There's been a lot of hubbub in L. A. recently regarding media and what children can see on it. Much of it was triggered by the fellow who decided to shoot himself during traditional childrens' viewing hours while the major local stations transcribed the events into Southern California's homes. The people who are traditionally upset about childrens' issues opined loudly that it the media was reckless and irresponsible, and had scarred children by the bus load.
The media were unquestionably reckless. Showing a violent conflict in real time is inherently risky. Putting a 5 second delay into the telecast is easy, inexpensive and gives reporters a modicum of editorial control. Not having one makes them tripods. The California skies were filled with human tripods that day.
But that has nothing to do with children. Abdicating control of broadcast content will eventually result in programming that's offensive because reality offends everyone at some time. Kids are the usual tool to bring such indiscretions to public attention, but everyone should have an opinion.
It's impossible to shield children completely from unpleasant realities. Eventually, they find out that we live in the kind of world that drives men to rage against injustice that they see and perhaps sacrifice themselves rather than face the futility of fighting it. Of course, this doesn't justify interrupting afternoon cartoons with runaway does of reality, but the incident is a reminder that reality doesn't avoid children either.
As the pundits are fond of saying, parents can't monitor what children see and hear 24 hours a day, but that doesn't render parents helpless. A parent's goal has to be to instill values in their children that are the guardian that can follow always. My personal picks for those values are compassion, a questioning spirit, and communication.
Compassion lets you see another's point of view and the ideas that underly their actions. A compassionate person wonders what they would do in another's shoes, and invites every experience to shape their perceptions.
A questioning spirt engages the mind in whatever is transpiring. Is this real or staged? What are the biases in the involved parties? Are these facts or opinions? are great questions to start your kids on.
Finally, communication is the most essential. Encouraging your children to talk about what's going on gives you the chance to be the guardian later. They're eventually going to see Jerry Springer. The only question is when or how you're going to find out. If children are taught to value communication and the exchange of ideas (well, your ideas), they're likely to ask you why those people are behaving like that. This gives you the opportunity to find out why they're interested, and hopefully instill your opinions about it.
That's what parental guidance is all about: sharing childrens' experiences and helping them make sense of them. Or at least cope with them. You can't stop them from having the experiences, you've got to lay the groundwork to share them.
If only it were as easy as typing a few paragraphs.