Turn the television on any night of the week and most shows, regardless of genre; contain varying amounts and degrees of violence, sex or sexual innuendo, and profane language. There is a growing concern that television and movie content is affecting how children and teens perceive the world around them. Some psychologists, sociologists, and other professionals have researched and compiled data showing a direct link between sexual and violent behaviors and television programming and movies.
Professionals cannot agree on what damage, if any, is caused by violent or sexual content in movies, television, and advertisements. Some psychologists and sociologists say none, while others blame television on a spate of social ills; from teen pregnancy and the increase in juvenile crime, to a decrease of moral and ethical values and children becoming desensitized to violence. Battle lines have been drawn between ACLU members and other adults who fear censorship along with politicians, religious, and parent’s groups who want cleaner, more family orientated fare.
Much of the time the sex or sexual innuendo, and profanity serve no real purpose; they do not advance the plot and often do not even fit into the context of the show. I have not decided if violent and sexual material is written into scripts for shock value, if writers and others in charge of creative content do not have the talent to sustain the momentum of the plot, or if there is perception (real or imagined) that vulgarity and sex is a what viewers want to see. The same applies to the use of bodily functions such as flatulence and loud burping.
Writers and producers, studios, and even networks and their affiliates have created the conviction that sex, violence, and foul language, is a mainstay of our modern culture. Yet I have tracked the popularity of shows and movies with a G or PG rating and those positive numbers speak for themselves. Still others like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have muted and mild violence but no sex. Most Disney movies are rated G, PG, or PG 13, rake in huge profits and win academy awards time and again which helps sustain the premise that overt violence and sex is not required for popularity.
Parents blame network greed, networks blame people who watch the shows (after all, they only show what the Nielson ratings list as popular), professionals blame parents and networks, and the religious right calls it too much freedom without responsibility. Talk about a confusing, muddled mess! No matter which philosophy is embraced, it is up to parents, at least for now, to decide what is too much too often, and to control what children watch. If the decision were left up to others, nothing would ever get resolved or decided.
Setting Limits at Home and When Children are at a Friend’s House
Controlling what children watch or are exposed to away from home is difficult since parents certainly cannot chain themselves to a child’s side and follow them everywhere they go. One small thing that I did to try and exert some control over what my children watched while at a friend or neighbors home was to ask those parents to send my kids home if they or their children would be watching a TV show, movie, or DVD with sexual and violent content, excessive vulgarity or the overuse of bodily functions (flatulence, loud burping, urination, and animal or human excrement).
What my children were being taught on the playground by other children, and from neighborhood kids, was bad enough without me speeding up the process by not providing guidelines for them to follow when it came to television, music, and movies. One boy, when my son was in the fourth grade, brought a playboy magazine to school taped inside the cover of a car magazine so the teachers were not aware of what he had until recess. Most of the boys on the playground were hunkered around their peer and boy did they get an eyeful.
My personal feelings are that ratings should be required for all television shows, including cartoons, as some of the current content on the cartoon network, fox, nickelodeon, and other channels are more adult orientated. Parents should also look into video web sites and social network sites like U Tube and My Space, which can expose children and teens to very violent and even racist material. Ratings help parents keep up with the content found in both television shows and movies.
Tracking Television Content and What is Showing at the Movies
Parents can track the ratings of movies and shows being shown on television. The internet provides an excellent tool to access information on what is being shown at the theater and on television. Network and movie company web-sites contain trailers which are actual clips from movies and shows, information on upcoming and past episodes, ratings, and other information that is an invaluable tool for parents.
Televisions have built in electronic parental control settings, which provide another tool to block channels parents deem inappropriate. There are timers that can shut the TV off at a certain time, and for those families with digital cable boxes, the remote control devices have a channel blocking feature along with a password that can only be set or changed by parents. DVR boxes add an enhancement allowing parents to record shows so that inappropriate and embarrassing sections can be fast forwarded through. And many of the new advanced DVR boxes can be set to not record advertisements which can also show a dearth of inappropriate material.
It may be more convenient and plausible for some parents to watch a television show first, by themselves, to make sure the content is something they want their children to see. If the show was something I felt uncomfortable with, I blocked it, or if I was home, simply made sure my children didn’t access that channel during a certain time slot. Cable channels show most movies and series episodes multiple times while many series on prime time were scheduled to run after 10 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. Central standard time. However, that trend is being reversed more and more, and there seems to be little real encouragement or incentive to “clean up” television programming.
Parents should also review rental movies before letting children watch them. I always paid attention to the ratings and content listed at the onset of each movie or show, whether on cable or network channels. Some stores have music CD’s where the vulgar, violent, or sexual lyrics have been removed and there are now video games and CD’s that can only be purchased by someone over the age of eighteen. Parents should always read the back of the CD, DVD, or video game to make sure it is something they want their children to have.
Making Television Time Family Time
Taking the time to watch television with children, when possible, provides an opportunity for some shared family time and a vehicle through which to share the truth’ about what children see, visually, in shows and movies, and even cartoons as opposed to real life. I taught my children, as adolescents, that television shows and movies are make believe, with actors pretending to be bad guys. I pointed out various actors who were alive in one movie after being ‘killed’ in a previous one. As a follow up I stressed the fact that using real’ guns, knives, and other weapons to resolve problems or to hurt others for any reason is wrong. I also taught them the distinction between television’s fake killings and how persons who were killed in real life did not wake up to live another day.
The best way to make sure children are watching shows parents feel are appropriate will always be sitting down and watching television together as a family. I know careers and after work chores like dinner and laundry make this difficult. I tried to watch at least one hour long show, two thirty minute shows or a movie with my children most evenings. Beyond that I would keep an eye on what they were watching if I had to do other things.
Too many parents allow children to have a television and computer in their bedrooms. Although my three children constantly reminded me that their friends and other peers had TV’s or computers in their rooms I never let them have their own television or computer. Not only would this have taken away from our family time, I could not have monitored what they were watching.
Setting limits on the amount of time children spend in front of the television also lessens the chance they will find objectionable materials. For my family it was homework and chores after school, then outdoors on nice afternoons until dinner at about five or five-thirty central time, and 2 hours of TV afterwards. Then it was board or electronic games, music, or a family activity if I had time as my children got older. My children were allowed to opt for computer time over television where I still maintained rigid control over what they were doing and watching on-line.
PBS and family friendly cable channels include the family channel, the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. However, Nickelodeon and the Family Channel do, on occasion, show some cartoons and movies that some parents may find offensive for their children’s viewing. TV land, another cable channel show the older television series like the Munster’s, Donna Reed and Leave it To Beaver, and the more recent Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bellaire. For families with cable programming Disney has Disney Kids, and there is HBO Family, Showtime Family, and HBO kids.
One of the funniest movies I watched with my children at the theater was Gone Fishing starring Joe Pesci, Danny Glover, Rosanne Arquette, and Willie Nelson. The movie was full of rib hurting, laugh till you cried humor and the theater audience roared. There was no sex or sexual innuendo, the only violence was when the bad guy shot a gun towards the heroes no more than a couple of times, and one curse word. As they say, “the house was packed”. More proof that the public likes and appreciates movies that are not sustained by sex and violence.
Parents and other adults should simply be aware of, and pay attention to, what children are watching on television and what kind of message they are getting, then making sure children know TV isn’t real. Decide what movies and series will be considered ‘okay or off limits’, and make sure children do not mimic violent or overtly sexual behavior they may learn from TV. And whenever possible, parents should watch television with their children and answer any questions a child may have about what they’ve seen.
What the Statistics Show
Thousands of teens have revealed through interviews and surveys that they do, in fact, get their ideas about sex from movies and TV. Parents should explain to older children that those sexual scenes are contrived and made to look’ real using lighting and different camera techniques and that the sex is not actually taking place. I also wanted my children to know that there is a difference between the sexual love displayed on film and the mature emotional love that comes with adulthood. Reality TV shows, especially those on MTV, make that difficult since networks deliberately play off inappropriate behaviors like sex and the use of alcohol to garner their high ratings.
I was lucky that my children turned 17 and 18 during this time period.
Other teens, who have been arrested for violent or murderous acts, have testified in court time and again, that they spent much of their free time watching a plethora of violent television fare and playing violent video games. Their was also little or no monitoring by parents in regards to what those children were doing while in their rooms and during their free time.