Have you ever turned on a movie and become unpleasantly surprised by the content? That happened to me last week. When the 2014 Annie became available on my DVR, I turned it on for my 2, 4 and 6 year-old. Both the 1982 and 2014 versions are rated PG. However, the newer version adds needless poor language, which is why I turned it off after one character used the word “ass." Later, I discovered the word hell is used twice, as well as damn, suck and son of a bitch (without finishing the phrase) but the meaning is understood. The experience reinforced our choice of TV Censorship in our home.
My children are allowed to watch shows that have parental approval. This rule developed over time, after being exposed to shows that contained language and behavior, from characters which I did not approve. For example, as my 6 year-old’s independence grew, he started turning on shows rated 6+. The humor in the shows includes a lot of name-calling, mockery and fantasy violence. The characters behave disrespectfully. So, knowing that kids learn behavior from what they see on TV, it felt contradicting to allow them to watch characters behaving badly, and then discipline them for doing the same. By giving passive approval for behavior and language, through what I allow my children to watch on television (and play on video games), presents a double standard if I then turn around and discipline them for imitating that behavior.
This how we came to start talking about TV show ratings in our home. They are a starting point for what our children might be able to watch. We use them as a guide. My 6 year-old constantly tries to negotiate shows that are out of his rating zone. I remind him that the people who give the ratings do not necessarily care about him, nor do the writers for the shows they put on TV. If they did personally care about him, they might reconsider story-mapping episodes, like one that comes to mind, where the main character learns profanity. So my answer is no, he cannot watch certain shows. Then, I remind my son that I love him. I care about what he allows his eyes to see, because they tell his brain how to act, which tells his heart how to feel. I say this fervently so he knows how much I love him.
It is hard to stand my ground. There are many times I want to give in and let my children dictate what they watch to avoid the backlash. But I do not. Because it is true, we as parents cannot entrust any Hollywood writer to come into our homes, and talk to our children just because they are packaged as cartoons. Without any background information on these writers, their standards and values may differ greatly from ours, which can be evident in the material they intend for young audiences.
Start the conversation with your own children by checking the ratings of the shows they watch, and you might be surprised by the corresponding age suggestions. And in thinking about what the content of a PG movie consisted in 1982 and what it consists of 2014, realize how loose our societal ratings have become. Use the guiding question as you approve or disapprove of the shows you allow your children to watch, “if my child said or acted this way, would I approve?” If the answer is no, then allowing them to watch it can be confusing. We are social creatures who learn from what we see. Allowing models through TV of bad behavior and then expecting children to be mature enough “to see and not do,” is a skill that most young children have not mastered. So as parents we have the sometimes painful job of filtering their eyes and ears from material that doesn't enrich their lives. You can do it. Stand your ground. Remind them how much you love them, much more then young Hollywood writers, and use that powerful force of love to press that TV control to off!