I have a confession to make: I am not the most conservative when it comes to my children’s television habits. In fact, my sixteen-month-old daughter is sitting here with me right now, watching Police Women of Dallas arrest some guy strung out on PCP. Which then makes me have to explain drugs to my 3-year-old(“They are bad. See this guy? They make you do crazy things. Then the cops show up, and they call the ambulance. Mommy works on the ambulance, and if the cops call her because you are on drugs and doing crazy thing, you will be in big trouble, Mister.”).
So, yeah. I don’t shield my toddlers from the harsher realities of life on television.
But I do have some rules.
No Disney Princesses, because they annoy me, all that weeping and cleaning and waiting for Prince Charming to show up and save them. Get real, people. Prince Charming isn’t showing up to save you. More likely, Prince Charming will show up, and then he drinks all your beer and eats all your food and never puts the plates in the dishwasher.
The other rule is no America’s Funniest Home Videos.
I know, I know. Policewomen of Dallas, but no Bob Saget? No grooms fainting at the alter? No Grandma falling off a horse?
The meth addict on Cops? That’s not funny. The two car accident with someone getting backboarded and collared and extricated from the tangled wreck on Chicago Fire? No one’s laughing there.
Despite what the producers of some shows seem to believe, there is nothing funny about Grandma getting thrown off a horse. They might want you to laugh, but I show up after that. I know that Grandma has broke her hip, and now she is looking at surgery and rehab. Grandma is in pain, and there is nothing funny about that.
And I don’t want my children viewing that on television and listening to a laugh track and thinking, somehow, that other people’s pain is funny. I do not ever want my children desensitized to someone else’s pain or tragedy.
Some shows give us things to talk about. Drugs, perhaps, and no, I don’t think three is too young to bring up that subject. I never once said I want to shield my children from harsh realities; in fact, I want to talk about them, here, in my living room. And if I’m watching that kind of TV and my children are in the room, I don’t necessarily turn it off. We talk about it, about how people choose to self destruct, how bad things happen to good people, like car accidents. But we don’t laugh. We don’t pretend that it’s funny or entertaining.
And no, I don’t expose my children to explicit sexuality, because it will be years before they are emotionally or psychologically able to process that. And I don’t expose them to brutality or graphic violence. But I use television to talk about subjects we need to talk about. I use it to expose them to women who are doing something untraditional and brave, like being police officers or paramedics(yep, we watch old Discovery Health reruns of Paramedics, too).
But what I absolutely do not want is my children ever thinking that someone else’s pain is funny or amusing. And so we don’t watch America’s Funniest Home Videos or any other show that plays pain for laughs. If Grandma falls off a horse in a show that we watch, we see the helpers–the police, the firefighters, the paramedics–come and help her. We talk about safety, and what medical treatments can help Grandma, and what we do if we find someone injured.
But we don’t laugh.
Because pain is not funny.