Photo by Julia Kinnunen
Every morning my 4-year-old son Max gets out of bed, walks to the bathroom, pees, and makes his way to our living room. Sometimes he plays with a toy for a while, these days it is mostly Legos, or he will build a fort with the pillows from the couch. After 30 to 45 minutes of play he will ask for one of two things; food or TV. No matter what happens he will ask for both and almost every day we will oblige him. I mean we feed him no matter what, but TV is not always a given. He is often allowed to watch two to three episodes in the morning and he moves between Nickelodeon, Disney, and Netflix on our Apple TV like he is a 35-year-old man who has known this technology his whole life.
Like many these days we have cut the cable cord, so most of the entertainment he consumes is based on what we have found together through a wireless internet signal; he sees an image on something like Netflix, likes it and we try it, if it works we watch, if it is not appropriate, or annoys his parents, we turn it off. The way he watches TV and learns about pop culture is far from the way I did. My version was as much based on what I watched on television as how I watched it. When I got up I knew that Scooby Doo started at 8am on Saturday mornings and I made a point of being in front of the tube at that moment. I couldn’t pause, stop, or chose; I watched what was on. When I went to see a movie, it was because it was advertised during one of my shows, one of my friends had seen it advertised during one of their shows, or it was like Star Wars and everyone seemed to just know. You couldn’t just search for something that matched a set of criteria; you mostly waited for what you already knew was there.
My brain developed a taste for characters, shows, and dozens of other bits of pop culture based, on what was on or nearby. Max gets to pick what he wants to watch, and by extension, I get to monitor, or as I call it, curate, that selection, and parts of that process might represent my past. I came in one day to find him watching the same animated Saturday morning Godzilla show I had loved as a kid. Then he proceeded to watch one those episodes every day for two months, which kind of erased the magic of him watching something that I had loved. What a selection it is now! It is so big that we don’t even call them shows anymore, it’s all content. We only call them shows and episodes as a way of categorizing them inside of a much larger category.
So how do you decide what is ok for your kid to watch with so many choices right now? What show or character is so annoying that you don’t feel bad taking you authority in your hands, using it like an shovel, and burying those things six feet deep? Is that a comic, graphic novel, or hand drawn young adult series? Some of these are very personal decisions about taste and some are just parenting. Some kids are ok with a little violence, some cry at even the silliest of monsters. We make sure that Max spends most of his time watching things like Blaze and the Monster Machines, a show that teaches all about science and math concepts through a kid and his talking monster truck. It has everything we want in a show, teaching, silly characters that aren’t too annoying, and diversity. Then every now and then he will watch a show like Pac-Man. Yes, that Pac-Mac. An animated show based on the characters from the video game. The characters are violent, mean, and selfish, call each other names, and Max gains nothing from it. Granted it is for older kids, but even if Max were older I think we would put the kibosh on it. Then, sometimes, we let him watch and episode of things like The Avengers; a show made for kids between 9 and 11. It’s a little violent, but we talk about it while he watches and make sure he understands what is happening, and they almost always have a good center or moral to the episodes.
I will be the first to admit that I like the superheroes. One of the reasons we let Max watch them is because I will watch them with him. It is something we do together. Some of the other shows he watches are great, but not things I can sit down and actually enjoy with him. That goes for books too. We just finished reading the first Harry Potter book out loud. It went really well and my promise to him was that when we finished each book we could watch the movie. We are part way through the second book, but I don’t think he will make it through this one. It is not as easy of a read as the first one for him and his attention seems to waver more. Also, after the second book the stories get much more adult and I don’t think he is ready for those themes and ideas. He’s only four after all and has no concept of how hard it will be to talk to girls and that adolescence really is full of monsters. One day he will watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and totally get that metaphor, but that day is not today. Figuring out what he is into, what is appropriate, and works for us as a family, could be a never ending quest that leaves us pulling out our hair. Because there is so much out there we decided to try to make it a little easier on all the parents. Popkids will take on a lot of these shows, books, and movies and give you our opinions. We’re parents, just like you, who are ready for a place that will connect what families can enjoy together and hopefully make the whole thing a lot less daunting.