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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Batman's Kiss

One night at bedtime Luke prayed to “stop thinking about that thing I’m thinking about.” I asked if he wanted to share what was on his mind, but he said no. The next night he prayed again, “Don’t let me think about that thing I was thinking about last night.” Eventually I pried out his worry. Evidently he had seen a Batman cartoon where an evil woman kissed Batman with poison on her lips, and Luke couldn’t get that image out his mind. This, he explained, was the reason he wasn’t letting me kiss him goodnight any more. And here I had worried that seeing Star Wars was going to ruin him.

Maybe the Waldorf people are right that we should shield children from all media, but I for one haven’t managed it. I’ve tried to pursue what I consider a moderate course, sticking mostly to short doses of PBS with the occasional wholesome video from the library on Friday night. The fact that Megan is prone to nightmares helps us steer clear of the scarier films Luke would choose if left to his own devices.

Finding films that don’t have anything scary is harder than one might think. It pretty much rules out anything by Disney. For a while we were relying on old musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis. But as I started checking out the musicals I loved as a child I was horrified to realize how sexist most of them were. I couldn’t let my children watch My Fair Lady without delivering a running commentary on class and gender.

And then there were the racist films. I turned off Babes in Arms when Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland started performing in black face. I don’t know what I was thinking when I got Annie Get Your Gun, a film that’s sexist, racist and full of guns. All I had remembered were the songs. All Luke remembered were the guns. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When Luke was two we watched The Sound of Music, and a few days later he shouted, “Let’s play Nazis!” He then raised his arm and yelled “Heidler Hitler” repeatedly as I chased him around the playground, earnestly insisting that this was Not an OK to say.

Since then I’ve come to accept that young boys are just interested in what Obi-wan calls “The Dark Side,” although I don’t like using light and dark to represent good and evil. I’ve tried to protect Luke from violent images without shaming him for wanting to see them. In fact that’s how Luke ended up seeing Batman to begin with. A few years ago, when all Luke’s best friends were talking about Batman incessantly, I borrowed a Batman cartoon from the library, previewed it, and picked out a part that Luke could see to get an idea of what Batman was like without seeing any of the violence. I thought this was pretty evolved of me and the best way to ease his obsession. However, the next Sunday at Quaker meeting I discovered Luke had build a Batmobile out of kids chairs and was teaching a friend who went to the Waldorf school all about Batman. Oops.

So a few weeks ago, when Luke was at the library with his dad, he saw the Batman video I had borrowed a few years ago and said, “Can I get this? Mom let me see it,” without explaining that I had only let him see selected bits. So that was how Luke ended up with a Batman video that included an evil woman kissing Batman with poison on her lips. Maybe he’ll be scarred for life and grow up to be a misogynist, like Henry Higgens in My Fair Lady, but I hope not. I hope being able to talk about what he’s seen and what he imagines will help him work through his fears.

For Halloween he’s going to be a Ninja, though without the sword, which Target sells separately.


Anonymous sinda said...


My kids go to Montessori school, which, as I think you discussed earlier, has a lot of the same precepts as Waldorf.

This is not meant to be advice, or, "see how I do it," but merely what your post brought up for me.

With my first daughter, who is 5, I thought TV was great - she could watch it, I could accomplish something. By the time her sister came along 2 years later, I was busy trying to backtrack. So daughter 2 never got hooked, but daughter 1 has a nice addiction, courtesy of me, that is only mostly licked now.

We recently moved to a new house/neighborhood in Austin, and one of our neighbors works at my kids' school and has children who also attend. As she was telling me about our small community, she would let me know which families watched a lot of TV, which watched none, which watched some after school but not after dinner...while it may sound fascist, it was great to know from the start where I could let them go without worrying about ONE. MORE. THING.

Anyway, we're in a great place now - with the move, the TV moved to my bedroom behind cabinet doors, and they maybe watch one show a month, if that. They rarely ask for TV - they're way too involved with other work, both indoors and especially outdoors.

Really, I started to comment to say how nice it is too read another parent who shares many of my goals and thoughts around raising children. Because it is - I really am enjoying your blog. And it made me reflect on where I started, with regards to TV and the passive media, and where I am now.

Thanks for the introspection!

3:11 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I have a no-violent-media-before-age-seven goal, as I do subscribe to Montessori's theory that children have a very absorbent mind before that time. I allow moderate amounts of non-violent TV before that, after they turn 2, with very little access before that. My almost 10 yo finally got to watch the Star Wars movies summer before last when she was 8.5 and she has been hooked ever since. Still no light saber, though...

3:37 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for the comments, Lone Star and Sinda.

I didn't let Megan watch any TV until, when she was a little over two, Luke came along and stole all my attention. She often interrupted him when he nursed, which was particularly frustrating when he started having weight gain issues. I eventually resorted to letting her watch a Sesame Street video once a day so Luke could get at least one hour of my undivided attention. Somehow we've never quite undone that decision, though I periodically threaten to move us all to a wireless mud hut in Botswana (where I was in the Peace Corps). As much as getting away from the TV, it's the appeal of getting away from the TV culture. I finally let Luke (who is now six and a half)watch Star Wars Episode One (which we all know is really the fourth Star Wars movie) because he knew the entire saga from conversations with friends anyway.

8:21 PM  
Blogger kkr said...

Isn't it amazing how the boys will pick up on all these references like the Hitler one from Sound of Music and the girls would probably not even think for a second of that and more than likely have focused on the "I am sixteen going on 17..." scene and anything romantic. I think there is an absoulte difference between the sexes which I wouldn't have believed until I had my own children. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the film was about WWII. I just loved the music. Funny what we remember as kids. BTW, thanks for commenting on my blog. :)

9:37 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The fact that your Luke got Let's Play Nazis! from the Sound of Music is really too funny! Well, not funny. But, funny. And I agree with Truthseeker's comment above about the differences between the sexes, though I would not have thought so until I had "one of each".

I guess I don't subscribe to the Waldorf idea completely. We're more of the "everything in moderation" camp and I do not believe television is evil. Even if I did though, I wonder if it would matter? My 5.5 year old hasn't seen anything Batman on tv or in movies, but still loves everything Batman. It's part of "society" when talking about 4 and 5 and 6 year old boys and I think I'd rather accept that and moderate it, rather than shield him and pretend it doesn't exist. I do object to the violence and language in many shows and movies that are marketed to children though. Even, and maybe especially, Disney. So my husband and I pick and choose carefully. But we do let our kids watch within those boundaries.

And even so - things pop up in places you'd least expect them. I encountered problems with racism, sexism and guns when previewing Little House on the Praire books before reading them to my kids. I loved them growing up...but I think I'll wait a bit to introduce them to my own kids. Maybe Ninjas is the way to go after all? ;)

12:08 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I admit to skipping over those parts when reading the Little House books to the Lone Star Girl...a lot of it is just so ubiquitous...

1:54 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

My husband and I rarely watch TV. Before we had kids I didn't really expect that they'd watch much either. But after four years at home with no babysitters and no family members close by, I'm grateful that it's here to give me a break.

I'm an AMI trained Montessori teacher (but don't actually teach) and my kid goes to a Montessori preschool, so I'm a HUGE fan of Dr. Montessori, but I think some things really get overstated and politicized. (I'm very much NOT a fan of Waldorf, so I can't give an objective opinion on that.)

For instance, Dr. Montessori never condemned TV (there was no such thing as TV when she was writing). A lot of what I learned in Montessori is great, but a lot more of it is completely impractical, contradictory and (in my opinion) unnecessary. And the vast majority of the "impractical and unnecessary" has been written by people OTHER than Dr. Montessori and has a real air of a "victorian" approach to child rearing.

Sorry to get off topic a little bit. My 4-year-old has never seen a batman movie, but is still obsessed with Batman. I have NO idea where it came from... school maybe?

5:25 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

I agree about boys and girls being different, though I also wouldn't have said this either before parenting a boy and a girl. I recently said this at work, however, (I teach part time at an arts college) and a female colleague (who I'm pretty sure is not a mother) made a dramatic face of horror and started giving a lecture about being counter revolutionary. Fortunately for me, she assumed that the man I was talking to was the source of the sexism, so she was lecturing him while I slipped out to class. It reminded me, though, how charged these gender issues are and how tricky the balance between admitting their are differences between the sexes and putting people into boxes that constrain them.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I don't remember anything anti-TV from our Montessori experiences. I'm just anti- all violent media (even great books) during those absorbent mind years, because violence is one thing I really don't want to become part of them.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

I agree with Lone Star Ma about protecting kids from violence. I've had to cut back my news watching and listening because the real world is even worse than the Disney world.

3:36 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

Oh I agree about violence going into little minds for the most part. Though I've ended up with such a gentle little boy that sometimes I worry that I've sheltered him too much and have had to rethink some of that too.

Popular Montessor also says though that time in front of a screen of any kind (computer or television) doesn't allow the child to learn properly. I agree, but I just don't think that they need to spend every waking second

Television is highly discouraged in my Montessori circles, though my understanding is that Waldorf is a little more "cult-like" in that it FORBIDS rather than discourages. I could be wrong about that part. And as I said I have a strong bias against Waldorf, so I shouldn't really comment on it too much.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I'm definitely not a fan of TV for babies, but once they are 2 or so, I don't think a little hurts, if it is good, non-violent content. I do think too much is bad for the brain, though. While I generally don't approve, as I said, of tV for under-twos, I tried to get my 1 yo to watch a little recently when I really needed a rest. No go, though.

5:08 PM  

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