Carolyn Hax on the Toughest Media Question Parents Face

Posted on October 6, 2015 at 10:54 am

I am a huge fan of advice columnist Carolyn Hax, whose compassionate and insightful responses are always illuminating and often very funny. And I love the witty meta-commentary in the accompanying illustrations from Nick Galifianakis. Today, Hax was asked the question I am most often asked by parents, who anguish about how to protect their children from media they consider inappropriate when they are away from home. I have spoken to parents whose young children have been exposed to PG-13 and even R-rated films on sleepovers.

This particular letter-writer is by the standards of most American families, pretty conservative. She allows her 10-year-old only limited access to films and only those rated G. His friend, a neighbor, has mentioned (not shown her son, just discussed) films like “Groundhog Day” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” She is considering not allowing her son to play with this boy anymore.

Carolyn answers:

ou can have a warm and sympathetic conversation with her to say that you allow only G-rated movies in your house and that when your son is at her house, you’d appreciate his not watching PGs or above.

Aaaaand that’s it.

What you can’t do is censor perfectly normal conversations between perfectly normal kids, except for language or R-rated material.

Well, you can, but I advise against it, because you definitely can’t provide your kids with a world scrubbed to your standards, not without locking them in and unplugging all media, which you sound suspiciously close to doing, and I beg you not to do. Kids have to learn to live in their world, and that process doesn’t start when they’re 17. It starts when they’re falling on their diapered butts.

I do sympathize with your frustration when a peer pokes holes in your son’s protective shield. But even if you managed to banish this source of amicable corruption, there’d be another — at school, on the playground or, my personal favorite, the profane, drunken fan in Row 12.

Age 10 is a fine time to start teaching instead of just blocking. What are your reasons for finding X too mature for your son? Start forming those ideas into explanations for him. You can protect kids for only so long; eventually the education you instilled in them has to take over. Right?

I was going to end here, but this really bugs me. You’d rather teach your son it’s okay to shun someone — for reasons that are barely the kid’s fault — than to have your boy hear a few naughty words?

Every parent has to walk that fine line between being protective and smothering. I’ve been in a post office with my children and had one of them ask me what “pornography” was because he read it on a sign about someone who was wanted by the FBI. In a grocery store, that same child asked me what “raped” meant because he read it in a newspaper headline. We were not as protective as this letter-writer but we were stricter than most of the parents of our children’s friends. That meant that our children heard from their friends about what was in some of the movies I did not let them see instead of seeing them with me so I could gauge their response and give them my perspective. And once in a while I let them see something I was not comfortable with because they asked to see it in what seemed to me to be a sensible manner. There’s no easy answer to this one but pretending that you can keep them inside a G-rated world is not wise or fair.

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