Here in the psychopath’s household we like coining phrases. The Parachute point. Craptastic. Panda Face. And the latest addition to the Psychopath’s dictionary, the censorship bell curve. Parenting, in my not very humble opinion (which is to say it’s correct), is a matter of trial and error. You do something, you find out how it works. Then you determine if you repeat it. For example, your child misbehaves so you try a punishment. This could be a verbal warning, a tangle punishment such as grounding, or for some parents spanking their kids. Very quickly you realize which of these works and which doesn’t. If the child misbehaves again and again, you change up your response, until you achieve the desired outcome. Unfortunately some decisions we make as a parent won’t show their results until much much later. There are many adults who are only now feeling the repercussions of actions taken by their parents. Maybe this was some form of verbal abuse. Maybe it was a certain degree of neglect. It doesn’t matter. The parents were, I’m sure, acting on their gut instincts and doing the best that they knew how at the time. They didn’t realize that they were messing up their kids until a much later date.
Take my childhood for example. Anyone who knows me, or who has followed this blog for a while, knows that my childhood was no gleaming example of excellent parenting. I believe, sometimes in spite of my own better judgment, that my mother was doing the best that she could. That being said, I turned out to be one messed up guy. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, fits of rage that scared the hell out of my wife…yeah these were just some of the tasty morsels leftover from a childhood that, in retrospect, was awful. In the thick of the battle though, I didn’t know any better as a son, and I honestly don’t believe my mother new any better as a parent.
So how do we know that what we’re doing now isn’t going to screw up our kids royally later? We don’t. You have to trust your instincts, do the best you can, and you’ll get your results in the mail in 18-21 years. This leads me to the topic of the day…the censorship bell curve. Many times I have debated censoring media in regards to my children. I’ve had several people, both parents and non, tell me that I should censor what my children are exposed to games, movies, music, etc. I always disregarded them. I’ve had many reasons for doing so over the years, but I’m not going to get into that right now. My main argument, and one that I still believe, is that inappropriate media is like another language. If someone were to come up to me right now and call me the worst insults imaginable, but do so in Latin, I really would have no reason to be offended. I would smile incoherently and stare blankly. What other response could I give to something that I don’t understand? The same goes for children and media.
I can remember my daughter watching The Dark Knight for the first time. A fellow parent had warned me ahead of time that some kids had found it scary…granted Heath Ledger made a pretty twisted Joker, but guess what my daughter (then 3) said when she saw his face for the first time. “Look daddy, he’s funny.” She was under the impression that he was celebrating Halloween. What other conclusion would she reach at the age of 3, when seeing nothing but people dressed in costumes? Her only exposure to this type of behavior was during Halloween so she naturally put the two together. And so goes my argument. If you’re ignorant to something, it will glaze right past you. If no one ever told you to fear snakes, would you be too worried if one dropped in your lap? Have you ever been terrified of a puppy? No? Ah, could it be because you’re conditioned to think they’re cute and lovable? What if you were bitten by a rabid puppy when you were 3? Would you react the same way to a puppy in the future? Would you be scared?
So my daughter proceeded to be exposed to everything that we took in. She listened to the music that we did, she watched the movies we did, and she saw her father digitally kill a quarter million people on various video games. All the while none of this registered in her mind as good, bad, or ugly. It was all simply shapes, sounds, and Latin. But as you have guessed from the theory’s title, this is all a bell curve. You can pinpoint the moment when the light bulb in her attic turned on…Enter Lord Of The Rings. My daughter has sat through 300, she has sat through the Dark Knight, she has sat through countless scores of movies in every genre, but the Lord of the Rings was the beginning of the rising bell curve. We were just finishing up watching one of the three movies, can’t remember which, and Gollum had been introduced. She reacted strangely, seemed to tense up at the sight of him. That night she complained of having bad dreams about Gollum. I reminded her that he wasn’t real. He was like Santa Claus, just make believe. She persisted. She would complain of not wanting to go into her room for fear that Gollum could be hiding in there. Finally I reminded her that she was safe with me, and that in the end Gollum died, so even if he were real (which of course he’s not), there’s no way he could come for her. This satisfied her and the Lord of the Rings problem had been solved.
But the damage, if we can call it that, was done. I now noticed that she seemed to be picking up on more and more in movies. Even more innocent movies, like comedies, she was picking up on more and more mature themes. Things relating to sex, or crude humor seemed to click on more and more lights in the attic. So for the first time ever, for our living room’s premier of Black Swan, we actually sent our daughter to bed BEFORE watching the movie. At the age of 6 she has now been censored. It happened again recently with Blue Valentine (didn’t realize how much craziness would be in that one, so it was a surprise). Our son however, couldn’t care less what’s coming out of the flickering box. This finally spawned the bell curve theory in which we realized that all children have a point of awakening where they start to be affected by, and truly absorb, what it is they’re hearing and watching. When they’re young, they’re basically ignorant to themes of good & evil, sex, drugs, and violence. It passes over them like someone speaking latin. But as they get older they start to pick up more and more of it until most of this material is going to be completely absorbed, therefore making it inappropriate. Then as the curve declines, they age and this material becomes more and more appropriate, or at least acceptable.
Another thought had occurred to me though and it was finally my light bulb moment. This curve happens and different ages for all children. It seems that my daughter is fairly late to the game, ans most kids younger than her seemed to have gotten scared more easily, or agitated more easily by some of these movies. As she got older, she finally started to catch on that she should be scared. As of right now, my son being 2, he’s still oblivious to it all.
So we are finally on the censorship bandwagon, and actually screening (pun only slightly intended) what will be consumed by our daughter. It’s an odd place to be, considering that very little of what I watched as a kid was screened. However it was presented to me that by not doing this we may be robbing her of her innocence. I find myself disagreeing. After discussing it at length with my wife we realized that we’re not trying to rob, or prevent ourselves from robbing, innocence. We are merely responding to it’s existence. With our daughter too innocent to fully understand why two women might be having sex in a movie (considering her model for love is her mom & dad), exposing her to this would only confuse her in a way that I can’t explain away. She’s too innocent to understand the explanation. The same goes for scenes of domestic abuse, drug usage, etc. I can’t explain these things to her, because she can only understand what she knows, and all she knows is us. Her innocence is ignorance, and I don’t wish to preserve, or destroy that. I can merely respond to it. As more and more light bulbs come on in the attic, that ignorance will fade, and as it does I will be able to explain more and more about the world.
It’s similar to, in my mind, the way that Catholic parents force their children into decisions they are far too young to understand. Forcing them to make life decisions about salvation, good & evil, the existence, and specific form of god. Their minds can’t begin to comprehend what’s being presented to them, yet parents force it upon, trying to eliminate their ignorance, and therefore their innocence. If they would merely react to that innocence/ignorance then their children would naturally come to these crossroads, and could be helped to navigate them.
Again, it’s all trial and error, but for now we don’t regret anything that we’ve done in regards to our daughter. Our family grows together as a unit, and the overwhelming power of us resides in the fact that our love is unwavering, and therefore an unlimited protection. In the end I think that will guide the path of our daughter more than any movie, or song could.