This is another post where my thoughts are all jumbled up but I will do my best to form them into a coherent argument.
Lately watching all these movies I’ve been wondering about the effect of media on children. I come from a strict conservative Mormon background and we try very carefully to avoid anything that is not uplifting and will lead us to sinful behaviors. Most people in my faith have a ‘no R rated movie’ rule but with my lack of faith in the MPAA I have a ‘research and know what I’m getting into rule’. I summed it up here:
But for kids most of us have higher standards than adult content and appropriately so. Little kids have impressionable minds and I’ve told you several experiences I had at the movies which were not positive in terms of content- watching Rescuers and Return to Oz. My parents were very careful with what we were allowed to watch and for long stretches we didn’t have TV at all. It wasn’t always out of objectionable content but if it didn’t do anything for our imaginations or creativity than my Mom wouldn’t allow it. For example, we were not allowed to watch Saved by the Bell because my Mom thought it was stupid.
However, sometimes I think we can worry too much and think kids are too impressionable and fragile.
For example, some claim Ariel is a bad example and don’t want their daughters to be influenced by her selfish attitude. The first time I heard this I was shocked. It had honestly never occurred to me that Ariel was anything but admirable and there is no girl who sang Part of Your World more than I did. I saw her positive traits- her steadfastness, her boldness, her courage. I saw she was willing to go against her father and strike out on her own, make her own path. I don’t see how any of these traits or qualities taught me a bad lesson and while I was certainly a brat, like any kid, never could it have been blamed on Ariel’s negative influence. Kids are smarter than that. They aren’t just robots who immediately mimic every positive and negative attribute they see.
Plus, with good parenting (and this is key) those positive traits can be emphasized so just like with me the negative one’s aren’t really noticed or focused on.
In my experience most Mormons do not watch The Simpsons. For some reason it has a particular stain on it that other equally off-color shows do not but my parents were ok with it. Why? Because my brother and I had and have nothing in common (although oddly both of our favorite movies is Up!). Especially back then but we both liked The Simpsons. As parents you have to pick your battles and The Simpsons is well written, it’s smart (most of the great movies I was introduced to through homages on The Simpsons, same with a lot of philosophy and political ideas) and in the end it is about a family who does love each other.
Take a look at this scene. A kid could learn a ton about elections, candidates, the press, voting, voter apathy, campaign promises, advertising etc. Plus, it makes me laugh, which is usually the best way to learn.
So just like I never learned to be selfish from Ariel, I never learned to be rude or slovenly from the Simpsons.
So, how do you know when something is a good influence or bad?
I’m not a parent so I would love to hear the opinions of my readers who are, but I have a hunch. You watch your kids!!! Try your best to prevent obviously damaging material and allow them to make some choices based on information you provide to them. Then watch them. If scary movies are causing nightmares than put a stop to it. If a girl is becoming a primadonna from princess movies than take a break.
But if there is a movie like Harry Potter and it is teaching good things than maybe the witchcraft and sorcery isn’t a big deal? Maybe false feminism in Frozen isn’t going to hurt your daughter singing Let It Go around the house?
My friend was just telling me her daughter loves Pocahontas and watches it over and over again. While that is no doubt annoying for any movie especially one I’m not crazy for, her girl is going to be fine. Maybe she likes it for the bright colors? Maybe for the music? Maybe for the animals and nature? There are a ton of perfectly valid and good reasons to watch Pocahontas (again I really don’t care for the film) and the negative one’s can be discussed and dealt with. The kids will usually be alright if we try our hardest to raise good people.
Study after study has shown no link between violence and video games. Does that make violence ok for children? No but it should also reassure parents that content is not the end all factor in determining behavior of your kids. It’s just not that simple.
Some people I know in the blogosphere are worried Frozen has a ‘gay agenda’ and that Let It Go is a gay anthem. Unless they happen to be gay or have gay parents I guarantee you 99% of girls are not thinking about homosexuality when enjoying that movie. They are thinking about whatever in their life is frustrating them. And if it does start them wondering than you have a conversation and you discuss the issue from your perspective. I’ve read the blogs making these claims on Frozen and find them to be quite silly. If you start with a thesis ‘Frozen is a gay agenda film’ or ‘Frozen is anti-feminist’ or ‘Frozen is pro-feminist’ than you will probably find ‘evidence’ to back it up, that doesn’t make it true. It’s a story and just like a good story it can be interpreted any number of ways by the viewer. Our kids will have their own interpretation and that’s a good thing.
Calm down and be a parent and let your kids be kids. Let them have their own choices and tastes. See what inspires them creatively and then monitor negative behaviors appropriately. Your job as a parent is not to mold your children into perfect Mormons or Christians or feminists or whatever. Your job is to present your kids with options and explanations and see where life takes them.
At least that’s what this single girl in Utah thinks! 😉
Oh and what bothers me about the instant love trope is not that it is going to teach false messages about womanhood or relationships but how it hurts the stories and gives me nothing I can relate too. To me it is frustrating when I see film after film with stale, boring female characters. When you have a movie like The Jungle Book, with only one female character (2 including the elephant) and she is used only as a love robot I don’t have any characters I can relate too so I disengage a little bit from the story. It’s a story problem more than a message problem. I saw The Jungle Book many times growing up and it did not taint me with it’s simplistic view on women. It just could have been better so it got an A instead of an A+.
22 thoughts on “Content, Content, Content”
I think the solution is simple: teach you child to think for itself. Teach it to question what it is shown once in a while. Try to introduce them to as many stuff as possible. That’s what my parents did. Disney movies, classical music, books (especially children classics, naturally, but they also often simply took me to the book shop and let me pick something), theatre, ballet, museums…don’t assume that children are too young for anything unless it is clearly r-rated. And don’t overreact.
For a while my favourite dress was pink. But not because I liked pink. In fact I was the only one in my ballet group which wore a white instead of a pink tricot (because white was the only non-pink colour available…I switched to blue as soon as possible and finally to black). I just happened to like this specific dress and it certainly didn’t ruin me to wear it at every opportunity for a year.
And as soon as they are old enough to watch everything on day TV without problem, just let them. Let them pick what they like (but don’t forget to send them to the fresh air once a while). And if they take a liking to something you don’t approve off…discuss it with them. Restrictions just make the stuff you keep from them more interesting.
That’s an interesting point that it really is a case-by-case basis for many of these choices. Growing up (I’m from a family of 6 kids) we would complain when things weren’t fair. My Dad would say ‘my children aren’t the same and I’m not going to treat them the same’. Like we all had different curfews, or no curfews, depending on the situation. What works with one may not be what is needed for another. While I do think letting kids stay innocent as long as possible is a good thing, it just depends. I agree empowering them to make choices is good parenting in my book.
I feel it just varies from family to family and culture to culture. Like in my culture and upbringing, going against your father or mother a la Ariel will NEVER be a commendable trait, no matter how you want to justify it. But, I know in other families and cultures, it’s a TOTALLY justified behavior. So it just varies.
Fair point. I’m sure that is true.
Would that be enough in your culture to not watch the film or watch and discuss. I’ve been wondering about that with Princess and the Frog because its emphasis on the occult makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know if I’d allow it or not?
Oh no, it doesn’t affect my watching the film. I still enjoy ‘The Little Mermaid’ and Ariel, but Ariel’s disobedience/talking back to her father is the only bad quality against any Disney Princess that I agree with. That’s my point. Other than that, bring on, Ariel, lol!
If films have a lot of cursing or a lot of sexual content/nudity, that would make me not want to watch a film. But thematic elements wouldn’t.
Same for your kids?
Yeah, they’re not watching films with sex and cursing.
Agree. Got to draw the line somewhere.
I’m same with a just a preference for less dark films but I wouldnt stop my kids from seeing them within reason. Depends on the film and the kid
I asked my daughter what it is about Pocahontas that she likes. She said she likes when the tree talks to Pocahontas. I’ve gotta say, I like that tree too. 🙂
ha! That’s cute. The tree is a lot of fun.
And thanks for being the first parent to respond to my ramblings. I know so many amazing parents!
Being gay is exactly the same as being straight is exactly the same as being asexual is exactly the same as being bisexual. You’re born out of the womb that way. It pisses me off when people worry about movies having a “gay agenda” as if it will make their kids turn gay or make them consider turning into a homosexual. “Hey, now that I watched Frozen, I think I want to kiss another girl.” That’s just not how sexuality works. Sorry, this is something I am very passionate about haha good article. I enjoyed the read.
I agree 100%. Well said.
It really is absurd and such a cliche.
When we were kids, there was so much less to watch. My family didn’t own very many VHS tapes, and we didn’t have cable till I was a teenager, so we had 6 channels. My parents probably let me watch a lot of things that they wouldn’t let me watch if I were a kid today just because if Saved by the Bell was on at 3pm and that was the only time I’d really have a chance to watch tv that day, they wouldn’t make me turn it off. Though in retrospect I’m sure they weren’t super excited about me watching it!
I find I’m pickier about what my kid watches than I would have ever thought because there are SO many great options out there for her. Why would I let her watch the Lego Friends show, which is super tweeny and overly “boyfriend/girlfriend” focused, when she could be watching something like Daniel Tiger or My Big, Big Friend which are much more positive shows? I don’t tell her “No, you’re not allowed to watch it because it’s terrible.” I usually say something like, “I’d like you to watch something different, because there are a lot of shows that are much better for kids.” If she wants to know more, I’ll tell her about specific things on the show that aren’t great. The goal is to teach her to discern for herself what is worth her time. Given that she’s five, it will be awhile before I start letting her make more choices that way though.
I totally agree with you about parenting really being the key. Lego Friends (or whatever the heck that stupid show is called) isn’t going to ruin my child, and I have no illusions about that, I certainly wouldn’t judge people who do let their kids watch shows like that.
That’s a really good point about having so many more choices to offer kids. You have all the channels, plus streams, plus dvds and blu-ray. So perhaps we can be more picky now with our kids entertainment because so much is out there.
It’s amazing with all these options people still choose The Smurfs and The Lorax…Sigh.
I’m glad to know I’m not totally out to sea on my views on parenting. Good to know this single girl isn’t totally nuts!
Thanks for reading my ramblings.
We also have to consider that what we introduce kids to today could be seen over and over again; wheras, back in the early days you went to the theater and that was your shot unless you happened on a re-release.
I actually find the opposite to be true for my daughter, though it is very personality specific. When I was a kid I’d get on a binge where I watched the same movie every day–Annie was one, The Neverending Story and Flight of the Navigator were others–because that’s what there was to watch at our house. If I watched TV after noon, it was one of our videos or Matlock. Lorena will watch only one show for a week, but she always watches different episodes. She’s actually the only kid I know who almost never watches the same thing (or episode) twice. Part of that is just her personality, but I think it’s partly bc there are so many good things to watch. She’s never forced to choose between Matlock, Oprah, or a handful of VHS tapes. Lately she’s been really into the Brady Bunch, which I find hilarious. It’s utterly substance-less and pretty sexist, but since I loved watching reruns of that show growing up, I’m indulging her on that one. Haha! She gets upset if I put on an episode she’s already seen though!
It’s my siblings I remember watching movies over and over again. You almost wanted to not introduce them to things because they’d see them so much. Maybe that’s why I have such a high tolerance for repetition?
I think you are right though. It’s not as common as it used to be.