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Friday, May 27, 2005

Seinfeld

One day last month my eight-year-old daughter asked me, “Hey Mom, did you know you can get gonorrhea from riding a tractor in your bathing suite?” My mouth dropped, but I knew exactly where she had gotten the idea, having watched that episode of Seinfeld years before.

Let me just say that I consider myself a moderate on the TV issue. We don’t totally abstain from media, like our friends at the Waldorf school, but we don’t usually let our kids watch Seinfeld either. We’re more of a PBS family. But one night when I was debilitated by a sinus infection—barely able to lift my head from the couch with my husband out for the evening—I agreed to let my children watch some evening television just to help me make it to bedtime.

I usually try to shelter my children from sexual humor, so I was nervous when they found Seinfeld, though frankly, I didn’t have the strength to argue. Fortunately, the innuendos went over their heads, and they just laughed at the slap-stick, Kramer’s clumsy entrances and Elaine rubbing a co-worker’s stapler in her armpit. My concern was unwarranted, it seemed… until a few nights later when they watched the gonorrhea episode with their dad. They’ve been begging for Seinfeld ever since.

It’s hard to shelter children in our culture. Even if we permanently unplugged the TV, avoided the supermarkets that sell Cosmopolitan, and listened only to classical radio stations, they would still hear sexual lyrics from their friends at Quaker school. The violent toys and movies marketed to boys come even earlier than the slinky clothes aimed at girls. My five-year-old son, who has never seen a Star Wars movie, speaks knowledgeably about Darth Vader’s fall from grace.

I’m part of the culture I criticize. I have to confess, I think Seinfeld is funny and Star Wars entertaining—but for adults, not five-year-olds. I vacillate between wanting to totally shelter them and wanting to teach them how to understand the world they will inevitably have to deal with. I try to do a bit of both, but it is exhausting. I only gave a sketchy explanation of gonorrhea, though not getting the joke didn’t keep my son from trying to repeat it to another Kindergartener at Yearly Meeting (a large gathering of Quakers from around the region). “Hey, Rachel, want to hear a joke about a tractor?” he asked. Fortunately, I was standing there and was able to shelter her, but not for long.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog.

I've enjoyed your posts.

We don't have a TV, and I find plenty of things to worry about that, too, of course. What a balancing act it all is.

I wish I could write for longer to you!

Elizabeth

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Robin M. said...

Dear Eileen,

Every parent knows that one day their child will turn to them and say, Mommy, what does sex mean? But nobody expects that it will be in the subway station on the way home from school, because their six year old has just read it off a poster featuring a penis dressed like a doctor offering syphilis prevention medicine.

True story. He actually asked what syphilis was a couple of weeks earlier.

We are a TV free household, but like you said, it doesn't really matter. I like to say that I don't try so much to shield my children from the unpleasantness of reality but from the unreality of the media.

I noticed your comments on a couple of other blogs, and thought I'd try yours. Keep up the good work.

12:41 AM  

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