We are what we eat, but even more so, we are what we read, watch, listen to and play. And the question behind media consumption is, “Who do we want to be?”
I want my children to be smart, kind, respectful, considerate, well-spoken. What I don’t want: any objectification of women, coarse language, violence, mocking others or any form of cruelty. I worry about pornography every single day and protect my family.
At my children’s ages, I can’t monitor them every minute of the day. Yes, I have a good internet filter and check the history regularly, but more importantly we’ve instilled in them values to direct their actions. My boys understand WHY we don’t read/watch or listen to certain books, movies, TV shows and music. Even when Ben was in high school, he called me before watching a movie with his friends. Not to get permission, but simply to get advice on the content. He didn’t want to put anything in his mind that would impair who he wants to be.
In our modern world, our consumption of media contributes to raising children more than perhaps any other factor.
Media comes at us from every direction, nearly every moment of the day: books, magazines, Facebook, YouTube, TV, video games, cell phones etc. To neglect it’s influence (good and bad) is pure foolishness.
We’re a pretty moderate household. Many of you would find us too strict and many others would find us too lenient. Ben was 13 before he ever saw a PG-13 movie. Gabe was 6. And at 11 he’s seen every X-Men movie and a whole slew of James Bond films. We listen to a lot of classical music but also to Imagine Dragons, Train, Maroon 5 etc. A wide screen TV lies behind my family room cabinet, but it’s not hooked up to cable or satellite. Everyone over 13 at my house maintains a Facebook account. We’re not Luddites, but we’d lose at any pop culture quiz games.
Teaching media awareness starts young and changes with every new bit of technology, but when children are driven by values, rather than rules, our decisions are pretty simple. Every family cultivates a slightly different set of values and parents have varying abilities to monitor media and devices. With a big, brave, deep breath, I’ll outline our approach to various forms of media. This is not a to-do list, simply ideas for consideration. As I’ve said before, I’m not skilled at monitoring devices so we don’t have very many. Also, there are a whole lot of things I wish we could do better (really, Gabe did not need to see James Bond seducing women or getting kicked and beaten). And I’m going to stop apologizing right now. At least I’ll try.
MUSIC– ah, let’s start with the easiest. As my niece Lizzy likes to say, “As for me and my house, we play it LOUD!” We do play it loud and once the kids leave for school, I usually turn our latest playlist up full volume while I wipe the counters and sweep the kitchen (with just a few dance moves in between).
Most of the music in our house plays publicly and out of our main computer or the speakers in Hans’ bedroom. Yes, we have a few sets of earbuds, but those are reserved primarily for kids listening to their violin/viola/piano music, lawn mowing or late night study sessions. Everyone shares the same iTunes account and we listen, sing and dance to the same music. Hans and I have the annoying habit of finding a new song and playing it on repeat for days on end (our current obsession- “Classic” by MKTO. Go listen. You’ll love it.). Each season we create a playlist of our favorites. Those playlists are fabulous to revisit because they immediately bring back memories of “Fall 2010” or “Summer 2012.”
The method to my madness: our very public listening unites us as a family and prevents kids (or adults) from isolating themselves with headphones. Erik and I have discovered all kinds of new music and genres we love. And of course, the family playlist prevents downloading anything crude.
BOOKS– I believe books impact our thoughts more powerfully than movies. Readers spend more time in a book (usually) and know the characters intimately. In fact, a new study reveals those who read the classics exhibit more empathy than readers of pop fiction. I’d scarcely call everything written this century pop fiction– children’s and YA literature have attracted brilliant authors– but the study proves one book is not like another. Too many people are afraid of books dubbed as “classics” with the assumption they are boring. They are classics because they are awesome! I’ll never forget the first time Stefan read The Count of Monte Cristo. Over and over he exclaimed, “How come nobody told me this was such a good book!?”
Look for reviews on commonsensemedia.org, but you might want to get a feel for their reviews before trusting them implicitly. I promise a list of great boys’ books coming soon.
TV/MOVIES/VIDEO GAMES– I said more than enough about this last year and about handheld games, the iTouch and smartphones so I won’t repeat it again.
INTERNET– Basics: keep computers and TVs in public rooms and password protect computers. Even if everyone knows the password it provides a conscious moment to say, “why am I turning on the computer?” Some of the boys’ favorite positive websites are listed here: nerd power
A few new finds:
AVOIDING PORNOGRAPHY– Happiness in life is more about the DOs than the DON’Ts. Finding a hobby, playing sports, studying, hiking, time with friends and family– all these insulate our children from pornography more than any filter. Addiction to pornography stems from an emptiness, a hole in the heart a person tries to fill with an artificial thrill. Alcohol and drug abuse and overeating stem from the same emptiness. Sadly, many in our country still believe pornography is a harmless pastime and fighting against it is a job for the religious right. But pornography hurts EVERYONE. Our entire society pays a price for increased sexual assaults, broken marriages, destructive attitudes towards women, job loss and depression. In the UK, as a response to violent porn-related crimes, Prime Minister David Cameron is waging war on internet filth. By the end of this year, everyone in the UK will have to ‘opt-in’ to receive any kind of explicit material, hard-core everything will be banned and those typing in certain search terms will be black-listed. And hurray for Google who are working to eliminate child porn from the Internet.
How can we best protect our kids? Love them. Fill that hole in their heart. And if/when they do mess up, love them. Tell them they are still good people, teach them to resist temptation. Teach them why pornography is wrong how it will hurt them: impairing relationships, putting grades at risk, taking time from positive activities, increasing feelings of worthlessness and shame.
Every one of our children will be exposed to pornography in some degree. As Ben so wisely informed me when he was in high school, “It’s not a matter of seeking it out; it’s a matter of turning away.” My older boys have all dropped off certain sports teams because of the overabundance of pornography and crude talk in the locker room and on the field. To them, staying on the team wasn’t worth WHO they want to be.
And I’m raising men. Real men.