmates was allowed to watch The Walking Dead. I told him that it was a shame that her parents didn’t care more.

  3. Carol Graham says:

    You do not need to be a parent to see the problem or the solution. Unfortunately I don’t believe there is a solution. It has gone far beyond that. Peer pressure has been around since the Dark Ages and will continue to make demands on kids against their better judgment. In addition, as you pointed out, there are parents who either bury their head in the sand and ignore what is going on or deny it.

    As a grandma I observe more than I did as a parent regarding how people are raising their kids and what I see is appalling. It starts long before video games. The sense of entitlement starts very young and creates an attitude of anger if they don’t get their own way. No matter where my daughter or I go, people always comment on how kind and well behaved my grand children are — people are noticing because it is no longer the norm and that is very sad.

    As you said, parents try to justify the kids’ behavior rather than correcting it. Yes, video games and all the violence surrounding them plays a huge part and like anything else in life, there has to be balance – which is rare.

  4. It’s so scary to see what kids are exposed to today. We were so sheltered as kids and I loved it that way. But I did try to monitor my kids when they were young.

  5. Diane says:

    I agree 100%. 200%. 300%. How high can I go here?

  6. Thank you so much for sharing. I have to agree with your way of thinking. I’m very picky about everything to do with the kids.

  7. We struggle with this a lot. I have an 11 year old and a lot of her friends are allowed to watch a do a lot more than she is…

  8. Ricki says:

    I’ll be assuming the role of “Devil’s Advocate” today.

    I realized a long time ago that I can’t police everything that will come across my now 17 y/o son’s path. Rather, it’s my job to impart the frame of reference that allows him to decide what is real and what is right. We discuss situations and potential outcomes, scenarios and consequences, and how to distinguish between things that are real and things that aren’t. I do tell him YES or NO, but I also explain why, because there will be times I’m not there to answer for him. We play violent video games together and we discuss why they aren’t real. We watch violent movies (and sitcoms) together and discuss why “that wouldn’t really happen that way because…”

    So far, it seems to be working much better than the way my parents handled me. The things they forbid me from were the things at the top of the list of things I raced to do the second I was away from their gaze. They gave me no context to understand what led them to their decisions, “because I said so” was the golden rule. Period. He knows why I allow things… or don’t.

  9. My kids were kids when there was still dial-up, but there were some very hard and fast rules. We were the parents. The computer was set up in the kitchen at a desk where I could see the screen and games had to be nonviolent. A few times they slipped some past me but when I found them I confiscated them and they went into the garbage. Of course, there were no smart phones or tablets or laptops for that matter. I don’t think I would want to be dealing with it now!

  10. So much of what kids nowadays see and do and are is downright appalling. I’m so thankful my girls are grown and gone, but now I fear for my grandsons and their generation. Parents need to be willing to be MEAN parents and say NO more often than they say yes. The world truly needs more mean parents… for the sake of the kids.

  11. Liz Mays says:

    We shouldn’t be afraid of violent content. Fear of things tends to cause rash decisions which never get to the root of the problem. I think we should make sure to educate and inform children and teens on the factual and fictional information they will be exposed to through the internet. They should know the difference between reality and their games and movies.

  12. Joyce says:

    Reading this makes me glad that my kids are grown and are not axe murderers. I remember when my son was little, he was invited to a slumber party. I don’t remember what the kids watched, but I do remember the disgust when the mother told me I was the only parent who would care, so she decided to show it anyway. My kid has a degree, owns his own condo, and everything else to do with success. Her kid got kicked out of multiple schools. Maybe being the “only” parent isn’t such a bad thing.

  13. This is a topic we struggle with in our family on a daily basis.
    I have a 12 and a 13-year-old grandson and they begged to see American Sniper. Their parents decided my husband would take them (he is a disabled veteran.) He took them out first and told them what they were going to see and why it happened. There is a young boy that was their age that is tortured and killed in the movie. Our boys cried during that scene. That showed me that they have empathy and realized it was real. They asked a lot of questions afterwards and honestly I was proud that they felt there were other solutions. Perhaps they will change the world one day.
    They are only allowed to play age appropriate video games, some which are violent but they are only allowed so much time a day.
    I am grateful they are more interested in sports and actually playing outside, with other kids.
    I believe balance is key and absolutely not being afraid to say no.
    I believe hurt kids grow up and hurt others. Being too strict and too sheltering can be just as dangerous as neglect and too much exposure.
    Our grand girls want to see Cinderella. This is another tough decision…
    Great topic.

  14. Britney says:

    These are some great points! I like the part about not worrying about peer pressure no matter what side of things you’re on.

  15. This is something that my s/o and I talk about a lot since we were raised very differently. He’s the second oldest of six and I have a younger brother who’s 16 years younger than I am. My mom raised me to be pretty independent and I was a latch key kid for most of my elementary/middle school years. As parents there’s only so much we can do without sheltering our kids entirely. And it’s just not possible to do that. Nor would I want to do that. I want my kids to know reality and the real world but I want them to know it at a pace that makes sense.

  16. Julee says:

    As the parent of many (I have six), I have never monitored my children. We have always talked openly about issues, current events, pop culture…everything. I think that is the responsibility of a parent.

    My children have come home asking to watch The Walking Dead because their classmates are. We talked about curiosity, what they hoped the Walking Dead offered and why it maybe wasn’t appropriate for them. After great discussion, I sat with my children and we watched an episode. They weren’t interested. It was just the fact that “everyone else” was talking about it. They didn’t even last 30 minutes before they just wandered off.

    I never want my children to be afraid of talking to me. My oldest is 25, and I remember vividly when he was 17 and came to me to talk about wanting to be intimate with his girlfriend. We had an adult discussion. I told him, “I am not going to tell you not to, because ultimately it is your choice, but here are some things to consider….”

    I have two children who read like crazy–two or three books a week. I don’t monitor what they are reading. I have picked up their books and read them, so that we could discuss them together and I have enjoyed these conversations.

    Ultimately, I believe we are all human. We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. We cannot blame a video game on someone’s behavior, without first looking at their parents, about the communication that takes place.

    There is violence in our world, we need to be talking about it on a level that is suitable to the child, so there is no fear, so that they can be the change for which everyone is waiting.

    The key in all things is communication. Setting expectations, following through, involving the child…and sometimes, even at my house, it also means saying, “You have your whole life in front of you, let’s not try and consume everything there is at 9, 10, 13, 15, 20, 25—let’s save some of it for later.”

  17. Jeanine says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I have No idea what’s going on latelt but I’m appalled. By the lack of parenting, and teaching kids these days. I have 6 kids and I monitor what they do online and off. I stay involved and make sure they are safe, and doing what is right. My kids and I have always been super open and been able to communicate with them about anything and everything…. I take my job as a parent very seriously and I want to make sure I do right by them.

  18. I’m going to respond just once to all of you–I am so interested and grateful for all the commentary here by moms, who really are on the front lines of all this. Thank you for taking the time.

  19. I don’t think this should be about control; it should be about education… if your kids know and understand what they can and can’t do, there is no need for control

  20. Hope says:

    Love, love, love this post! There needs to be stricter control over what kids see and parents need to be involved in how they process the info. The Slender Man story was almost unbelievable!! Those girls are sick. I wonder what they would have been like if they never came across Slender Man

  21. Estelle says:

    Carol, I so agree with you. The entertainment industry needs to take notice and take responsibility. I haven’t even seen American Sniper; no fourteen year old needs to see it either.

  22. I agree with you but think it’s harder than ever to keep kids “sheltered.” If a parent is going to give in, though, I think it’s important to have a conversation about the show/movie/whatever with their child to see what message they got out of it, to talk about what’s real, what’s disturbing, what’s okay and what’s not. The 24/7ness of the internet has made it virtually impossible to monitor everything but parents must keep the lines of communication open.

  23. How do you even control children on the internet anymore!? They have to be smart enough to figure out what is good and bad for them. Media is all over and even you protect them at home.. they could be watching R rated movies at a friends house!

  24. I don’t watch the local news anymore. I am over the thirst people have towards violence on TV. And I change the channel when bad commercials air for violent shows.

  25. Christina says:

    There is so much out there damaging to our kids. That’s why I am so strict about media usage in my home. I haven’t purchased a gaming system. I just want my kids to play in the real world, outside.

  26. good read! parenting is quite a challenge…all I can do is to guide my daughter on the right path and remind her everyday to do good things.

  27. Karen W says:

    I really am appalled with what parents allow their children to watch and play these days. Children are so impressionable. Those things are not appropriate.
    Though I have to disagree on the gun control issue.

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