Friday, December 13, 2013

Why We are so Super Strict about Media

I actually wrote most of this post over a month ago, but this awesome article I read today inspired me to finally put it up. If you finish this post and still don't get my beef with tween-centered media, read the article for a far more eloquent and thorough examination.

She was a Minecraft Endergirl for Halloween—not iCarlybot or Hannah Monwaverlyplace or a Hey Jessie Labrat or whatever.
My daughter has a natural gift for acting. She can slip into a persona and sustain it so easily that it's shocking. She loves performing and trying on a character, just like her mama, except that she has more natural talent than I do. And this is a very cool trait. If she pursues acting with any real effort, I believe she'll find success and have a wonderful time.

The other edge of this sword, however, is that it tends to carry over into her daily interactions. Bear has always been a story teller. She doesn't maliciously or vindictively lie. I have never, ever known her to make up a story about someone to get them into trouble. She makes up stories about herself, inventing tales about long-lost pets, her dramatic birth in an airplane over Germany, a baseball team's worth of brothers and sisters who do not exist...and she SELLS IT.

So while I admire her natural talent and flair, I am not okay with the telling of tall tales for attention. I've tried to help her channel her creativity into her play and her writing, and it has definitely helped (as has being called out and embarrassed a few times by the people she was spinning faslehoods for).

The thing about Bear is that she is very, very susceptible to media influences. I think part of it is because of her natural gift for trying on different personae. But we have to be very careful about what she is exposed to, because if something looks like fun to her on tv or online, she will quickly adopt traits of the characters and run with them. We don't like her to watch shows about kids who are older than her and are dating and disrespecting everyone in their path. And that is pretty much every kid on every show on Disney and Nick. My ten year-old daughter sees these things and strives to emulate them. And she has friends who do that, too, which makes it even harder to combat.

Our longest struggle has been in trying to help her understand romantic relationships and their unrealistic portrayal on television. She think she's supposed to have a boyfriend, or at the very least, a crush, regardless of what she hears from me. Her friends all have crushes. The kids on tv build their entire lives around their crushes and boyfriends and girlfriends. So she began with the "dating" and "boyfriend" talk a long time ago.

My personal challenge in all of it has been in striking a balance between discouraging age-inappropriate talk while not invalidating her feelings. I don't think it's unusual for a young kid to have little crushes. Those feelings are real. But because of the influence of media, she believes they are far more significant than they should be at her age. This means that we have finally reached a point where I have had to just flat-out ban certain words and phrases from her vocabulary.

And keeping her away from the shows we disapprove of is next to impossible. While they've all been banned in our house, this is not the only place she spends time. Her grandparents have respected our request that she not watch that stuff at their house, but she hangs out with friends, too. And I cannot tell a mom or dad that their kids can't watch tv while my kid is there. There's also a lot of pressure from her friends to watch certain things. Not in a mean or bullying way; just in an enthusiastic, "why not?", we-have-to-talk-your-mom-into-letting-you kind of way. The latest battle over this was Teen Beach Movie. It's not that I'm worried about it being filled with sex and violence. It's just that my daughter cannot relate to a single thing in that movie, but she will try. And she is too young for those personae.

It's a very tricky path to walk, but fortunately being a "mean mom" comes pretty naturally to me, so I stick to my guns. Husband and I are in complete solidarity on this, which helps. He might even hate Disney Channel more than I do.

I'm not here to preach. No one should feel the need to defend their decision to let their kids watch whatever. It's none of my business. This is about my kid and her needs and I have no interest in parenting anyone else's kids. So take this for what it is—an explanation of my stance, not an attack on anyone else's.

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