What Are We Protecting Them From?
I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the word "appropriate."
My kids know this word way too well, and the world for them is becoming divided into THINGS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE and THINGS THAT ARE INAPPROPRIATE. I'm getting more than a little suspicious that the modern urge to protect children from becoming monsters is leaving them little room for freedom and discovery.
We don't want them to witness violence, of course, so we don't let them see violent movies. Ok, wise enough. But when my son comes to me with a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson and says "Mom, I know you don't really want me to read this because it's not appropriate for my age. There's too much violence in it," then I say UNCLE.
Chalk one up for the over-protectionists! My son is staying away from a great adventure story because we and the culture around him have made him hypervigilant about what's appropriate...
He's mere weeks away from being 10 years old, and he's burdened with the great APPROPRIATENESS FILTER.
MUST STAY AWAY FROM ALL THINGS INAPPROPRIATE. MUST ONLY ENJOY THAT WHICH IS APPROPRIATE.
INAPPROPRIATE = BAD. THINGS THAT WILL DESTROY MY BRAIN FROM THE INSIDE OUT AND CAUSE ME TO MUTATE INTO A VIOLENT PERSON.
APPROPRIATE = GOOD. THINGS THAT WILL KEEP ME SAFE AND ... well, bored.
It's kind of like that line in Finding Nemo, when Dory says to Marlin "You can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo." We can't protect them from all things negative without protecting them for the richness and fullness of a life lived with energy, curiosity, and imagination.
Granted, the kid in question is one who wants to know the categories of things, and not all of my children need these kinds of sign posts. But yikes! We have succeeded in protecting him against a fantastic adventure story.
A few months ago, a woman in New York made headlines for letting her son (I think he was around 8?) ride the subway home from downtown Manhattan. I've posted about her story, and about the article she wrote on the topic. One of the ideas she puts forth has been rattling around in my head for the past few months: the bad stuff we want to protect our kids from is NOT lurking around every corner...the kid-snatcher is more than likely NOT going to pounce if I let the kid get something out of the car while I'm in the grocery store. Letting a 9 year old do something independent will probably not end in tragedy. And the price we pay for behaving as if all of these terrible things are more than likely to happen is high -- too high, I think.
I am super protective of what my kids see on TV and in movies, more so than many of my peers. But that's as much if not more about aesthetics as it is about protecting them. I can't stand those mindless Disney shows because they seem so darn STOOPID. I'd much rather have them enjoy great stories and entertainment that doesn't just seep with bland, boring, predictable, stereotypical gags and characters, that is utterly lacking in real imagination, that seems to exist only to sell the products featured in the commercials.
I almost don't care what violence they are exposed to, if it comes with a great adventure story where the good guys prevail and we can talk about anything that worries them. It's the gratuitous stuff that's the problem, of course, but the Approriate Police are making this all seem entirely more black and white than anything real actually is.
Because when Marlin finally let Nemo go for it, Nemo saved an entire school of fish, and when my kid gets to walk home by himself, he feels and is stronger for it. When he can imagine adventures without worrying about their appropriateness, his unfettered imagination can take him anywhere. Which is exactly where I want him to be able to go.