I’m running the risk today of coming across as an old lady. You know the kind, the ones who start sentences with, “Back in my day…” and the younger people she’s talking to just roll their eyes.
But seriously… back in my day, we didn’t have the internet. I feel like that’s important to remember in the course of this discussion. Ok, it’s not really a discussion, because that would require two-way communication, but you get my gist. When I was growing up, the access to the disgusting, scary elements of the world was severely limited. MTV played only music videos, the raunchiest of which was a fully-dressed (In lingerie, but still) Madonna strutting around singing about being “Like a Virgin.” I used to turn the volume down, because if my father heard someone singing about virgins, and it wasn’t a Christmas carol, that would be the end of MTV in my house. The Disney channel played cartoons and “The Mickey Mouse Club”- the original with Annette Funicello, not the one with Britney and JT. We had books and magazines. And we had our imaginations.
I grew up in a fairly conservative family, in a conservative small town. We went to church most Sundays, and I went to a private Christian elementary school. I wasn’t just your average 1980’s kid naïve, I was NAIVE Naïve.
I remember hearing a dirty joke at a sleepover in the 5th grade that I laughed at as if I knew what it meant, but didn’t really understand it until high school.
My husband says I’m still pretty naïve. I think what he means is that my nature is to assume everything and everyone are as they appear, that I’m not savvy to the ways of the world. Often I’ll be shocked to discover something, only to find out pretty much everyone else already knew it. Sometimes I will hear something, and respond, “That’s a THING?!?” To which the response will be a shake of their head, and a roll of the eyes.
For example, Parker’s Little League T-Ball coach from two seasons ago. At the first practice of the season, I noticed he seemed really high energy and a little frenzied. I figured he, being the owner of an energy supplement company, was simply partaking too much of his own product. Turns out, no. The look of condescending pity on the faces of the other parents as they helped me understand that it was cocaine that was causing his behavior was a little humiliating. (But it did explain his mid-season ‘trip’ aka rehab.) It just never occurred to me. Sadly, his story did not end well. Drugs are a very bad thing.
So, you get it. I’m naïve. I’m just not so sure that’s a bad thing.
I decided a long time ago that filling my mind with images that are icky left me feeling, well, icky. I tend to avoid watching movies or shows where there is a horror component or gross-out humor. My husband has taken to censoring movies for me, telling me, “Trust me, you don’t want to see this.”
When “Borat” came out a few years ago, everyone was talking about it. Guess whose husband told her she couldn’t see it? Yep, me. He knows me well enough to know that I’d be mad at him and mad at myself if I saw it, because what has been seen, cannot be unseen.
When I was in the 7th grade, I went to a group sleepover at my friend’s house. This friend’s parents were much more liberal than mine, and had no issue with us watching movies we really shouldn’t have been watching. She liked horror movies, and I wanted to be cool. I can’t remember which movie we saw first, I think it was “Friday the 13th.” I had nightmares for a week. I kept seeing faces wearing hockey masks out my bedroom window. But did that stop me from watching more? Nope. I saw them all… “Children of The Corn,” “Nightmare on Elm St,” all the Stephen King stuff, and I have a vague recollection of something called “Pumpkinhead.” A lot of these movies also had sex scenes, as a couple was inevitably murdered whilst in the act. So I was exposing myself to all kinds of gross stuff.
And the thing is- I can still see it, in my mind, nearly 30 years later. Because once something is seen, it cannot be unseen.
I remember a long time ago, like 20 years ago, Jeff and I watched a scary movie together. I don’t remember a lot about it, but there was some doomsday cult involved, and a lot of violence and terror. I think the scariest part, though, was the evil component. We went to bed, and both tossed and turned, but neither wanted to admit we were freaked out. Finally he said, “I have to go watch something funny to take my mind off of what I just saw.” I was hugely relieved.
So recently, when I found out that Zoe had “accidentally” watched a rated R horror movie at her friend’s house, I was pretty unhappy about it. It’s hard enough these days keeping kids from seeing things on the internet, but I would like to believe that when my children are in someone else’s home, those parents have the same values, or at least respect mine when it comes to what I do and do not want my kids seeing.
Unfortunately, not only is that not always the case, many times the parents aren’t even there. Older siblings either don’t pay attention or think it’s cool to expose younger kids to shocking things.
A couple weeks ago, Zoe went to a sleepover at another friend’s house, and one of the girls suggested telling scary stories. I didn’t find out about this from Zoe, but from one of the other girls’ moms. Her daughter had been having trouble sleeping for a week as a result of the stories told, some of which were from my own daughter.
When I asked her about it, she admitted to me that she had told a story that one of her friend’s brothers had told them, something about an evil guy breaking into a house and licking someone’s arm from under the bed. The story itself wasn’t totally awful, but I can see how an 8 year old girl could get nervous about a bad guy being under her bed after hearing it. Zoe said that when the story time was brought up, she and her other friend had said that they didn’t like scary stuff, and didn’t want to do it, but they were chided as being babies, and nobody wants to be called a baby at a group sleepover.
As she retold how the night went down, she started crying and admitted that she has been having bad dreams as a result of the movie she watched at her friend’s house, and some of the scary stories she’s heard.
I asked her, “If you are scared, and have bad dreams, why would you put those same icky thoughts into the minds of your friends? Why would you want to create fear in someone you consider a friend?”
She told me she hadn’t thought about that, and she just started sobbing. She begged me to apologize to her friend’s mom for her.
We can’t monitor our kids every minute of the day, and we can’t expect that other parents will share our values. Our job as parents isn’t to shelter our kids, so much as to prepare them to make choices. We need to be actively explaining to them why we don’t want them watching gross, scary stuff. We need to help them understand what it means that “Things that have been seen, cannot be unseen,” so that when confronted with those options, they choose not to see; So that they know and understand why it’s so important to keep their minds free of the icky of this world.
I think we sometimes forget that, even though our kids may act like they are wise to the ways of the world, that’s only because they aren’t. Yes, they are exposed to more violence, more sexuality and more fear-based entertainment than I ever was as a kid- and that’s just on Nick and Disney Channel, which are supposedly created for kids. However, their minds are still pretty pure and untainted. Let’s keep them that way for as long as possible.
Since what has been seen cannot be unseen, let’s expose them to beauty, and inspirational stories, and things that cause them to search out the good in others, fully expecting to find it. Let’s guide their natural curiosity to the wonders of the world, not its nasty underbelly.
Cynics may say naïveté is a bad thing, but I disagree. I think exposing our minds, or our children’s minds to scary stuff changes their world view- not to a more realistic one, but to one in which they expect bad things to happen. Filtering what they see, and helping them self-filter, doesn’t leave them ill-prepared, it gives them higher expectations of others. I’ve found that having higher expectations of people, gives them an opportunity to rise to those expectations.
There’s an old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” I believe that to be true, and it’s a lesson I think is important to teach our children. Maybe even ourselves.