Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Growing up, there were zero boundaries about what movies and TV I could watch — content or amount. This was really, really not good for me. I have created lots of boundaries around these things, but I always feel like I’m not finding the right spot. Our friends and family seem to all fall on the anything/nothing goes extremes, and we feel worlds away from both standpoints. What are some touch points we can use for these kinds of decisions, especially when we know we have biases based on our own childhoods?
This is really tough to navigate. The consequences, as you know, can be serious, but the pressure the kids themselves are under — to watch or play and then discuss at school the very thing you just nixed — is intense. In fact, we seem to be in this weird cultural moment where it’s OK to let your 9-year-old play violent video games but not OK for said 9-year-old to be at a playground alone. Drives me batstuff.
The way we’ve approached is to preview where possible, and set limits accordingly, and then allow our kids to appeal our decisions. I realize many are queasy with the idea of negotiating, but the more absolute you are in your bans, the harder kids will pounce on banned material at their friends’ houses — and the less they’ll talk to you about what they see.
When we yield, it’s usually in response either to their environment or to their ability to handle tougher material. Take profanity for instance. We policed it tightly for their littlest years … until we witnessed how routinely they heard it — thank you, drunk lady behind us at Camden Yards! —and decided it was time to loosen up.
We also rely heavily on Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) because it teases out the nature of the adult content — say, cartoonish violence, versus realistic. Knowing that plus knowing your kid plus previewing when possible cuts down on second-guessing. And watch with your kids, so you can talk afterward.
There’s also this to fall back on, of course, as empty as it can feel sometimes: You’re the parent. You have to be seen as a jerk about this stuff sometimes. Find ways to say yes so the no has the necessary authority, and good luck.
I grew up in a similar household, and wowzers I really watched some inappropriate stuff as a kid. However … my reaction was much different from yours. I didn’t even understand the inappropriate stuff until I was much older, and it went straight over my head (now I find it hilarious). We do set many more boundaries with our kids.
So, what I guess I am saying is that so much really depends on the kid. Some kids will do just fine no matter what they are exposed to. For others, unrestricted access will leave scars. The only thing I watched as a kid that ever bothered me was over at a friend’s house – and it was a movie of the week specifically tailored to be watched by families.
Good stuff, thanks. And reassuring, since kids with much-older siblings (in the Rated R/Rated M zone) seem to see more than anyone intends.
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