Columns 2007

The media’s influence on our children absolutely sucks

It seems to me that in a world in which parents and kids have immediate access to each other through cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail and the occasional actual face-to-face encounter, parents should be able to exert a lot more control over what their kids see and hear than they actually do.  In fact, I’d be willing to venture that my parents had much greater control over the content in my life till I left for college than most parents have over their elementary school kids now.

Whenever I see ads on TV for parental controls on programming, I wonder if we aren’t just lulling ourselves into some false sense of security that we can protect our children from that which we feel is inappropriate.  Because these same kids can get on any number of wired devices and a whole sleazy, ugly world is available to them. No matter what restrictions you might put on this access, eventually someone out there who wants to get to your kids will figure out a way to climb over your restrictions.  Or, your kid will take is as a personal challenge to overcome them himself.

In an era when most parents seem to have little real time to spend with their children, our information age demands that they give almost constant attention to their children’s access to the wired world if they really want to be the gatekeepers of the content they see.

As quickly as government passes legislation to give some control back to parents, advances in the world of instant communication make those laws obsolete.  The kind of censorship so many of us grew up with – whether it was the Catholic Church rating books and movies or the government banning certain words and situations on TV – is gone forever, replaced with all information all the time, no filters, taste or common sense required.

Lucy and Ricky couldn’t even be in the same bed together, despite being married in both real and TV life. When she was clearly, obviously and enormously pregnant, they could not use that word to describe her condition. Now, sitcoms can portray a character who gets impregnated through artificial insemination with embryos from her brother and his wife, who also happens to be the brother’s much older Home Economics teacher. Seriously, wouldn’t the relationship between the brother and his teacher be illegal in most states? Clearly, it’s not the fifties anymore.

So we seem to have reached a point where parents and society can only provide so much protection to children. Beyond that, we can only hope to influence our children by modeling the behavior and morals we feel they should have. Unfortunately, the world seems to be working actively against even those attempts.

At a time when Congress was investigating 8 billion dollars that had been shrink- wrapped and sent to Iraq and was now missing, local and national media conducted a feeding frenzy of non-stop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death. What does that tell our kids about our values as a society?  And that story bumped off the previous front page feeding frenzy over an obviously unwell woman who happened to be an astronaut.

Nowadays, no one, absolutely no one, is ever responsible for his or her actions anymore.  The minute they are uncovered for the sleazebags they may be, they check into a rehab program.  Even the actor who made homophobic remarks about a fellow cast member entered a treatment program, though one can only wonder exactly what a thirty-day treatment for homophobia might be. Perhaps it is associated with the three-week treatment Ted Haggard went through that converted him to a complete heterosexual.

When even the Jesuits attempt to shrug off responsibility for the actions of one of their priests in fathering children – apparently there is a hierarchy in their vows in which poverty trumps chastity – I truly despair that there is anyone left in this great big country of ours that we can point at and say to our children, “Now there’s an honorable person who leads an honorable and decent life,” who would also rate media coverage.

And that makes a parent’s attempts to teach their children right from wrong, good from bad, moral from immoral, so much harder than it should ever be.