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+.