quick hit: parenting, television, & the culture of moral imperative

parenting, television, & the culture of moral imperative

Parents: Rotting children's minds - because we can!

In a post on Free Range Kids today, Lenore put up a two-author set of observations regarding children’s television programs vs. adult versions. Even today, kid fare typically involves heroes and heroines engaging in awesome adventures, out in the world battling villains or running a business or tromping through the woods in their group of friends. In contrast, switch over to the grownup news and one is inundated with a series of condescending and scaremongering fables regarding the deadly threats to our helpless/profoundly inept/continuously threatened children such as Lightning-Fast Ninja Pedophiles That Lurk In Every Corner,  swim goggles, third-hand smoke, and those family sticker decals on the back of cars (oh hai, BTW I’m totally not making these up). Lenore goes on to add it kind of irks her because here the kids’ TV programs are showing kids adventuring while actually actively encouraging them to stay inside and sit.

And you know what? These are good points and fair ones. I feel a little sad for kids today, because they are disempowered and their grownups are being misinformed, scared, and hounded (I should know: letting them go out and about is something a lot of people aren’t too keen on and it’s actually (often) swimming upstream if you advocate for their freedom to do so).

But perhaps inevitably the post of Lenore’s is soon followed by a bunch of television-apologism. You know, TV is actually quite good sometimes, parents need to watch with kids and not use it as a “babysitter” (what a load of crap, the Evil-Lazy-Parent-and-their-Terrible-Henchman-TV construct; more later), etc. etc.

And then: people who don’t watch TV are head-in-the-sand ostriches raising Special Snowflake jerks (“hi!”).

Ah yes, television. Much like our cars and guns so many USians cling fervently and blindly to this holy institution at all costs. Commentor Donna had this to say about parents who ban television:

I actually find banning TV […] this need of parents to provide this perfect sanitized world for the sensitive little snowflakes living in their houses. Nothing remotely negative should enter their lives. Can”‘t go outside because you might get kidnapped. Can”‘t keep score because Snowflake might get her feelings hurt. Mom and dad can”‘t drink wine because Snowflake will see them. Can”‘t watch tv because you may see a commercial and not achieve your fullest potential seems to fit in there just fine.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have a television. But you’re never going to hear me dissing parents and carers who do.

I have sympathy for television-owning families, because – basically – they’re often being told they’re Assholes if they so much put their fingers on the dial (yes, I know most TVs these days don’t have dials).  Like so many messages in our mediastream, parents and carers are told unless they Do It Perfectly they are completely Ruining Everything (kids and country).  So I choose to be charitable; I believe these feelings of externally-implanted guilt are primarily responsible for the ire and defensiveness leveled against the non-television crew (“hi again!”), thus creating another village casualty where there could be useful dialogue. So thanks, media, and your many ZOMG AMERCIANS WATCH FOUR THOUSAND HOURS OF TELEVISION A DAY AND THAT’S TURNING THEM ALL INTO HEADLESS FATTIES!!11! “human interest” stories.  Because even though plenty of us know plenty of perfectly fine people who watch (sometimes plenty of) television, it’s pretty hard to not feel pressured and second-guessed we’re (once again) letting our kids down (and, Earth to Brent, most parents DO worry, it’s part of the whole Responsibility gig). Our parenting culture consistently makes sure to kick us in the gonads regarding any vulnerability, even creating vulnerabilities where there otherwise would not be (makes ratings! sells ads!).

We don’t want a television set in our house for about five or six decent reasons that make up enough of a Good Reason to decline (and seriously, do I need to defend our choice at all?). The concept this makes us “unaware of American culture” (as another commentator puts it) falls pretty dern flat. As anyone who knows me knows, my family is just about the last family one could accuse of an isolationist lifestyle –  yes, despite our choices to homeschool and eschew the boob tube (or is it “bube toob”?). My children, Special Snowflakes? Doesn’t ring a bell, Butchie.

Another thing that immediately occurs to me is what a double-edged blade this parenting-judgment stuff is. As a family without a television set, we nevertheless do in fact watch pixels move around a screen for personal entertainment – either through rented DVDs or Netflix Instant on our rugged multi-purpose home computer. And you know what?  I let my kids watch plenty of grown-up fare I am all-too-aware other grownups would think me heinous for allowing. In fact my daughter now and then sits with me to watch one of my favorite (excellently rendered, graphic and crass) satires: “Reno 911”. Believe me I understand this is an “adult” (funny how that term applies to something so obscene and full of buffonery of every stripe) program. It’s kind of maddening that I feel culturally hemmed-in; public screeching over “teacup” kids who are sheltered would apply to my family and our homeschooling/TV-eschewal; so would the judgments against the opposite-end-of-the-spectrum Evils, “neglectful” parents who have no standards about what’s appropriate for young children.  The funny thing is in both choices they are absolutely intentional and were made with my heart and mind and gut.  I could wax on regarding both (please do email me if you have to know); but since this isn’t particularly a Hogaboom-apologist bit I shall not go there for now.

And then, finally, let’s talk about those “television babysitters” because Man! Those people are just Horrid! Really? Really? You know, most of the time television is used as a babysitter it’s not because a parent doesn’t care about their child or is too lazy to hang out with them or has not gotten the message that “We” think TV-babysitting is a Bad Thing. Parents use television as a babysitter (when they do) because raising kids is hard (and you’d be surprised how little help many parents have), and some parents have three jobs and are trying to go to school and a terrible ex who isn’t paying child support and maybe a host of other problems that I don’t have to live with, so I am not so quick to judge them and more quick to want to help them at their point of need (which is, just to be clear, somewhere distant from a bunch of Haters Anonymous weighing in on their suckitude). By the way, Every Parent Ever has made choices that weren’t that awesome for their kid at one time or another. That’s why we need to support one another and be honest with one another, instead of heaping on liberal ladles of ooey-gooey shame.

So again, the message, in case you aren’t getting it loud and clear (and if you’re an involved parent I know you are): you should always be aware you could do it better, and if you don’t do it better, tsk tsk your kids will suffer.

I hope it’s clear at this point that my deliberately-no-TV household is not a dictatorial construct ALL ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE and their choices. Or, as Lenore’s post commentator Uly aptly responds in part to the ZOMG-you-television-free freaks comments:

As far as cultural awareness goes, I think you can get that without actually *having* a TV if you don”‘t want one. Now, before people jump off half-cocked, I said “if you don”‘t want one”. If you, as an individual, don”‘t think your family would benefit from a TV ““ don”‘t have one! You should absolutely not have something in your house you don”‘t want.

If you think TV is fun, and it”‘s worth it for a few programs, you enjoy watching TV with your family ““ get one!

Yeah, that? That’s a bit of the voice of reason, or the voice of, let’s not be jerks about this.

And perhaps more importantly this comment alludes to a fact we don’t always remember: no really, we are the boss. They are our children, our joys, our trials and our responsibilities. This means we should be open-minded and adhere more to the children and the family (or where our heart is) than the strictures of a culture that often doesn’t have our best interests at heart and is going to tell us we’re doing it wrong no matter how we’re doing it.

One slightly more personal point about television: at least once a month someone tells me they want to give up TV but they “can’t”. If I wasn’t honest and up front about the fact we don’t have television and why we don’t (which you notice I’m not touching on here because it’s not the point), and what we do instead and how much we like it (especially not having the monthly bill!) I wouldn’t be providing the families who are interested in booting television with assistance in doing so. TV is the “norm”, but that doesn’t mean those of us who don’t have one should keep quiet for fear of public censure or hurting Its feelings.

But you know?  Most of my friends have television, and they and their progeny seem just as “fine” as my kids do to me. Our lack of television is about as prescriptive for other families as the lack of me eating a Twinkie at this moment indicates I think your preschooler’s sample of “junk” food dooms you to the Parental Purgatory of Ruinous Shitbird-ness.

Parents/carers, go easy on yourselves. And one another.

Photo credit x-ray delta one on Flickr