While I agree with that in theory, I have also come to understand that what a child watches, how much they watch, and how they process what is seen is felt not only by the child, but by peers, teachers and acquaintances. I’m not sure where the breakdown is, as this seems like information that is readily available, but somewhere along the line we are failing our children if we do not only “monitor” but restrict what young, impressionable and developing brains see.
It is a general belief in human developmental elds, *children begin to understand fact vs. ction at the age of 3. Most of these studies include children observing cartoon like scenarios with make believe characters, such as fairies and trolls. However, there has been tremendous development in the eld of animation, making many pretend characters appear real, interact with humans, and perform realistic activities. Suddenly the line is blurred. *There are studies that reveal children start demonstrating empathy and compassion as early as 12 months, such as, when they reach out in attempt to share their food. Around the age of 7 they gain a clearer understand- ing between right and wrong, and this continues to develop in a greater capacity through the age of 25. But when children are exposed to images of of violence, trauma, destruction and deception, and the perpetrator is rewarded for his deeds, the line is blurred yet again.
Recently I was working with a 4 year old boy who was acting out of his norm. Clingy, de ant and destructive behavior overtook this playful little boy. Clearly, something had changed. In conversation he told me he saw something scary. When I prodded a little further he told me that he “watched The Walking Dead with Daddy”. Another student that I work with began having panic attacks and episodes of irrational fears at the age of 10. He reports his favorite thing to do is watch YouTube videos. His peers share that they do this too, a popular one called “Five Nights of Freddie”. He also plays games such as Plants vs Zombies. I had to look these up to really understand what they were seeing, and my responses were gut wrenching. My heart was racing, my stomach in knots and my breathing changed. The images were nothing less than disturbing and I found myself needing time to reset. Thankfully, I have the foundation of skills to know that I needed to turn these images o . They were not making my body, my mind or my heart feel good..
I was able to remind myself that I was safe, that the images were not real, and I was able to return to believing that most people in this world are good. But children with repeated exposure to these images begin to identify with the characters. Children do not have secure coping skills to deal with these images, so their responses vary greatly. They long to make connections with the what they are seeing. If they identify with the victim, they begin to share the trauma, pain and fear that the video victim experiences. If they identify with the aggressor they begin to feel as though people deserve harm, pain, revenge and su ering. Both have tremendous consequences on our society. And as parents, when we allow our children to watch and respond to these images, we are sending a clear message that this is OK.
The world we are raising our kids in is a di cult one. Adults should understand the dangers of being outside the home, the in uences of strangers, and unsupervised activities. But when we allow our children to have unrestricted time and access to all that is online and in games, we are doing more harm. We have just introduced the dangers of strangers, the in uence of poor judgment and the intrigue of the unknown into our homes. The person your child is playing online games with IS a stranger. The videos of people performing risky and stupid behavior has just been enticingly glamorized as your child sees how many others “like” this. The safety of the home is lost to the fear that your parents might actually be zombies in disguise. Trust is obscured and the message to make the moral choice is diminished. Take back your homes. Make them havens of safety, nourishment and good. Use media wisely. If your 10 year old wants to watch “13 Reasons Why”, start with a conversation. What do they know about it? Have they ever discussed suicide with their friends? How would they feel if someone they know committed suicide? Have they ever felt hopeless? And by all means let them know that many people would be saddened and feel a tremendous loss if someone they knew committed suicide. If you are going to subject your child to graphic images, images they can’t “unsee”, view it rst, alone. Take notice of your own responses, your head, your heart and your body, and know your child will feel all that and more.
There are plenty of good resources, a favorite of mine being “Common Sense Media” (www.commonsensemedia.org ) Look at both the parent ratings and the children’s ratings. Many times the child rates it appropriate for an older age than the parents. Teach your children that if that they view something that makes them feel uneasy or confused, that they should talk to you. Children are curious beings, and will explore subject matters without understanding the impact or potential harm it will cause. Teach them how to regulate their time, provide alternate tech-free activities, and positive experiences of human interaction to provide their developing brains, bodies and hearts what is needed.