November 16, 2010

Children shouldn’t live in a bubble.

Every day I look at the BlogHer ad bar in the sidebar of my site to see if any of my blog posts are linked. And then I click on the post titles I find interesting. So when I saw “Why do we freak out about Bratz, but not violent video games?” I was intrigued. Because this is a topic I have discussed as a gamer, feminist and a mother.

The actual post is titled “Blood, Guts and Rock & Roll: We’re Up in Arms About Bratz, But We Ignore Killstreaks in Black Ops.” It’s about how the California Supreme Court is hearing arguments about a law seeking to ban the sale of violent video games to children.

I’m against the law. When you start trying to legislate what people can and can’t buy, it becomes a slippery slope. We aren’t talking about alcohol or cigarettes, which can physically harm a body- we’re talking about bits and bytes. The answer isn’t to ban anything, it’s for parents to actively become involved in what their children and teenagers are doing. Odds are that you shouldn’t be buying your wee one a game that’s rated M and simply let them play it.

My parents let me see every Disney movie there was. Bambi and Fox & the Hound included. Both movies led us to conversations about hunting and death. And I’m glad that my parents simply didn’t keep me from them, but were prepared to talk about them. With my two boys, I let them watch Finding Nemo- which has a similarly traumatizing moment, right up at the beginning of the movie. When they weren’t quite old enough to have the conversation, I started the movie at the title screen. But when I thought that the Oldest Kidlet was ready to talk, we started to watch it from the beginning.

We talked about animals, and the fact that some animals eat other animals to survive. We talked about how fish don’t really talk in real life (at least not in ways that we can hear) and that for the most part, they don’t live in families the way that people do. We talked about death. Not in a very deep manner, but we touched on the fact that people are born, and at some point in time they die. And I thought it was important- because I want my children to understand that not all kids have two parents, and that they should be respectful if they find out that one of their friends lost their parent or sibling.

I think it’s important for kids to experience things, but only when you’re ready to talk about them. My parents decreed that we weren’t allowed to watch movies that were rated PG-13. I went to a sleepover at age 10 and watched Steel Magnolias, and when my parents found out? I was grounded, especially when they found out there was a girl who’d gone to another room because she said her parents wouldn’t let her watch, so it wouldn’t have been just me.

But I don’t want you to think that my parents shielded me. They were always ready to talk about things. I watched reruns of “Head of the Class” and “M*A*S*H” and my mom was always there to explain things to me- about someone being blind, about why doing a performance of Hair on Head of the Class was a big deal. I saw West Side Story (both on screen and later on stage), and while I hadn’t realized that there was rape in the movie… we had a long talk about it on the way home from the theater.

My parents used to let my sister and I watch snippets of Animal House because they knew we thought it was funny. We got to watch them dancing to Shout (mostly to explain why people danced to Shout at weddings, I think) and at the end, watch the marching band march into the wall. Then we were told that the rest of the movie was funny, but that there was a lot of stuff in it that just wasn’t appropriate for someone our age- but that they’d let us watch it when they thought we were ready. And you know what? They did.

My kids are 5 and 3. Right now, our entertainment is mostly provided by Disney, Pixar and Nickelodeon- but they do occasionally watch movies that aren’t rated for their age. Both have seen The Mummy several times. We haven’t really started playing video games, but we’re only going to let them play games that TheBoy and I have already played. Not just to screen for content but for playability. And as they get older, trust me, I’ll still be keeping up on what games are out so that I know what games I’d prefer them play.

So what is my point? The answer isn’t banning sales or keeping your child in a bubble away from anything that might lead to a difficult discussion. The answer is opening discussions so that your kids understand why you don’t think something is appropriate, or tackling those difficult subjects so that they know they can talk to you about things that bothered them.

(On a side note that’s somewhat related, we were watching a show this weekend that had a museum where there was a nude statue in the background. My oldest walked in and said “that statue is naked!” So we discussed art and that there’s a lot of artwork of people without their clothes on because the human body is beautiful. Turns out he didn’t think it was weird, he was worried that the statue was cold.)

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