"Twerkgate" reminded us yet again of the parent's responsibility to properly vet media consumed by their kids. But even when you're doing your best, kids can pick up the strangest things.
In my more self-congratulatory moments, I like to reach ‘round and pat myself on the back for doing such a stellar job of navigating that razor-thin line of raising kids who are in the world, but not of it.
Our 11 year-old daughter likes Taylor Swift and Owl City and can engage in pop culture conversations with the neighborhood girls on their newest CDs, but stares blankly when Nicki Minaj comes up. The boys ride bikes off wooden jumps with herds of other boys, then wander off when talk turns to Call of Duty. Mostly because they’ve never played it, but also because they’re still upset that all video games have been indefinitely suspended due to one brother punching another brother in the stomach over a gaming dispute.
In the wake of the Miley Cyrus “Twerkgate,” attention was momentarily refocused on the parts of the culture parents should allow children to consume, the parts of culture that should be consumed with parental oversight, and the parts of the culture that will consume us if we get too close. These conversations always elicit eye rolling on my part. Here’s a tip, parents: if it’s part of the MTV Video Music Awards, you probably don’t want your young child watching it. And if your child is old enough to make his own TV viewing decisions, and chooses to watch something like the VMAs, he’s already seen it before. This is not a mystery. This is, in fact, the same thing that parents wrung their hands over with Madonna, and KISS before her, and Elvis before them, and on and on, all the way back to the Cavalier poets and their rosebud gathering. Probably, in the wake of that nasty bit of Cain and Abel business, the neighborhood gossips were wagging their tongues about how they could see it coming, what with Cain’s exposure to scandalous cave paintings.
I’m not suggesting keeping kids in a pop culture-free commune somewhere in Vermont, forcing them to wear calico and breeches and allowing nothing more risqué than a campfire sing-along of Clementine (which is, in and of itself, a ghoulish tale of death, decay, and love the one you’re with mentality). What I’m suggesting is a commonsense approach to the full-contact sport of parenting.
There is the misguided notion that children must be entertained, at all moments; that they must have a never-ending supply of books, music, TV shows, movies, video games, sporting events, play dates, and enrichment activities. This is not only ridiculous, since it’s in the face of boredom that kids are most encouraged to develop their creativity (as all of us who endured road trips before the advent of tiny handheld computers can attest to), but it also sets up an impossible task for parents. There is no way on earth that a parent can properly vet all the music, all the books, all the movies, TV shows, and video games that are constantly being marketed to our children.
So don’t do it. Instead, let’s model that discernment and discretion that we’re hoping to pass down to our kids and limit their access to entertainment based on our ability to screen it. Your child loves music? Fine – spend your time listening to and learning about current music, and really limit TV exposure. Your child doesn’t care much for music, but loves video games? Fine. Preview the games (YouTube, bizarrely, has no shortage of clips featuring people doing nothing but playing specific games), and limit the movies she sees. Prowl the Internet for bloggers whose world view you share, and get suggestions from them. There are numerous faith-based blogs for young adult literature, films, and TV shows that you can use to get started.
Learn about your children’s interests, and focus your limited time to previewing things in that area. As every parent has, at some point, wisely noted, our progeny will not actually die if they don’t get to see/hear/read the latest trend right this very moment. Lessons in delayed gratification will serve a child his whole life, and “I don’t know, let me learn about this show first before I give you an answer” is a completely legitimate one.
In a culture that views “being entertained” as a right of paramount importance, the notion that some areas of entertainment are temporarily off limits due to time constraints is a deeply countercultural one. But if we show our children that we value them enough to spend time previewing what they watch, read, and hear, they will take note. And if we articulate, in age-appropriate ways, why things are determined to be acceptable or not for consumption, our kids will gain the tools of discernment and discrimination.
That approach is not always going to work, though. Yesterday, I was at the grocery store with two of my boys. As I pored over the beer selections, I could hear one of them singing something over and over, with all the fury and intensity of a rock star. I paused to listen.
“Too many women I want to kiiiiilll!” was the phrase being sung on repeat. I stared at him, gape-mouthed.
“What are you singing?” I said, in abject horror. He looked at me. He sang it again, this time loudly enough that several other shoppers turned to look at us.
“Too many women I want to kiiilllll!” He viewed my look of horror and explained, “You know – the song from Ironman.” My kids have never seen Ironman, but they are boys and are irresistibly drawn to the screeching heavy metal soundtrack. My husband will sometimes put on a YouTube performance of AC/DC singing “Shoot to Thrill,” and the four boys run around and do these very primitive break-dance moves.
“Wow… Um, that’s not the line. The line is ‘Too many women, too many pills,’ and it’s about drugs, not murder. Please stop singing about killing women. And let’s get out of here… fast.”
In my defense, vetting music is not my area – that task belongs to my husband (I vet the books). I’m not sure what he was thinking with that one, but whatever it was, it was lost on my six-year old, who thought he was allowed to sing a song about killing women.
And based on that confession alone, I completely understand if you vet me right out of your Internet reading list.