Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Reader and the Trouble with the Media

I have to say something about my oldest child: he's amazing. He'll be turning 8 in the fall and reads extremely well. It's not just that he can read, it's also that he retains and absorbs what he reads. And he reads fast. This past week was the first week of summer vacation. He didn't have much else to do, so last Sunday we pulled out Harry Potter #3 (Prisoner of Azkaban). This kid flew through it in a day and a half; he wouldn't put it down! Now, granted, he'd read it before, so it's possible there was some efficiency gained by familiarity, but that doesn't explain what happened next. Monday afternoon, we pulled out book #4 (The Goblet of Fire) -- the 700-ish page book that most adults struggle with. He blew through it in four days. Four! It was astonishing. The kid is nothing short of amazing.

It wasn't very long before he asked us if he could watch the movie. My wife and I decided that the movie is still a bit too scary for him (not to mention that it's PG-13), so we won't let him see it until he's 13. I know, I know, we're mean old parents. There's probably plenty of people who would say that if he's read the book, he should be old enough to handle the movie. To this I say: hogwash. He's still a kid. He may read better than most high school students, but he's a kid who wakes me up at 3 am with nightmares, who very rarely wets the bed, and who cries when he skins his knee.

In addition, my wife and I could be considered prudes when it comes to the media. Our children watch usually no more than two hours of combined media in a week. By media, we mean anything on the television (including games) and anything on a computer (including games). We're also leery of radio. There's usually nothing on the radio that's age appropriate for children, so when we listen to music, it's always kid friendly (meaning, it's usually enough to drive my wife and I crazy).

We just believe kids need to read and be outdoors. Living in Southern California where summertime gets a bit, shall we say, warm, this sometimes can be a problem, but our kids will get over it. We hope each of our children will be better for it.

We also don't let our children watch movies that are PG-13 or worse. And even most PG movies we preview before we let them watch. Our middle child, our only daughter, seems to revel more in human suffering (there's a very lengthy discussion hidden in this sentence, but I won't go there tonight), so she's far more resilient to scary imagery than our oldest. Our youngest is just starting to get affected by what he sees, so we'll be limiting his exposure much more now.

Regarding all this, my wife and I share a pet peeve. As it turns out, since we have small children, a limited budget, and a busy life, we rarely get out to see a movie. But when we do, it's usually for a big headliner, such as Spiderman 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean. Invariably, whenever we go into these movies, which are decidedly not kid friendly, we typically see parents in there with their very small children. We are aghast. How is it possible that these parents would subject their children to this type of media? Are they completely clueless that they are messing with their psyches and are causing fundamental changes to the way that these children perceive the world? Kids do not need scary images blasted at them with perfect surround sound in a dark theater; they need age-appropriate and friendly fare, in a well-lit room, with parents there to hold them and explain when things are a little odd or confusing.

Anyway, enough soapbox for one night. I have no doubt this subject will come up again, but you'll have to wait for that. I think I'm done for the night. Later!

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