August 4, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Dealing with the power of entertainment

The first time I ever heard the most vile of four-letter words was from an older kid. Not wanting to reveal that I had no idea what it meant, I waited until later to ask my mom about it. Going ballistic does not adequately describe her reaction to my innocent mention of the word.

Believe me, after my mom and his mom got finished with him, that boy would’ve died rather than use the word again in public. Nor would I dream of repeating it.

Well, times have certainly changed. Now we’re grateful if music, movies and television shows have only vulgar language in them, rather than gratuitous sex and violence. What used to be unacceptable behavior is now common. It is, in fact, everywhere.

Some folks react to this by dismissing all public entertainments as evil, and they try to keep their kids from seeing or hearing them. Talk about holding back the sea with one finger in the dike!

Such people find no artistic merit in anything containing profanity, sex or violence. Despite whatever worthy moral truth is displayed in a story or song, for them the form in which it’s presented outweighs any possible good. Sometimes they condemn even without having seen or heard the offensive piece themselves.

On the other hand, there are people who just give up and join the enemy. They seem to believe they’ve lost the battle of morality, not to mention taste, so they permit their families to witness whatever comes along. They may or may not use wimpy entertainment “ratings,” which seem to be produced just to placate moral purists.

Faced with this dilemma, what’s a parent to do? There is a compromise, but it involves mom’s or dad’s time and attention, and it really can’t be delegated to a nanny or some other caregiver.

In my opinion, we probably shouldn’t have kids at all if we don’t want to spend actual, not so-called “quality,” time with them. In the end, it’ll be a mere portion of the 20 years or so it takes to raise them, and in retrospect will seem too short compared to its rewards. But, I digress.

We need to monitor what the kids have access to among the numerous technological communication devices available to them. I think it’s a bad idea to allow kids to keep personal computers, phones, television sets and the like in their bedrooms.

A family computer in a public area, such as the living room, makes the temptation to bring up objectionable sites easier to avoid. Few “instant messages” are crucial, especially when they may be read freely by the rest of the family.

Confining DVDs or television shows to the family room can also deter unsuitable viewing, including what’s age-inappropriate. Sitting down with the kids while they watch is even better. Adult reactions or comments about the program at hand, even when not directed to them, can be much more effective than hours of preaching the Gospel according to Mom and Dad.

Of course, children will be exposed to bad things when visiting places where no rules apply. But, armed with the convictions they’ve learned at home with their folks, they’ll be better equipped to lead more fulfilling and effective lives as spouses, parents, friends and members of their communities.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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