9 07/26/2012 parenting

Media Madness – Literally

In the aftermath of the recent tragic theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, a lot of the social media reaction seemed to centre around the presence of Veronica Moser-Sullivan, aged six, at the midnight screening of the PG-13 rated movie The Dark Knight RisesThe reactions ranged from outrage that a young child would be at a violent, scary movie in the middle of the night to outrage that this fact generated so much commentary in the wake of so many other tragic deaths.

I’m not actually going to share my opinion about Veronica Moser-Sullivan’s presence at The Dark Knight Rises, because I’m not sure I have one, or that I should have one. It’s so very easy to stand back at a distance and judge the parenting decisions of other people, but it’s a very slippery slope to start down, my friends. If we’re honest with ourselves, not a single solitary one of us has made perfect decisions in every step of our parenting journeys. It’s just that most of the time our slip-ups don’t result in tragedy.

But I also don’t want to get into another discussion about mothers judging each other (we do it…we hate that we do it…) because probably there are times at which it’s acceptable and even necessary to judge someone’s parenting choices (abuse and neglect come immediately to mind) while clearly there are other times when it’s simply not okay to look down on another mother because she chooses a different path.

What I wanted to do here today was to open up a discussion about media, and how you manage (or possibly even if you manage) your child’s exposure to it. 

You see, I was involved in a long and interesting discussion on a parenting group I belong to on Facebook about whether we, as moms, would ever take a child under 14 to see a 14-A rated movie (this means that kids under 14 may attend, but must be accompanied by an adult). The consensus was generally what you would expect – the moms of little kids (aged five and under) were all vehemently opposed, saying thinks like “never!” and “that is crazy!” and so on. Which you would expect. Would I have taken my daughters to see The Hunger Games at five and three? Not bloody likely. But in fact I did take them to see The Hunger Games at nine and eleven. And it was a fine decision, with no negative outcomes. 


I was also simultaneously involved in another interesting online discussion about this very interesting article “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” (originally published in Newsweek). In the article, author Tony Dokoupil makes some interesting and very compelling arguments (based on peer-reviewed scientific research) that not only can the Internet make us lonely and depressed, but it may even create more extreme forms of mental illness (case in point: Jason Russell of Kony 2012 fame). 

I will tell you honestly: reading that article put me in a very sober frame of mind. My oldest daughter is nearly twelve, and relishes her online experiences. She is somewhat active on Facebook, has a YouTube account to which she publishes videos (usually tutorial-like snippets of herself playing video games) and really enjoys playing the multiplayer version of the wildly popular sandbox-like, sim-like game Minecraft (which I wrote about here, and have since placed reasonable limits on).

And then I found this article, which seems at least to refute somewhat the assertion that Facebook use causes depression. Which could be a bit of a relief — or then again, maybe not — because who’s to say really which study is right? 

Could this all be a case of Luddite-like overreaction? There are a lot of editorials out there in response to the original Newsweek article that suggest this to be the case. But then again, are we going to sit back and allow ourselves and our children to be the guinea pigs in this massive experiment?

I think it’s a topic worthy of discussion. When our children are young and at home, we can very easily control their exposure to and consumption of media. So many people in the first discussion I was part of commented things like, “my son only watches Treehouse!” or “we don’t watch any violent cartoons!” or “my daughter is only allowed on certain websites – definitely not YouTube!” But their kids are for the most part not even in school. I was the exact same way when my kids were little – they were not allowed to watch Bratz, play with Bratz dolls (if they got them for birthday gifts I promptly returned them to the store) or even have a Bratz sticker. So I get that.

But then this funny thing happens – your kid goes to school. And the older they get, the wider their circle of friends and the more exposure to things you would prefer they didn’t see. To give an extreme example, my daughter watched The Hangover at age nine while at a friend’s house – it belonged to the friend’s teenaged older brother. YIKES. Talk about inappropriate! 

So in the spirit of crowd wisdom, I’d like to ask all of you out there – how do you manage your own children’s exposure to media? Whether it’s TV, magazines, social media or the Internet, there’s a vast sea of stuff out there that we probably don’t want our kids to see, but certainly can’t prevent them from seeing. 

Just to get the conversation started, here’s how things work in my house:

1. Facebook: Yes, I know you’re not supposed to have an account until you’re at least thirteen according to FB regs, but kids get around that all the time. My oldest daughter asked RELENTLESSLY for a FB account, and I refused until she was entering grade six, and literally all but two of the kids in her grade at school had it. But the rules are that I know her password and have unlimited access to reviewing her account (and I regularly go on and see what’s on her feed, who her friends are and what she’s liking, etc.). She is also only allowed to be friends on FB with people she knows in real life. If ever I feel like FB is being used inappropriately or that it’s becoming a negative influence, she knows I’ll shut it down. 

2. Twitter: Simple. My kids don’t have twitter. 

3. YouTube: My oldest has an account, but I have to vet all videos before they are published and there can be no way to link your account to you personally. Most videos are to be set to “private”. There are some exceptions, but they’re at my discretion.

4. Minecraft: Both daughters (11 and 9) have accounts and play the multi-player game. They are limited to 30 minutes at any given time, then they have to log off and do something “real”. 

5. Skype: both have Skype and use it to talk with friends/family but their profiles are private.

6. Texting: my oldest has a cellphone and has an unlimited text plan (cheaper than calling her friends). The same deal goes as for FB – she knows I can (and may) check her texts at any time, and will disable if it becomes a problem. Luckily, she seems to only use texting as a means of arranging to hang out with friends so it’s been fine so far, although friends of mine have struggled with their daughters using texting to communicate frequently and at length with boys, to the detriment of schoolwork, and potentially in an inappropriate manner (read between the lines).

So…your thoughts? Are you still in the early days of a steady diet of Treehouse or Disney Playhouse? Or are you already through all this and have some words of wisdom to share with the rest of us?
  • crabby girl

    1. FB: when my 11 yo daughter asked for this, we agreed she’s get an account at the age of 12, i’d know her password, she could only have real-life friends on FB, and she’d use FB while i was sitting beside her. her friend list is small (we discussed the competitive nature of collecting friends to ‘up’ your numbers and how – if you buy into that – it can make you feel insecure)
    at 12 yo, she mostly played games on FB, and used it to comment on her friend’s photos and updates. that said, she’s only seen content on her ‘home page’, and doesn’t use FB to snoop on friends to see who they are interacting with, or if there was an event she wasn’t invited to – the kinds of things that have the potential to made you feel unimportant/unpopular.
    at 13 yo, she’s on FB alot less. my thinking goes like this: her friend list is low; there are some friends that comment/update alot but it’s usually the same sort of stuff – funny pics for the internet, or continuous mudane updates, or (lots of these) excessive self portraits. so i think she doesn’t check FB that often b/c it’s gotten boring/repetitive, and it’s easy to catch up on 2-3 weeks of junk in 5 minutes.
    my 12 yo son is completely uninterested in FB. he has an email account and is happy with that.
    my almost 9 yo would love FB. he’s not getting it. given that we get more lenient as we parent down, i’ll likely let him get FB (with the same parameters as my daughter) at 11.
    2. twitter: none here
    3. youtube: no accounts here. my almost 9yo is not allowed to watch any youtube stuff without me being in the room (with a clear view of the screen). the older ones can peruse on their own
    4. online multiplayer games: noone has asked for these but i’ll be open to it if approached. your posting about minecraft was very helpful
    5. skype: don’t have it. i’d be fine with it. our computer is in the middle of an open concept kitchen/family room so there would be NO privacy. i’m guessing that’s why my 13yo doesn’t mention it, and instead takes the phone to her room
    6. texting: no cell phones here. our rule was/is: the children must pay for their cell plan / data plan. (i have been willing to purchase a cell phone as a BDay present) my 13 yo daughter has clamoured for a phone for three years and was all set to get one in june. she got cold feet. partly it was cost, and partly it was the understanding at how her life had the potential to be overrun by returning texts. she already has an ipod touch (bought with her own money) and – using it’s wi-fi capabilities – texts her friends. unlike your daughter, the bulk of the messages are nonsense quips: lol, wtf, ??, whatever – back and forth. it’s like a game where you can’t leave a message unreplied. b/c if you do, another text comes that needles you on and on. until you do reply some more nonsense. what a waste of time. to ‘save’ herself from these escapes, she has lied to friends and said i banned her from the internet for the evening and cut the wi-fi connection. (i’m happy to be labelled the bad guy if it lets her set boundaries)
    anyhow, she leaning on spending the money she’s saved on a tablet or the latest generation ipod touch. she’s well aware of the many wi-fi hot spots in town, and since she’s spending her own money, she’s looking for her best value. tbh, i’m really proud that she is taking the time to judge the pros and cons of being continually connected.

  • Kath

    Slayer, count your blessings your kids aren’t that interested in computers/media just yet… saves you the battle of limiting screen time (so not fun).
    Re: TED, I’m glad you pointed that out, because sexuality/sexual content is what I really look for at this age (exactly why I was so horrified my daughter saw The Hangover so early). Both my kids saw the trailer for TED, and my 9 year-old keeps asking to see it (in her mind, a movie with a talking CG teddy bear MUST be for kids). But I worry a lot more about raunchiness/sex than I do about scariness. Hence why my kids saw all the Harry Potter movies, Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games, but I will not allow them to see TED.
    Again, it goes back to knowing your kids and using your judgement.

  • Slayer

    Maybe it’s just my kids, but I can honestly say that my 11 and 8 year old could care less about the computer. I think we are the only family in our hood who doesn’t have an ipad yet. My kids love to play outside, play sports with their friends and if it’s raining yes, they will watch movies (the sponge bob movie is a fav, YTV and family) They only go to the computer for school work and even that is a battle!
    Not once has my older son asked for a facebook account….and I’m not going to suggest it. (but I am sure it is around the corner) I just figure there is plenty of time for that sort of thing. Let kids be kids while they are still kids!
    Yes, he has a basic cell phone (no blackberry) so he can call and text us (and his friends)But I look at his phone all the time. He’s 11!
    My husband and I went to see TED the other night. It is 14A. My 11 year old (after returning from camp) mentioned he wanted to see it. He didn’t even know about this movie, but a few of his friends saw it while he was away. This movie is a funny adult movie, my 11 year old wouldn’t even a quarter of the jokes but the nudity and sexual scenes he would get…and I’ll say it again….there is plenty of time for this when they are older. Call me a prude but this movie is not for someone under 16 let alone 14!
    Two each their own I guess, I just hope the young kids who see these kinds of movies, learn to respect sex and don’t pick up the rude sexual gestures that adults find funny only because we know its so wrong…..and even more wrong when a teddy bear is doing it.
    My two cents….Let kids be kids, while they are still kids!

  • Jen

    That is such a great point, Candace. My kids were away at overnight camp, the older for a month and the younger for 2 weeks, and it left me with a nervous twitch that I didn’t know or have any control over anything they did while they were gone. BUT that is why it is so important! They need to learn to trust themselves, use their judgment, and cope without mommy around every corner and if they never get the chance, how will they?
    When they are young we need to help them to do this more but as they get older we need to back off. Our job, the whole point of this parenting thing, is exactly what you say – “not to protect our children from the world but to prepare them for it.” We all make different parenting choices because WE are different and so are our children. We can guide them but the journey is theirs.
    Great post!

  • Jen

    An aside: I LOVE SpongeBob and agree that he is a great role model. The rest of the crew in Bikini Village? Maybe not 😉 My latest love? Phineus and Ferb.

  • Kath

    Totally agree, Candace – letting their peers fill in the blanks (or possibly even worse: letting the media fill in the blanks) is way more dangerous than over-protecting them.

  • Kath

    I have to snicker at your SpongeBob on vacation only comment, Sara – I used to regularly and quite vehemently defend SpongeBob to all the haters when my kids were preschoolers. My thoughts are that despite the burp/fart/snot jokes, SpongeBob represents a character I would love my kids to emulate: he is kind, sweet, naive, hard-working, accepting and a very loyal friend. What’s to object to in that?
    But I digress…my bottom line, as you suggest, is that we all have to know our kids – really well – and know what they as individuals are interested in and can tolerate. My oldest watched all three Lord of the Rings movies when she was in grade 4. She was totally taken by them and particularly loved watching the “making of” and other special features. The movies weren’t in the least bit scary for her, but then she happened to catch the very end of Into the Wild (the story of Chris Chandless, who walked into the Alaskan wilderness and died of natural causes) and was absolutely terrified.
    As well as knowing your own child, you need to be prepared to work hard at an open and trusting relationship, so that as your control over them wanes, you will be the person they naturally come to for advice and guidance. This is especially vital as they enter their teenage years. Once I heard it put like this: when your kids are little, you are their manager. You can only hope you do a good enough job of it that when they’re teenagers they’ll let you be their coach.
    I like that perspective.

  • Candace

    Great post, Kath. I think one of the things that happens as our kids get older is we realize that our job as parents is not to protect our children from the world (a la the first time mom I know who won’t get her toddler play in the grass lest he encounter a tick – oy!) but to prepare them for it. Far better to engage with our kids and discuss the tough issues happening in our world than to pretend it doesn’t exist and let their peers fill in the blanks.

  • Sara

    Great thought provoking post Kath. I’m still in the Treehouse phase (SpongeBob on vacation only) so I can’t add to much to the discussion. I did get in a bit of an online debate about the whole ‘kid being too young to be at the Dark Knight at midnight’ on HuffPost. My initial reaction was yes – that’s insane. Until I realized – who cares really in the scheme of what happened. But I can tell you, the amount that my princess loving son now talks about guns and shooting people disturbs me and that’s all from daycare because it’s not at home. I am, like you alluded to, going to reserve my ‘no way will I do this’ because I have no idea. My son, I think, is really mature, so maybe I will let him watch movies, or use a game etc earlier than I ever would have imagined.
    Great post Kath.

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