26 votes

Parents: have your kids been affected by age-inappropriate content?

I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers who mentioned that her child showed a fascination with scary, Halloween-type stuff starting around age 6. She and her husband had a hard time with whether they should let him enjoy it or limit it. They weren't sure whether to let him read scary books or watch spooky stuff on YouTube, particularly because it's the type of content that can very easily be age-inappropriate--especially for a 6 year old. Nevertheless, it was relatively easy for them to keep it to stuff like Jack-o-Lanterns and black cats since he was so young.

The boy is now older but has retained his interest, and the parents are still struggling with decisions about allowable content, especially because he is starting to age into books and movies that deal with much darker stuff, particularly ideas about death/violence.

I'm not a parent, but I am a teacher, and I have to admit that I'm uncomfortable with some of the stuff my students are exposed to. Over the years I've heard students as young as twelve discuss horror movies like the Saw series or The Human Centipede. I've had middle school students bring books like Gone Girl and 50 Shades of Gray to class. On one hand, I think kids are resilient, and I think a lot of the more difficult or disturbing stuff doesn't quite land for them because they don't really have a context into which to put it yet. I also believe that fictional media is a mostly safe way for us to explore troubling or disturbing ideas.

On the other hand, I think the internet has caused our children to grow up a lot faster than they used to, as they are exposed to mature content (whether intentionally or accidentally) from a very early age. When I was growing up the worst I could do was check out a slightly-risqué book from the school library and hope my parents never found it in my backpack. Now kids are watching violent (often real-world) and pornographic content starting as young as elementary school. Nothing can make your heart sink quite like sixth graders talking excitedly over lunch about a video of a real person getting crushed to death.

What I genuinely don't know is if this has any negative developmental effect. Am I just clutching my pearls here? I'd love to hear some parents talk about how they've handled the decision of what's right for their kids and whether they've had fallout from their kids consuming content that's not appropriate for them.

21 comments

  1. [6]
    stephen
    (edited )
    Link
    When I reflect on my own childhood and any problematic notions I may have ingested from my media diet as a child, I don't jump to horror, gore, or profanity whatever as the source of the worst...

    When I reflect on my own childhood and any problematic notions I may have ingested from my media diet as a child, I don't jump to horror, gore, or profanity whatever as the source of the worst behaviors. When you watch something scary as a kid (for me the original It) or something violent, my sense is that kids can work out what the proper response is.

    For instance, when they see someone getting slain by Michael Myers at age 11, most kids will be able to work out that it's not okay to emulate this and move on. To me, the real issue with childhood media diets is the stuff that flies under the radar because it isn't presented with the same focus. An example of something like the is "A Dorkable Misogyny of the Big Bang Theory." Long (20 cogent minutes of explainable) story short, very popular model portray often subtle yet still troublesome behaviors dealing with sexual coercion, body shaming, classism, black criminality, toxic masculinity etc. I won't go into these too much because that link is absolutely worth your time.

    I played lots of Call of Duty and Halo as a kid yet I emulate almost none of the the problematic behaviors they portray. However, I can say for certain that I have internalized and even struggle to shed the sorts of things above which sub-consciously I was never able to resist because they were never portrayed in a context of being problematic.

    Edit: Here is another reference - this one used 16 Candles to contextualize the Kavaugh allegations within the rape culture of the 80s, which was normalized by movies like 16 Candles. Again, a deeply disturbing set of behaviors (date raping blacked out girls) is portrayed as 1.) normal for boys 2.) something girls deserve if they drink and 3.) a funny thing to put in a movie.

    27 votes
    1. [5]
      floppy
      Link Parent
      how exactly would you say Halo portrays problematic behaviors?

      how exactly would you say Halo portrays problematic behaviors?

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        stephen
        Link Parent
        It's super violent.

        It's super violent.

        8 votes
        1. [3]
          super_james
          Link Parent
          What is the correct response to an existential threat with which negotiation is not possible?

          What is the correct response to an existential threat with which negotiation is not possible?

          2 votes
          1. somewaffles
            Link Parent
            Not agreeing either way, but I think the point is a child would miss the "existential threat with which negotiation is not possible" part.

            Not agreeing either way, but I think the point is a child would miss the "existential threat with which negotiation is not possible" part.

            11 votes
          2. stephen
            Link Parent
            I guess it's like with storm surges an flooding. You building as big a levee as you can and pray its enough. But then isn't that the same as with all parenting?

            I guess it's like with storm surges an flooding. You building as big a levee as you can and pray its enough. But then isn't that the same as with all parenting?

  2. [4]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [3]
      balooga
      Link Parent
      Excellent point. And still, the Fallout games are rated M. If the "angry parents" were really worth affording that much accommodation, they wouldn't be allowing their kids to play these titles in...

      Excellent point. And still, the Fallout games are rated M. If the "angry parents" were really worth affording that much accommodation, they wouldn't be allowing their kids to play these titles in the first place.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. teaearlgraycold
          Link Parent
          This also begs the question why murder is more acceptable in media than sex.

          This also begs the question why murder is more acceptable in media than sex.

          5 votes
        2. balooga
          Link Parent
          If I were the morality police, the Hot Coffee minigame would be one of the least objectionable things in that game. I really don't understand this culture's appetite for violence but revulsion to...

          If I were the morality police, the Hot Coffee minigame would be one of the least objectionable things in that game. I really don't understand this culture's appetite for violence but revulsion to sex.

          (Just making an observation — I have no desire to be the morality police or go after violent video games, in fact I've caused my share of carnage in GTA games over the years and had a blast doing it!)

  3. [9]
    Pilgrim
    Link
    Well you're definitely right to be concerned as the evidence is pretty overwhelming that there are negative effects. If you would have asked me as teenager or as a young adult, I would have said...

    Well you're definitely right to be concerned as the evidence is pretty overwhelming that there are negative effects.

    If you would have asked me as teenager or as a young adult, I would have said "No way man, those things don't effect me." But I think that isn't really true and from a parental perspective the risk/reward balance is much more in favor of restricting content (since the only downside of doing so is the kid being considered "uncool").

    However, even knowing that I've let my kids watch me play games like Fall Out 4 which are quite violent. The reason is simply that I don't have a good place to play those games away from the kids and haven't made the effort to create such a space or schedule my play for after they go to bed. So basically, real-life laziness.

    I play Halo with my son, who enjoys Fort Nite and other such shooters. I've drawn the line on him playing games rated M such as Fall Out 4, or even Call of Duty. For me the dividing line is whether or not the violence is realistic - if it's human's shooting human's and that violence looks real, then I think he's not ready for it, yet. Unless I'm feeling lazy and feel like playing...then he watches me play sometimes...so not perfect parenting there.

    However, left on their own, my kids tend to self-regulate as they're most interested in viewing content they enjoy, which doesn't tend to be violent or scary.

    I'm actually much more concerned about content that is "slipped" into children's "programming" on YouTube aka ElsaGate and have severely restricted what they can watch on Youtube.

    9 votes
    1. [3]
      stephen
      Link Parent
      YouTube for kids is seriously terrifying. I watched a TED talk called the Nightmare Videos of Children's Youtube and it made me very unsettled. Oddly the thing I was most taken aback by was the...

      have severely restricted what they can watch on Youtub

      YouTube for kids is seriously terrifying. I watched a TED talk called the Nightmare Videos of Children's Youtube and it made me very unsettled. Oddly the thing I was most taken aback by was the whole Kinder Surprise Egg unboxing videos. Fucking weird man.

      10 votes
      1. [2]
        Pilgrim
        Link Parent
        The unboxing stuff is just gambling for kids. That and loot crates in video games. That shit should be illegal.

        The unboxing stuff is just gambling for kids. That and loot crates in video games. That shit should be illegal.

        3 votes
        1. Soptik
          Link Parent
          It is in some in some countries. And hopefully in whole EU soon. Dutch authority starts enforcing ban on loot boxes, fines can be 10% of company's revenue (Reddit) Kansspelautoriteit...
          4 votes
    2. [3]
      floppy
      Link Parent
      Kids in general know that you don't shoot people in real life, especially since the kids playing shooters are usually a bit older, around 10 and above. I could be pulling that out of my ass, but...

      Kids in general know that you don't shoot people in real life, especially since the kids playing shooters are usually a bit older, around 10 and above. I could be pulling that out of my ass, but that's the way it seems. There are some kids who don't understand and that can cause problems, but mostly it doesn't.

      But like you mentioned, some of the stuff that shows up on youtube is pretty disgusting. kids of a younger age than 10 are more likely to be watching youtube rather than playing shooters. From what I've seen, nowadays younger kids don't even like shooters that much at all, but I have seen too many parents to count giving their kids their phones as a pacifier, and their very impressionable 5 year old gets on youtube, and the parent seems to not give a single shit what the kid does as long as it doesn't bother them. So it's entirely believable that plenty of very young kids are being exposed to shit that creeps even adults the hell out. For me it's even more disturbing than simply gore videos. Of course seeing someone dead in a crash or something is horrible, but seeing some of the videos for kids, seeing the sick imagery and pretty obvious symbols of pedophilia and knowing that someone is crafting these for kids to watch is even more horrible.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        Pilgrim
        Link Parent
        I think this is generally true. I think it's difficult to imagine what death really looks like if you haven't seen it or haven't had it driven home that we're all just bags of blood hastily...

        Kids in general know that you don't shoot people in real life, especially since the kids playing shooters are usually a bit older, around 10 and above.

        I think this is generally true. I think it's difficult to imagine what death really looks like if you haven't seen it or haven't had it driven home that we're all just bags of blood hastily assembled around a skeleton.

        younger kids don't even like shooters that much at all

        I take you haven't heard of the phenomenon that is Fort Nite (aka Fork Knife). It's all the kids around her talk about. It's cool in that it's gender neutral - equal amounts of boy/girl characters and at least at first you're randomly assigned one character of either gender each time you play.

        entirely believable that plenty of very young kids are being exposed to shit that creeps even adults the hell out.

        It might be a little worse than you think. Kids love these videos that are like cheap-o claymation where some adult (who the hell are these ppl!?) is making play-do characters and playing puppet with them to tell a story using trademarked characters like spider-man and elsa (disney princess). Most are harmless. Some appear harmless at first them turn into make-believe rape/torture fests. Not good for the kiddos. You can read more at /r/elsegate if you like or google "elsagate." I've personally seen these videos show up in my kids feeds.

        2 votes
        1. floppy
          Link Parent
          well, that definitely isn't good. some of the most disturbing shit I see online is on the most mainstream sites, too. Makes you wonder about the corporations that run these platforms.

          It might be a little worse than you think.

          well, that definitely isn't good. some of the most disturbing shit I see online is on the most mainstream sites, too. Makes you wonder about the corporations that run these platforms.

          1 vote
    3. [2]
      teaearlgraycold
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      How have you been affected?

      If you would have asked me as teenager or as a young adult, I would have said "No way man, those things don't effect me." But I think that isn't really true

      How have you been affected?

      1 vote
      1. Pilgrim
        Link Parent
        Well I think that would be hard for me to tell, especially given that I've consumed such media as an adult as well, so was X due to my childhood media consumption or my adult consumption? But I'll...

        Well I think that would be hard for me to tell, especially given that I've consumed such media as an adult as well, so was X due to my childhood media consumption or my adult consumption?

        But I'll give you some examples that are still with me from my own childhood. I think the core of the problem is simply the ability to really understand the consequence of one's action and how those differ from a video game or movie or other media.

        I recall being 8 or 9 and was standing with several friends on top of a shed - this was a small one-story structure with a flat roof. Perhaps 10 feet of the ground at most. Why were we on this shed? Who knows. We were all laughing and joking and I recall vividly that I made a split-second decision to shove one of my friends off the shed. I couldn't tell you why - it was just a compulsion I suppose. So without warning I jammed my hand in my friend's back and pushed hard. He flew forward but in that split second I realized how poorly that could in and I was quick enough to grab his shirt before he toppled off the edge of the shed.

        Another time I threw rocks at cars driving 55 MPH down a rural road. I was probably about the same age as the above. We hit a couple cars. One lady pulled into the drive way and talked to my parents. We hit her car. She had kids with her. It could have caused her to swerve and wreck. Someone could have died. We were utter idiots. The reason we were doing that in the first place? My friend and I had seen some show on TV where kids had done that. And we were bored and dumb and didn't realize what might happen in real life.

        3 votes
  4. Catt
    Link
    Not a parent, but I watched a lot of really inappropriate content when I was young. My mom didn't really mind me and my sister watching really anything, but my dad really wanted to restrict us....

    Not a parent, but I watched a lot of really inappropriate content when I was young. My mom didn't really mind me and my sister watching really anything, but my dad really wanted to restrict us. Things I watched ranged from scary vampire movies to triad gangster stories. They contained gory, torture, rape and such.

    I think a lot of it flew over my head and I did have nights where I slept with my folks because I was too scared. Otherwise no lasting effects, I think.

    However, I do disagree with my mom. I wouldn't let mine watch the stuff I grew up watching.

    7 votes
  5. [2]
    Gaywallet
    Link
    I snuck into R rated moves when I was 12, played extremely violent video games like hitman, and was looking at porn by the age of 11. Kids are going to be exposed to this stuff whether you like it...

    I snuck into R rated moves when I was 12, played extremely violent video games like hitman, and was looking at porn by the age of 11.

    Kids are going to be exposed to this stuff whether you like it or not. I personally think it's absurd to be sheltering them from it. By saying something is off limits, you're essentially telling them "don't do this" which translates into "don't tell me you've done this if you happen to have done this, because I will be angry". This shuts down any possibility of discussion, if they don't understand what's going on.

    The key here to this being healthy is having someone to discuss this with. When they are younger, it might help to physically be present whenever they are viewing this content so that you can answer questions as soon as they arise and you can judge their reactions. As they get older, they need to understand that you are available to help them understand this content.

    6 votes
    1. top
      Link Parent
      I had experiences like that while growing up. I still feel like there's a divide between me and my parents because they essentially pushed me toward keeping secrets.

      I had experiences like that while growing up. I still feel like there's a divide between me and my parents because they essentially pushed me toward keeping secrets.

      1 vote