In the religion of parenting, I’m a member of the Conservative sect. I follow traditions with a modern day sensibility. I can illustrate what I mean in describing my approach to television. My kids watch a moderate amount of television. They watch a little in the morning before I take Asher to school and a little at night right before bed while I take turns bathing the boys. I would give them both a bath at the same time, but in typical 2nd child fashion, Levi is too much baby for Asher in the tub. Asher is Gentle Soak while Levi is Toughest Stains. So far, I’ve been riding the pre-school wave, and both children are perfectly happy to watch commercial-free television geared specifically for young audiences. There have been no super heroes or sponges or disrespectful language in our house, yet. In fact, when Captain Carlos talked about the wonders of spinach salad, Asher started eating them all the time “to help his eyes”. No parent or peer group has that kind of power.
I was on the phone with my friend Ellen comparing notes on parenting. We are definitely both members of the same sect, though, like many members of the same organization, some traditions differ slightly. Ellen tends toward the Martha Stewart while I encourage my children to discover their own, creative imagination (read: I like to ignore them whenever possible). For example, I have a big box…and it’s much bigger since I had kids (I’m here all week ladies and gentlemen)… and I stuck Levi in the big, cardboard box filled with markers and let him go to town. He was stuck in the box unable to write on walls or furniture having the time of his life scribbling all over it while I played on the computer. Win Win. Ellen did confess that she had been parking her kids in front of the television more often of late. “Hey,” I said, “there’s a lot of educational stuff on television.” “Yeah,” she said, “I thought I was safe to let my 4 year old watch Reading Rainbow on PBS while I did the dishes until I turned off the water and started listening to the show.”
She proceeded to detail the episode which her son had been watching, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The episode aired in December 2004, but we’re coming to it with fresh eyes as parents of 4 year olds, so forgive me if this is old news.
In this special episode of Reading Rainbow, entitled Visiting Day, we follow a grandmother and granddaughter to a prison to visit Dad. He has been locked away—for shooting someone with a gun. The little girl talks about how it’s weird sometimes because the guards have to go through all of their stuff to make sure they’re not bringing anything in. The prison officials tell us that Dad won’t be in jail as long as some of the others “because he didn’t murder anyone.” And this episode is geared toward kids, according to the teacher supplements, who are 4-8 years old. Really? Neither Ellen’s 4 year old nor my almost 5 year old knows what “murder” is. Nor does he understand the concept of shooting someone dead and getting locked up in the pokey. Ellen’s son was worried that someday his parents might be taken away from him at which point she decided that she need not continue to watch Reading Rainbow.
I got online immediately to find out more about this episode and why on earth it was supposed to have been a good thing to show a 4 year old. And what are we supposed to be teaching our children according to the teaching guides? That children are not responsible for their parents’ actions. That not all families live together. That it is important to be kind to other people who are going through difficult situations. And this is even an opportunity to teach children about the legal system. Really?!? How about IT’S WRONG TO SHOOT PEOPLE–EVEN IF THEY DON’T DIE. Or how about NOT airing it on daytime television at all?
And then, I stop myself. What’s good for the goose? If I want to see my family represented on television, it should be ok to show other kinds of families-like families where one parent is in jail. For shooting someone. And if I don’t like it, I should do what all the pro-public television, anti-censorship proponents like myself say to do. If you don’t like it, turn it off. We shouldn’t be using the television as a babysitter, anyway. If we’re not monitoring the television shows, it’s our own fault for exposing our pre-schoolers to programs about violence, prisons and parents who commit crimes.
No, I can’t get my head around it. I love PBS. I support PBS. This is the channel where I can always find positive programming about Jews and Gays and every other underrepresented minority in the U.S. I should walk the talk and focus on the parents instead of programmers. I don’t use the television as a babysitter, but I know that when I turn on Playhouse Disney or Noggin, my kids are not going to see Dora’s abuela getting thrown in jail or The Wonder Pets getting rubbed out by exterminators. Can’t I expect that from Reading Rainbow or have I suddenly become a fuddy duddy?
Lt. Commander La Forge, you might be blind, but surely you can see my point.