My wife and I love the show Survivor. We’ve watched it together since before we got married. This season debuted with episode #500! We’ve always watched together, but this season we decided it was time to let our oldest kid in on the fun. Welcome to Survivor world! That decision didn’t come lightly though. I want to talk about the media we’re exposing our kids to, and when we start doing that. If you’re not a Survivor fan, don’t worry. This is about more than a single show on television!
I’m a strong believer in teaching our children values and truth. At a certain point they’ll transition from what their mom and I teach them, and they’ll develop a sense of their own values, but we need to start them off with a firm foundation. Even if those values aren’t rooted in a religious philosophy, they’re still watching what you do and say. They see how you spend your time and money. They develop a sense of what is true, what is important, and how they understand the world. We need to be intentional in shaping that worldview, otherwise the world will do it for us.
Finding a Balance in the Extremes
When it comes to media (TV, Movies, Music, Internet), we need to find a balanced way to control what they consume, and at what age. That balance is hard to find, and some parents go really far to either extreme.
Some kids are overly sheltered. Their parents are so worried that they might see something inappropriate, the kid ends up in a bubble. There is no recognition that the child is developing into an adult, but instead they’re treated like a perpetual 5 year old. Overly sheltered children reach adulthood without the ability to make wise media choices on their own, because their parents have always done it for them. They’ve never been taught about the messages they are seeing, and when they are exposed to all the messages in media, they aren’t equipped to deal with them.
Then there are the opposite parents who let their kids watch anything they want. Children are watching things that their young minds can’t even begin to process in a healthy way. These kids who grow up watching inappropriate content from a young age become adults, and they also don’t know how to make wise choices. Unlike the parents who made all the media choices, these children had parents who simply didn’t make any choices. It’s on, it’s popular, you can have it. These children are viewing material that they aren’t developmentally ready for, and they also never have conversations about what they’re watching.
We have to navigate the media minefield, and make choices that are good for our kids. I think there are two main questions we need to ask. When should they be consuming it (if ever), and what are the conversations we should have with them?
Is He Ready for Survivor?
There are so many things about Survivor that we find entertaining. We love the social game, the challenges, and the backstabbing. Introducing the show to our almost 9 year old wasn’t a no-brainer. Unlike most of the shows he watches, we knew going in that there might be content that we’ll need to talk to him about. Whether it’s the way people treat each other, the language they use, and possibly even the values they live by, there will be things he sees that will need some explaining. Whatever your opinion of reality TV is, these are real people, and there’s no script.
The first question we had was, will he see anything that he shouldn’t be exposed to? An example of this would be people that take really young children to violent R-rated movies. Their little brains aren’t ready to understand and process what they’re seeing. It doesn’t matter if you try and explain to them that it’s not real. Their cognitive development is simply not ready to see certain things, and exposing them to that material is damaging.
For the most part, Survivor is very PG. We’re comfortable that he’ll be able to understand whatever comes up on the show. I’m actually excited about what conversations we might have. There is a lot of “real” human interaction on the show. Some people are nice, some are mean, good stuff happens, and bad stuff happens. I don’t expect him to understand everything on his own, but I look forward to talking to him about what he sees.
That’s how I know this is a good decision. I’m looking forward to having valuable conversations with him. It’s scary, in the sense that I don’t know what’s going to happen, or if I’ll have all the answers, but I see my “boy” growing up. I see him ready to mature. If you don’t feel OK talking to your kid about what they’re going to see, then either they’re not ready to see it, or you’re not ready to talk about it.
Looking for Opportunities to Parent
The parent that thinks they can shelter their child is kidding themselves. Your child will grow up. They will be exposed to things you can’t control. Our job as parents is to supervise their growing up so that when they do reach adulthood, we’ve equipped them for the challenges ahead. There needs to be a gradual release where we allow our kids to consume developmentally appropriate media, and as they do, make sure that we’re consuming it with them. That we’re being aware of what they’re watching, and having conversations about the messages they are taking in.
If we aren’t proactive in this area of their lives, then we’re surrendering a large part of our children’s development to the outside world. We need to be in control and look out for our kids. Don’t leave that responsibility up to someone else.