Ever notice how our kids are little sponges? They see/hear/read something and the next thing you know, they are doing it! Our little people are hard at work absorbing the world around them, processing in their little minds what they see and hear and then deciding whether their new "thing" is something that they should share with the rest of us. Sometimes I'm glad they share. I love to hear my little 4-year old singing her jumbled up version of "Come, Now is the Time to Worship". She has heard the song a lot, she catches most of the words and then she repeats back what she has learned. It is sweet.
Some times, however, it's not so sweet. I remember once overhearing Aaron call his sister something yucky. I was shocked to hear him say it ... and dumbfounded by where he heard it. I was very quick to call him to the kitchen and administer the Kellum-family consequence to hurtful words: a drop of Tabasco on his tongue. As he sat and cried, I fumed. Until he asked through his sniffles, "What does that word mean?" Time-out for Mommy :) He didn't even know what he had said - he was just repeating something someone else had said. I delicately explained why the word was inappropriate and apologized for jumping to the conclusion that he was being intentionally hurtful. We agreed that the word was mean and that we wouldn't use it again. This was a perfect example of my little boy hearing something he wasn't ready for, something he didn't need to know and then being made responsible for something too big for him.
I think we can do the same things to our kids by allowing them to read books, see movies or play video games that chip away at their innocence and make them grow up too fast. Here in our home we are quite protective of the books, movies and videos that our kids enjoy. I would be the first to admit that I am protective about what I allow my kids to absorb, while at the same time finding safe types of media to keep them happy and entertained.
Naturally, this sheltering has become more of a challenge as the kids get older. When they are little, it is easy to limit what they watch on TV and I am usually the one reading the books, so I've got that area covered! The older kids, however, have many more influences through friends, school and the media ... and that is a tough job for us. Happily, we have found a number of resources on the internet that help us to check out the latest movie, book or video game that Aaron & Norah are interested in BEFORE we have invested any time or money in it. Often times it also saves us energy later on of having to eradicate all the inappropriate gunk we wish they hadn't experienced in the first place. I hope you find them helpful.
For movies, we like to check out Kids In Mind. This is a great website for checking out the latest movies (and some old favorites, too) before you head to the theater or video store. Each movie is ranked on a scale of 1-10 in three categories: Sex/Nudity, Violence/Gore and Profanity. They then list each and every instance of each category. They also list any instances of substance abuse, they share a list of possible discussion topics that might come about from viewing the movie and a generalized message of the film. It's kinda like watching the movie without actually watching it! We have been able to steer clear of a few movies that seemed okay and were apparently catered to kids ... and yet included language or adult situations that we didn't want to share with our kids. This a great, free resource no parent should be without! And it's good for us adults, too. :)
For books, I have found Facts on Fiction to be helpful. This site isn't quite as exhaustive as Kids In Mind, but they are working hard to cover more and more literature. I have used them a number of times when the kids have come home with a book that I wanted to check out first. Each book they review is picked apart and rated in the following categories: Positive Elements, Mature Subject Matter, Profanity/Language, Sexual Content, Violence/Illegal Activity, Tobacco/Alcohol/Drugs and Disrespectful/Anti-Social Elements. (Are they thorough, or what?!?) Each category is broken down even further and rated. There will be no surprises for you in knowing exactly what your kids are reading. They also give each book a reading level so that you can be sure that your child is reading a book that will challenge them. Aaron and I checked out this site when he came home with a questionable book. We sat down and looked at the charts and it was very easy for Aaron to see why I wasn't thrilled with the book. I left him to make his own choice (based on what he had seen) and he chose to return it. That was a Proud-Mommy-Moment!
Finally, for video games, I go to Common Sense Media. This sight also reviews movies, websites, TV shows, books and music ... you're one-stop-monitoring site! I have only used it for the video game reviews, but I'm sure the rest of the sight is just as helpful. For video games they have a very thorough system for insuring you know exactly what your kids are playing. They rate the game on the following: age-appropriateness, whether it's even any good :), ease of play, educational value, messages, role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking/drugs/smoking. Again ... they are very meticulous. And that is just the beginning! They also give you tons of background info on the game so you can decide for yourself based on your own research. They have a very large library of games reviewed and I have yet to have a game Aaron or Norah were interested in that wasn't listed.
I know it is hard to shield our kids from every bad influence, but these websites are a few tools in your toolbox that will help make the job a little easier.
As I was finishing up this post, I had to laugh at the number of times that I have thought back fondly on a movie from my childhood only to discover in the recent past that there was a lot to it that I just didn't "get" ... and that was probably a good thing! I'm sure you can relate. I remember seeing "Grease" in college (years and years after watching it as a kid ~ singing and dancing and re-enacting all the best scenes) and being absolutely astonished as to what they were all singing and dancing about! :) Wow! Not like I remembered it as a 10 year-old. Brett and I still laugh about the time in college when we rented "Flash Gordon", another movie we had both seen as kids. There were multiple sexual references ... some insinuated ... some rather blatant. We laughed nervously and chalked that one up as one we wouldn't recommend!
I add this because inevitably our kids are going to see and hear things we wish they wouldn't. But the odds are good that much of it will "fly over their heads" and they will be more interested in the action or story and miss much of what we are squirming about. So ... I plan to monitor what my kids see and pray they miss-out on that other "stuff".