Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the sixth installment.
(originally published September 20, 2002)
Most of us parents, I think, do our best to protect our kids from the threats we can see coming. We have them fingerprinted at a table set up by the police department or a parents’ group in front of Wal-Mart. We attach a school picture to it, maybe even a lock of hair for a DNA sample — if we’re willing to envision a worst-case scenario.
We restrict them to the part of the neighborhood visible from our doors … buy them helmets and shin-guards and elbow-pads … try to get them to eat nutritious meals … make sure they brush their teeth.
Maybe even install protective software on our home computers and program v-chips on our TV sets.
I’ve even seen little black boxes for sale that filter out a fair percentage of objectionable language from the television.
But recently I’ve become concerned about some threats I haven’t seen coming; threats broadcast to my kids’ minds and hearts, so subtle that no little black box can filter them out:
Greed. I know commercials are there to sell stuff. (I used to write them.) I’m glad that advertising gives us free television programming. I don’t think my kids need — or truly even want — most of what they think they want. So I’ve started countering with “Well, if you’re still talking about it by Christmas (or your birthday), I’ll know you really, really want it.” It scares me when I hear myself repeating my mom, but sometimes I can’t do better.
And I still see too many characters in kids’ TV programs who live for nothing but accumulation, for better or worse.
A preoccupation with things that are just plain gross. I’m not talking about Gak or Slime coating the willing participants of kids’ game shows. I mean the almost-constant references on the new cartoons to rotted food and excretions that only ear, nose and throat specialists should have to deal with. I guess it’s harmless now … but where will programming go when those references seem tame?
Gender prejudice, and a disturbing portrayal of virtually all adults as completely incompetent. Adult television, in many ways, has become so self-conscious about not offending minorities of any description that it suffers from “Stupid White Male Syndrome” — the only people portrayed as dumb are white men. Kids’ TV shows, and especially those Saturday morning “teen” shows, seem to get around that conceit by pitting one gender against the other in a never-ending smarter-stronger-cooler-better competition. In these shows, all grown-ups are idiots. Which leads me naturally to ….
Smarmy attitudes; smart-mouth insults and put-downs. This staple of “grownup” TV humor is now the rule for kids’ TV, too … as well as young characters with that attitude that once only Eddie Haskell had and nobody admired. They act as if they respect adults, but only when adults are around. The insults, though, are not restricted to adults, and they are as biting and acerbic as anything H.L. Mencken could have generated.
And have you noticed that the items hawked by the commercials on these shows are too young for teens?
I really see only one defense against the onslaught. I have to sit down with my kids when they watch. Occasionally, I have to let them know where I sit on an issue: “Gross!” “That comment was unnecessary.” “Is that really the way people ought to talk to each other?”
Sometimes my kids respond, “Dad! It’s just a TV show.”
As long as they know that.
When we’re not sure, there’s always the “off” button.
Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.