After attending what was probably my sixth lecture in two years on keeping our children safe from cyberbullies, cyberscams, and violent and sexual images, something in me just snapped. As parents, we often find ourselves in auditoriums listening to people telling us how to cushion our kids from the content they can barely avoid. But why don’t we attack the content?
It wasn’t that long ago when there were limits enforced in the entertainment industry to protect children and families. Mature television shows were on late or on premium channels. Foul language was minimized. R-ratings were actually enforced. But now thanks to decreases in regulation and increases in technology, it seems impossible to shield our children from inappropriate content.
And so, the already extensive job of parenting has grown exponentially harder. The work-life balance now includes the challenge of finding time to review our kids’ Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, emails, texts and online chats; install parental controls on computers, phones and televisions; attend cybersafety seminars and monitor all viewing activity; and repeatedly counter powerful negative media messages with our positive, value-based beliefs.
What if we used all the time and energy we spend trying to intercept and deflect messages to fight back against the corporations that continue to create and promote the mass of material that glorifies graphic violence and sexuality and exploits the addictive and unquestioning nature of our kids?
I was an advertising executive and I am a heavy consumer of pop culture, so I feel like I come to this argument from an honest place. I am not naïve or prude, but content has pushed the limits so far that one does not have to be very conservative to take issue. When we cheer for women who aggressively attack their “friends”, flipping tables and pulling hair, why are we startled by statistics showing violence among girls nearing the level of that among boys? When we make psychotic “jokers” and serial killers the most entertaining and cunning film characters, why are we shocked when someone seeks attention with a similar real-life crime? When guns are waved flippantly and used without a second thought by pop culture icons, why are we surprised when our youth does the same?
There are teams of people involved with producing and marketing a game, movie, or television show. Creators, producers, editors, network executives, advertisers, some of whom I am certain are parents. I beg them to think about what they are putting forth to our kids, to our society. Are they so driven by the dollar that they are willing to give up civility? To perpetuate a world in which we seek power through violence, glorify bad behavior, and respect only ourselves rather than foster a safe and supportive community where our children can achieve honest success? Why are they appealing to the base of human nature rather than aspiring to its greatest potential?
I was encouraged by this week’s editorial in Entertainment Weekly in which managing editor Jess Cagle openly questioned his role in perpetuating the problem. “We are a nation obsessed with guns and gore, and all of us play a role in making it so,” he stated. “…when I help keep a violent show on the air – by watching it or by celebrating it in EW — what is my responsibility if that show contributes to a sadistic culture or inspires one unhinged person to do something awful?” As media consumers, none of us can ignore that our support of these entertainment vehicles helps perpetuate their messages.
We need to rise up not just against guns, but against our culture of violence. We need to say NO to television shows that promote angry, violent, out-of-control behavior, NO to graphic violence on screen, NO to huge salaries for entertainers who sing about abusing their girls and killing their rivals.
We need to share stories of people behaving well, instead of rewarding people with incessant media attention when they behave badly. We need to support those who act selflessly instead glorifying those who are in it for themselves.
Will children still play and purchase video games that are not graphically violent? If the games are entertaining and challenging, I think they will. Will audiences still watch television shows and films that do not compete to use the worst language, shock with the goriest crime, or show the most skin? If the stories are engaging and well-written, I think they will.
Perhaps the entertainment companies should have some faith in their consumers and compete for the best quality, not the biggest shock value. Then maybe they can put forth what they want the world to be, not what it is.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and mother of two. She works with individuals, couples, and families, and can be reached at [email protected].