Movies, Television, and Children

Parenting is a huge responsibility and it will affect our children’s (ages four and eight) future in ways we can only guess. We make decisions for our children on a daily basis, but are we are making the right choices? Two particular choices we have made in our household pertains to media – we don’t own a television and the kids have only seen three movies to date (Cars, March of the Penguins, and Horton Hears a Who). Though the kids see television when they visit grandma (cooking shows!), it isn’t a presence in our home and they don’t seem to miss it. At a recent social gathering of friends, I was surprised to hear of a 7-year old watching Hotel Rwanda and the latest Indiana Jones with her dad and of a 5-year old who watches an hour or two of television or videos daily. This came days after Leslie and I went to a PG-13 Hollywood blockbuster and noticed some very young children in the audience. It makes me uncomfortable but at the same time makes me question our choices.

Is it more damaging to prevent access to media or to expose them to our cultural norms? These choices are conscious decisions, but they are not necessarily black and white rules – illustrated by the movies the kids have seen. As parents, we certainly enjoy film, and have watched television in the past, but our interests have drifted elsewhere. We are also influenced by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In particular, the Fifth Mindfulness Training states:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I will ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programmes, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practising a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

Though I find myself occasionally second guessing our decision, I know it feels right in my heart. There is no real need for our children to watch television or go to the movies. Even the tamest of films and programs have elements of sexism, sarcasm, violence, fear, hatred, etc. The children will learn of these things soon enough and we don’t need to expose them to it purposefully. Another influential resource is the book The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life by Marie Winn.

So, what do you think?

  • Kenley,

    What a great post. I think about the exposure of my kids to all forms of media too. We do have a television, but we do not have cable/satellite. They only have DVD’s to watch.

    In fact we started a tradition called “Friday Night Movies” where I select a movie they have never seen and we all gather around to watch together. Some of these shared experiences inspire great conversations about what we have just seen, so in that sense I see it serving a purpose to get the kids thinking about people, relationships, and how people treat one another.

    However, I do agree that mindless watching to ‘numb the mind’ is not a healthy practice—why we do not have cable. I think if the decision to watch something is a conscious one, that good things can come of it.

  • Kenley,

    What a great post. I think about the exposure of my kids to all forms of media too. We do have a television, but we do not have cable/satellite. They only have DVD’s to watch.

    In fact we started a tradition called “Friday Night Movies” where I select a movie they have never seen and we all gather around to watch together. Some of these shared experiences inspire great conversations about what we have just seen, so in that sense I see it serving a purpose to get the kids thinking about people, relationships, and how people treat one another.

    However, I do agree that mindless watching to ‘numb the mind’ is not a healthy practice—why we do not have cable. I think if the decision to watch something is a conscious one, that good things can come of it.

  • This is great Bert; thanks for posting a comment. I love the idea of “Friday Night Movies” and would not be opposed to exploring this further with our family (especially as they get older).

  • This is great Bert; thanks for posting a comment. I love the idea of “Friday Night Movies” and would not be opposed to exploring this further with our family (especially as they get older).

  • GREAT post, Kenley…and what a fantastic teaching from the Fifth Mindfulness Training! in my own religious past there is a watered-down and seldom-adhered-to principle of that sort that i strongly wish would be observed with more discipline in my extended family. it recognizes tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine as toxins or “addictive substances” but is not progressive enough (in my mind) to extend the definition of toxins to include violence, sexism, etc.

    last year, i made a public declaration that i’d seen my last violence-as-entertainment film (as opposed to violence in a historical or awareness-building context). however, Jessie and i have come to a new agreement: we will continue to be VERY selective in the films we watch, and we will take full advantage of the opportunities afforded us by the presence of topics or actions that run counter to our values by using them as jumping-off points for engaged and analytical conversation after the film. we have tried this twice, after Ironman and Indiana Jones, and it has proven VERY intellectually rewarding. of course, it helps to have a very intelligent and insightful reviewing partner. 🙂

    Noa has not yet completed her first trip around the sun, so i’m sure we will continue to analyze our media intake. as it stands now we’re on a VERY light television diet, and when it’s not in use the black hole is covered with a beautiful blanket.

  • GREAT post, Kenley…and what a fantastic teaching from the Fifth Mindfulness Training! in my own religious past there is a watered-down and seldom-adhered-to principle of that sort that i strongly wish would be observed with more discipline in my extended family. it recognizes tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine as toxins or “addictive substances” but is not progressive enough (in my mind) to extend the definition of toxins to include violence, sexism, etc.

    last year, i made a public declaration that i’d seen my last violence-as-entertainment film (as opposed to violence in a historical or awareness-building context). however, Jessie and i have come to a new agreement: we will continue to be VERY selective in the films we watch, and we will take full advantage of the opportunities afforded us by the presence of topics or actions that run counter to our values by using them as jumping-off points for engaged and analytical conversation after the film. we have tried this twice, after Ironman and Indiana Jones, and it has proven VERY intellectually rewarding. of course, it helps to have a very intelligent and insightful reviewing partner. 🙂

    Noa has not yet completed her first trip around the sun, so i’m sure we will continue to analyze our media intake. as it stands now we’re on a VERY light television diet, and when it’s not in use the black hole is covered with a beautiful blanket.

  • Excellent evan. I too went through a stage in my life where I banned any-and-all movies with violence. This was extremely difficult, especially since I am huge SciFi fan. Sometimes I would ask friends if the film was violent; they would say no; I would go see it and be shocked. We are so desensitized! This all arose out of my experience after seeing both Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers and then seeing a dead body at the corner market due to a shooting. The incident didn’t even phase me and I was deeply troubled by that.

    I’ve slowly brought some of these films back into my life, but with a very critical eye for what it may be doing to my consciousness and well being. I mean, how could I not see The Matrix?? 🙂

    Great to have you in conversation.

  • Excellent evan. I too went through a stage in my life where I banned any-and-all movies with violence. This was extremely difficult, especially since I am huge SciFi fan. Sometimes I would ask friends if the film was violent; they would say no; I would go see it and be shocked. We are so desensitized! This all arose out of my experience after seeing both Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers and then seeing a dead body at the corner market due to a shooting. The incident didn’t even phase me and I was deeply troubled by that.

    I’ve slowly brought some of these films back into my life, but with a very critical eye for what it may be doing to my consciousness and well being. I mean, how could I not see The Matrix?? 🙂

    Great to have you in conversation.

  • on desensitization
    AGREED! video games are even worse, for one distinct reason: they’re interactive and player-controlled. players don’t just witness violence, they create and are rewarded by it.

    on violence
    one of the recent conversations that Jessie and i had (after Indy, if i recall correctly) was prompted by the question “what would action/adventure movies be about without danger, and how can you have danger without violence?” in short, i did not consider bodily harm done by animals or nature TO humans to be “violence”, since i use the term to denote intent. as far as i can tell, humans are the only ones who intend to harm other humans usually without planning to eat them or in order to protect their young. so what would movies be like indeed? i suppose they’d be more “adventure” on the order of “Into The Wild” (which i did not yet see), and much less “action”.

    on “children’s” programs
    cartoons are not exempt from violence by any means. in fact, it could be argued that the brief time-slot and simplified nature of this particular media actually INCREASES the use of black-and-white, good-or-bad absolutes, which often lead to or are fueled by violence of many types. how can you tell a cartoon’s gender at one quick glance? check out the color of the outfit and whether the hips or shoulders are the widest part. my five-year-old sister has long had the ability to tell whom the “bad guy” is in a cartoon based on HIS (it’s almost always a male) facial features and expressions, voice, outfit, and whether he takes most of the beatings (after all, the “good guys” always win, and they do it by beating people up).

  • on desensitization
    AGREED! video games are even worse, for one distinct reason: they’re interactive and player-controlled. players don’t just witness violence, they create and are rewarded by it.

    on violence
    one of the recent conversations that Jessie and i had (after Indy, if i recall correctly) was prompted by the question “what would action/adventure movies be about without danger, and how can you have danger without violence?” in short, i did not consider bodily harm done by animals or nature TO humans to be “violence”, since i use the term to denote intent. as far as i can tell, humans are the only ones who intend to harm other humans usually without planning to eat them or in order to protect their young. so what would movies be like indeed? i suppose they’d be more “adventure” on the order of “Into The Wild” (which i did not yet see), and much less “action”.

    on “children’s” programs
    cartoons are not exempt from violence by any means. in fact, it could be argued that the brief time-slot and simplified nature of this particular media actually INCREASES the use of black-and-white, good-or-bad absolutes, which often lead to or are fueled by violence of many types. how can you tell a cartoon’s gender at one quick glance? check out the color of the outfit and whether the hips or shoulders are the widest part. my five-year-old sister has long had the ability to tell whom the “bad guy” is in a cartoon based on HIS (it’s almost always a male) facial features and expressions, voice, outfit, and whether he takes most of the beatings (after all, the “good guys” always win, and they do it by beating people up).

  • Angela

    My mind is forgetful but I don’t really remember obsessing about tv until I got to high school or maybe junior high. In Japan, we didn’t have a tv. I’d watch some at my Obachan’s (Grandma) or friends but I was really too interested in outdoor activities to really sit and watch anything. I did like Doraemon for awhile there. I went to movies once in awhile, I can remember Never Ending Story, Aristocats and few other Disney ones from the 80’s. The one I remember the most was Annie because it apparently was the only one my school owned and we watched it over and over whenever it rained in Tokyo.

    Once we got to the States, there was a lot of pressure for me to watch tv. I already felt like a freak so maybe everything is more pronounced in my memory. I just remember feeling really left out because I wasn’t watching any of the shows the other kids were and had no clue about the characters. When 90210 started, that’s when I started sneaking in tv whenever I could. I have a tv now, but rarely have time to watch it. I go home to sleep, shower and change clothes. I suppose I should turn it on now and then to find out what’s going on in Santa Barbara… I’m usually the last to know about fires, rain, workers striking. Oh well.

  • Angela

    My mind is forgetful but I don’t really remember obsessing about tv until I got to high school or maybe junior high. In Japan, we didn’t have a tv. I’d watch some at my Obachan’s (Grandma) or friends but I was really too interested in outdoor activities to really sit and watch anything. I did like Doraemon for awhile there. I went to movies once in awhile, I can remember Never Ending Story, Aristocats and few other Disney ones from the 80’s. The one I remember the most was Annie because it apparently was the only one my school owned and we watched it over and over whenever it rained in Tokyo.

    Once we got to the States, there was a lot of pressure for me to watch tv. I already felt like a freak so maybe everything is more pronounced in my memory. I just remember feeling really left out because I wasn’t watching any of the shows the other kids were and had no clue about the characters. When 90210 started, that’s when I started sneaking in tv whenever I could. I have a tv now, but rarely have time to watch it. I go home to sleep, shower and change clothes. I suppose I should turn it on now and then to find out what’s going on in Santa Barbara… I’m usually the last to know about fires, rain, workers striking. Oh well.

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