Do Our Children Need to Watch More Sex and Violence on TV?
We had a letter home from school this week about the Small Boy Wonder’s (SBW) behaviour. It’s always with some trepidation that I open an envelope with the school’s postmark on it.
It’s probably been a tough week for teachers. The last week before the half-term break, and the weather doesn’t help – we’re still in the grips of a prolonged bout of harsh winter weather (even if the Arctic Armageddon and related breakdown of society forecast for Thursday night actually manifested itself as a light dusting of snow and a moderately hard frost – we do like our over-reactions to these things). This may allow the lovely area where we live to shimmy up the cat-walk in a rarely-seen white gown of beauty (done no real justice by my third-rate photography). But it doesn’t make things easy in school.
However, I’m not sure the teachers make life easy for themselves. We’ve now had serious winter conditions three years in a row, but this time we seem to have avoided extensive school closures, airports shutting down, the imposition of martial law etc. Even the head of the SBW’s school – who in previous years has shown a hair-trigger tendency to close the place completely and put his feet up in front of a roaring log fire at the merest suggestion from that lovely Carol Kirkwood on breakfast TV that it might be getting a bit nippy – has managed to keep the show on the road. But this created the situation last week in which hundreds of boisterous teenagers were itching to get out and mess around in the snow, but a staff of teachers fully inducted into the zealous cult of health and safety were trying to stop them. Apparently it culminated in a full-blown, but generally good-natured, rebellion as students and teachers clashed head-on in a struggle for control of the means of production of snowballs.
If I were in charge I would simply say, yes, you can play in the snow, but if anyone does anything stupid, expect big trouble. Maybe that’s just too sensible?
More about the SBW and his behaviour letter shortly. What about the sex and violence promised in the title?
It’s got nothing to do with Carol. I just thought that seeing as we’ve mentioned her, we should have a picture of her as well. (Welcome at this stage to anyone who’s arrived here by searching for Carol Kirkwood and sex on Google – sorry if this isn’t quite what you were hoping for, but why not read on anyway).
One of the things we’ve noticed as parents is that since the Very Precious Daughter left home a couple of years ago, the Small Boy Wonder has in effect become an only child. This has required quite an adjustment by myself and the Beautiful Armenian. I’m very conscious that we have to be careful that we don’t subject him to too much scrutiny and over-bearing attention, but it also leaves him with a lot of time by himself, with no siblings around to provide any form of distraction. He’s got lots of interests and lots of friends, but there are still many hours to fill.
The SBW is a teenager living in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century and so his first inclination is to spend that time interacting with a screen. So is his second inclination, his third inclination and many subsequent inclinations as well. We also have to contend with the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) which afflicts most teens today. All this means that given time to himself the SBW will in all likelihood spend it on a computer, a games console, an iPOD or glued to his Blackberry.
As I’ve said before, I worry about this sometimes, but I’m not entirely sure what to do. But I do think that trying to offer him something more interesting to do is a better tactic than instigating bans or harsh time restrictions. And something that has proved fairly successful in our house in this regard is watching DVDs together.
We’re quite big on gangsters (the Mob variety rather than urban rappers). Last week we watched Carlito’s Way in 30 minute instalments. The SBW particularly liked this, identifying with the small-time criminal trying to go straight. We’ve also watched all the Godfather films, Scarface and The Untouchables. And last year we worked our way through every single episode of The Sopranos. That’s something like 75 hours of television. If you had told me before I came across The Sopranos that not only was it one of the best shows ever made, it was also a mixture of gangland action, family inter-play and psychotherapy, I would have thought that you were just trying to be nice to me. As far as this family is concerned, there could be no better combination.
We do other things as well: the Rocky films, some spaghetti westerns, the occasional Dickens adaptation or low-budget movie.
But the content isn’t really that important. What matters is that we watch these things together. And that means that we talk about what we’ve watched. And it also means that the SBW is with us and not engaged in solitary screen activity, although he does have a remarkable capacity to keep up with whatever’s new and interesting in the local teenage world via his Blackberry (although I can’t for the life of me imagine what that might be) and to watch with us at the same time and take in more detail than I do.
Now my worry is that sometimes I’ve let the SBW watch more sex, violence and swearing than I should. We’ve got friends who wouldn’t dream of watching some of these things with their kids.
But then I tell myself that I shouldn’t worry. Most of these things are high quality productions that deal with real life issues. And in this day and age, you simply can’t shield your children from X-rated content. Even if you do manage to control what they see in your own house, you never know what they’re doing when they’re round at their friends. The one thing which the SBW found distressing about the Godfather films was when old man Corleone keeled over and died of a heart attack amongst the tomatoes. Because it happened in front of the little kid. The SBW actually told me I was a bad parent for letting him see that bit! Silly me. There I was worrying about harmless things like a severed horse’s head, Michael’s wife getting blown up, and somebody getting shot through the eye.
It’s ironic – but a sign of the times – that I should regard the television, which everyone feared was going to ruin my generation when I was growing up, as something which can help hold a family together.
OK then, Superdad, you may be thinking. You’re trying to suggest that all this adult content is actually good for young people, but aren’t you the one with the letter home from school about your son’s behavior?
Indeed I am. It arrived on Saturday morning. Once I’d read it, I called the SBW away from his computer (fittingly enough), asked his mother to join us and and told them what had happened. The SBW looked dreadful – he was clearly very worried. I then handed him the letter and asked him to read it.
Dear Mr and Mrs Toby,
We are writing to thank the Small Boy Wonder for his cooperation and good behavior on our recent trip to Belgium and France. His mature attitude and sensitivity during the visit was intrinsic to its success.
It went on in a similar vein for several more paragraphs.
So maybe all that exposure to Tony Soprano isn’t such a bad thing. Who know?
But I can’t help wondering what it was that made the young lad look so worried when he thought the letter was bad. What have I missed? Any ideas, Tony?