Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Parental Guidance

"Parental Guidance" implies the parents' involvement. It is not meant to serve merely as a gauge of whether or not a child is allowed to watch something. It is as foolish to keep difficult media from a child who may learn lessons from it, as it is to blindly hand any media to a child regardless of the content's rating or the child's preparedness.

Media is not a babysitter!

Parents who treat television, movies, and other media like a babysitter fall into two categories, which roughly align with political labels. "Conservative" parents desire censored, beige, moral-laden media content which they can trust not to harm their children in their absence. "Liberal" parents desire that their children be grown up enough to handle whatever it is they watch. Both views fundamentally suffer from the absence of parental guidance.

There is nothing wrong with either of these views in moderation. As a child grows up in such a diverse multimedia culture, it is only natural that they should desire and be allowed to learn from a mix of media sources—even a mix of true and false is useful with wise parental guidance. On one hand, parents have a duty to protect their children from the vulgar and the biased, but on the other hand, age is only a rule of thumb, and moderate roughness merely emulates life—if this view is taught by wise parental guidance.

This may be an overly general observation, but it seems to me that there are some inevitable dynamics here. Namely, that those whose parents let them watch "everything," eventually create rebellion among those whose parents let them watch "nothing." Without maturity, the first group will naturally indulge in extremes—and therefore recommend them. This creates poisonous biases and stunted emotional growth. As children, the second group is naturally curious about what they might be missing, and so defy their parents, secretly consuming the media recommended by the "everything" group.

Parents who are absent from their children's media diets—for whatever reason—cannot guide their intellectual and emotional growth. Parents of the "everything" group are absent in spirit because they tend to behave more as one of the kids than as parents. Parents of the "nothing" group are absent mostly in body because they have a strong work ethic, thought they live by a moral code which places value on their children.

Of course, there are a vast number of reasons that either parental group is absent in whatever form. Furthermore, the general descriptions I give of each group assume that the parents care enough about their children to have an opinion about the media they view. When physical absence means working to provide, and when spiritual absence means trying to relate, the parents are demonstrating love according to their own perspective.

The point is most media today—of whatever political ilk—tends to accomplish the same end of alienating children from parents. Whether this is by design, as some suppose, or merely collateral damage from the industrial career machine, I can't say. As certain as media is broken down into genres which exclude one cliche from another, so media is designed to capitalize on the gulf between parent and child. So either the child must become the parent, or the parent must become the child.

It seems to me that the solution is to teach parents to be children enough to explore, and grown-up enough to avoid pitfalls. It is not a solution to all the world's problems, but what is needed in the media war is not more extremes, but more moderation. Art transcends genre and, therefore, the human divisions associated with it. Kids won't understand serious literature and parents won't engage with sappy kids' shows.

I assure you: there is a middle ground.
MEDIA: Up - Pixar has a great track record for putting out films that bridge the gap between children and adults with enough meat for discussion. Up begins with a montage of two young people's life together: their dreams, their struggles, growing old, and finally the wife's death. The elderly Carl literally takes his house (the symbol of his whole life) on an airborne journey to realize his and his late wife's dream.

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