My mother-in-law pointed me to this article about children and media consumption (TV, video, video games, internet, etc.). This article talks about the Sesame Street argument, that it's not purely the amount of time that children spend on media, but also the type and quality of the content that matters.
Basically, media teach us about behaviors. Media like Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Blues Clues, can teach cooperation and positive social behaviors. Violent media (the article mentions Power Rangers) can teach violent behaviors.
When my son was two, we were visiting the Children's Museum of Indianapolis Dinosaur exhibit. There was a table with dinosaurs on it. My son played with the dinosaur calmly, exploring & eating. A nearby boy had a dinosaur in each hand, crashing into each other and fighting.
Beyond that, the article reminded me that I had been wanting to discuss some differences between my parent's and my censoring of our children's media.
A few examples:
1) The main reason my siblings and I were able to watch the Police Academy films, was because we had seen the PG-rated 3rd movie, and they didn't think to check the ratings before renting numbers 1 & 2. Sexuality was one of the things my parents screened for, because of course they wanted to reinforce their "Wait until marriage" conservative philosophy.
I find myself conflicted on this stance. I want to keep things age-appropriate, and my five year old doesn't need to be included in the Xanthian "adult conspiracy." But I also lean towards a more gender-inclusive and sex-positive philosophy. I don't consider the human body, of itself, to be shameful, though there are Glee music videos that I don't let him watch (for overly suggestive dancing combined with skimpy clothing).
I would like him to wait until he's ready (preferably adulthood / college) to become sexually active, and I want him to learn safe practices, but I would not ask my son to wait until marriage.
2) I was in college before I saw "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Dead Poet's Society." Both movies contain an element of disrespect or even defiance of authority, which my parents did not want to encourage. They would not accept any backtalk or disrespect.
So when my classmates quoted Saturday Night Live, I had very little clue what they were discussing. Most of what I picked up was from context and explanations, rather than seeing it for myself.
While I am inclined to agree with them regarding Ferris Bueller, I don't agree about Dead Poet's Society. Having been raised with awareness of social justice issues, I believe in the importance of letter-writing and demonstrating to protest oppression. I believe in speaking out, even if it's against authority. I'm not in a position to risk arrest in civil disobedience (a sit-in, or handcuffing myself to a fence) at this time. But in general, I do believe in speaking out and talking back, in carrying out a dialog with authority.
3) Violence. Here, my parents weren't very concerned about cartoon violence when we were young, and less concerned about movie violence as we got older.
I remember enjoying G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and She-Ra, Thundercats, Silverhawks. A variety of cartoons that included violent scenes. I remember reading criticisms of how G.I. Joe and Transformers both showed lots of laser-fire with characters almost never really getting hurt.
This is another place where I somewhat differ from my parents. I think they probably did try to watch for age-appropriateness. But I can remember being traumatized by the ear-thingy scene of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when we watched it in movie theaters. So I try to avoid *scary* content.
And, I suppose, that makes my concept of age-appropriate different. Under the age of two, we were pretty strict about both the amount of time he could watch media, and pretty well banned violent shows for that age.
But, of course, we are Geeks. And many Geek movies are adventures, that include violence. Star Wars, X-Men, Avengers, elements of The Princess Bride, etc. We're not about to ban him from watching our favorite movies!
So, we phase it in slowly, a movie here and a movie there, and not a regular part of his daily life. His day-to-day media is still dominated by Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid, Fraggle Rock, and similar gentle fun.
4) Time. I can remember several times when my mother would ask us to turn the TV off, that we had watched enough TV for that day. But of course, when Dad wanted to watch the news, it would be on again. There were times when my family would attempt to do a TV fast, and limit more strictly, but those were fleeting.
I can remember my father joking about my youngest brother being a "floor potato" before he could walk. And I feel like I watched tons more television when I was my son's age, than we watch today.
Of course, I've already blogged about how working my way through my undergraduate degree severely cut down the amount of television I consume. These days, I'm much more likely to get my screentime on the computer.