When you really wish they hadn’t heard that….

14 Feb

We do our fair share of TV watching in my house. I mean come on….a mom’s got to shower now and again, right? Now don’t get me wrong, my kids don’t veg-out in front of the television for hours on end. But, I’m not going to pretend I don’t let them watch TV because I do….. That being said I realize we are entering some troubled waters. My five year-old has begun requesting “big kid” TV shows, so I see that our days of mild, relatively commercial-free programming on Nick Jr. and PBS are inevitably numbered.

My worry about big kid shows is that they are filled with content that dramatically opposes the values I’m trying to instill at home. I used to think that my bone of contention with children’s television was going to be the amount of violence and aggression my kids could potentially take-in. For years I was involved in violence and aggression research and prevention projects, and I realize the abundance of violence present in entertainment designed for young audiences is disturbing to say the least. Now that I have a few years of parenting under my belt (which has involved decent amounts of children’s television viewing), it’s become clear that messages communicated to children about gender, gender roles and relationships has the potential to wreak as much havoc on healthy development as aggression and violence.

Assuming a total media blackout is out of the question, what are parents to do in response to messages and images that have potential to curtail efforts to raise socially and emotionally healthy children? Calling for “earmuffs,” Vince Vaughn-style seems rather ineffective. Likewise, my strategy of shouting, “inappropriate” as I clamor for the remote in hopes of drowning out objectionable dialogue has only resulted in my daughter’s increased desire to view “inappropriate” shows. Obviously we all do our best to try to prevent our kids from being exposed to content we believe to be unsuitable, but the truth is we don’t always see it coming. And obscuring messages doesn’t do much to prepare our kids to think critically or challenge what they see and hear in the media, especially when it comes to messages about gender and relationships.

Instead of attempting to cover up or ignore negative messages, why not let our own messages be heard louder than the ones on TV? My kids may only be 3 and 5, but they are not too young to hear that ideas expressed on television can be challenged. They are not too young for me to get in the habit of deconstructing messages shared on a program when it goes against my grain.

So next time the characters on TV are saying things like, “Ha, you throw like a girl!” I’m going to be checking-in with my kids to see how they might respond to comments like that.  We might come up with some pretty good come-backs like “I am a girl, and I’m a great thrower. What a nice compliment.” Why not turn that rotten dialogue into a teachable moment where my kids can practice standing up for themselves and feel secure and proud of what they can do. And when a beloved cartoon character says, “Eww, this room smells like boy…” I hope my message that boys and girls both have feelings makes a stronger impression than the gender based teasing seen on Olivia. Kids are never too young to question what they hear on TV, radio, movies, or from people around them.

How do you help your kids think critically about messages they hear in the media?

Some useful Media Literacy Posts and  Articles :  
How To Raise Media-Savy Kids   by Barbara Rowley at Parenting.com
Media-Savy Kids  by Meg Lundstrom at Scholastic

Great Websites
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Don’t Buy It PBS Kids Go

(images courtesy of MS Office Images)


4 Responses to “When you really wish they hadn’t heard that….”

  1. When the Kids Go To Bed February 15, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Love this post! I’m often floored by some of the content out there for kids. I miss the days when they just wanted to watch PBS Sprout.

    • Hillary Manaster February 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Floored is right! I can’t believe some of the dialogue…and most of the time the objectionable stuff is so pointless. Surely the writers could be more clever.

  2. Stacie February 15, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Great post. I have been known to yell “Inappropriate” while searching for the remote many times in my house. I wish there was a book that was filled with ways to talk to kids about the messages they are getting. It is so hard to come up with what to say on the fly when those teachable moments arise.

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