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 Rises. The 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?