Recently my son began watching Sesame Street, after I broke the news that there was a show to go along with characters he was seeing in some books we were given. Now he can do a roaring rendition of the Cookie Monster classic, “C is for Cookie.” My husband and I have taken to singing it to ourselves while watering the garden or washing the dishes. “C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me…” It’s really a catchy tune.
All would be well were it not for a conversation I had recently with another parent about TV shows for kids. Her take on it, after raising a stepson who is now a teenager, is that once kids hit elementary school, all of these cute, harmless shows for preschoolers give way to God-awful programs that turn your kid into a stick-wielding warmonger. I have scant awareness of these shows. Is she talking about Power Rangers or Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles? Whatever it is these days, my guess is, I’m not into it.
This got me wondering about how my husband and I are going to handle the issue of entertainment as our kids get older. I can see it’s easy for us now to control what he sees. For Christ’s sake, the boy didn’t even know there was a Sesame Street show until I told him about it. Obviously that’s not going to last long.
It’s clear that the entertainment industry does not concern itself with what is good or not good for our children. There’s a study in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics by researchers at UCLA that found movies that are rated PG-13 are riddled with violence that has little or no emotional or physical consequences. Interestingly, the researchers said they focused on the PG-13 rating because it has become the repository for big-budget action films. Just the kind of movie that might really appeal to young adolescents.
Call me Tipper, but I think it does matter what they watch. Another study published in 2003 in the British medical journal The Lancet showed a strong connection between young adolescents seeing smoking in movies and then starting up themselves. The finding was most pronounced among teens whose parents did not smoke.
But what about violence in movies or on television? Does watching people kick, punch, or even kill each other make kids want to act in likeminded ways? The smoking study suggests it might, even if parents preach pacifism. So what do we do? Our kids live in a media-saturated culture. It doesn’t seem realistic to try to keep them away from it all. How do we shelter them from images that are too graphic when society at large doesn’t seem to care?
An interesting aside, in researching this post I learned that movie ratings are set by a Ratings Board, made up entirely of parents. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the criteria for being on the board is the following:
There are no special qualifications for Board membership, except that the members must have a shared parenthood experience, must be possessed of an intelligent maturity, and most of all, have the capacity to put themselves in the role of most American parents so they can view a film and apply a rating that most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions about their children and what movies they see.
If the UCLA study is telling the truth, these guys are blowing it.