Before you have kids, you know one day you’ll have to force them to do things they don’t want to do — homework, bedtime, using soap. But I never thought that dynamic would apply to age-appropriate cartoons.
Last year around Halloween, Hank declared that he wanted to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “from the store.” As you may recall, I’m emotionally over-invested in Halloween, and we’d been discussing elaborate, homemade C3PO costume for months. So after rending my garments, I made a Target run.
This is Hank in his Donatello costume. He’s six here, and I’d never seen him play fight before, you can hear me coaching him to twirl his staff in the video. At the time, he was afraid of lots of age-appropriate movies and TV, so I was a little relieved by his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obsession.
But a few weeks before, we’d been watching the show together when I heard a familiar refrain. “Let’s turn it off,” he said. The scene wasn’t violent, or even high-conflict, so I asked why. “It’s too scary,” he said. Beh?
IT’S TOO SCARY
In the episode, one of the characters loses her top-secret “shell phone” (see what they did there?), and it puts her turtle friends in danger. The idea of accidentally doing something that has unpredictable consequences scared the crap out of Hank. I was sympathetic, but my patience was also worn.
After months of requests to leave theaters, turn off Disney movies, switch to another cartoon every time suspense was introduced, my impulse was to say, “This is not a thing. You can’t be afraid of everything that might accidentally happen at all times.”
And while being dismissive of a kid’s feelings is undoubtedly top-notch parenting, at what point do you ask a kid to face fears? For the time being I bit my tongue, switched to a more familiar TMNT cartoon, and did a little research.
WHAT DOES AGE-APPROPRIATE MEAN?
It turns out most TV shows aren’t designed with age guidelines in mind. But here’s some good age info that can help guide media choices:
• Kids age 3-6 are just becoming aware that they can be hurt, that parents can’t protect them from everything, and that parents don’t know everything. Like whether monsters exist and whether a cherry tree is growing in their stomach because they swallowed that seed.
• Not until age 7-8 can kids reliably distinguish between reality and fantasy.
• New fears developing suddenly are often a sign of intellectual growth. So if your kid is worried that the bathtub drain will swallow them, that means they’re smart.
• Conflict and suspense are tough for kids to intellectualize, it feels primal to them. And to be fair, in most entertainment media, that’s the intended effect.
Here’s how I changed my responses to Hank’s media fears after I did a little reading.
HOW TO DEAL WHEN A KID FEELS AFRAID
I stopped worrying about whether Hank “should” be afraid, and now I don’t dismiss feelings by saying things like, “This isn’t scary, honey.” Apparently, that teaches kids to hide fear or mask it, which is cruddy on many levels, but mostly because I need him to tell me if something scary happens when I’m not around.
I feel a little dumb admitting this, but I used to inadvertantly add to Hank’s fears by trying to guess what was wrong. “Are you afraid ligtening will strike our house?” Well, now he is. So now I ask, “Why are you afraid?” And then, “Why is that scary?” until I understand.
This rarely worked with Hank, but it made me feel better. I asked what I could do besides turning the show off. Hold him? Get a stuffed animal? Fast forward through suspense? If it worked one time in ten, it was worth it.
Now I know more about what I’m getting into before I pay to see a movie in the theater or turn on a show for more than one kid to enjoy. If I don’t know the plot in advance, I know I’m of asking for it.
Kids don’t care about being surprised. I explain what’s going to happen and what happens afterward, to help give him a sense of control. “It’s about to look like she died, but her sister will kiss her and she’ll wake up.”
If Hank is still afraid and I’m able to turn a show off, I just do. And if I can’t because other children are enjoying it, we leave to draw, or play, or read.
GIVE IT TIME
With a little time and the right entertainment choices, Hank has mostly outgrown his “too scary” phase. It wasn’t a dramatic shift, just part of growing up — for both of us, my friends.
His newfound bravery has calmed the visions I had of him panicking at high school sleepovers when someone suggested watching Star Wars. We’re gonna hold off on that trash compactor scene though.
Do you know a kid who seems stressed out by TV or movies? Let us know if you have any tips for calming them, or whether they just eventually grew out of it, in comments.
Nick Cave‘s work makes me think, “Yay! Yay! YAY!”
I want to put these on and dance around.
Doesn’t he seem like he must have been so fun to play pretend with as a kid?
Brad: Have you watched this video on feminism and video games? It’s like 25 minutes long.
Me: No. Man, I don’t even know if I can do it. The sexism in video games is so rampant it’s too exhausting. Do you have it pulled up?
Me: How many times is she called a c**t in the comments? Are there any rape threats yet?
Brad: Comments are disabled.
Me: Yeah, of course they are. What’s her name?
Brad: Her user name is FeministFrequency.
Me: OK, so she published a feminist thing about gaming that’s getting attention. I’m Googling FeministFrequency and “rape threat.”… Bingo. Top result.
If you go to Feminist Frequency’s Twitter account @femfreq, you’ll see that things have escalated recently, someone threatened her life quite graphically and published her address. So that’s a delight.
When she was little, my mom met a man who said he’d “set foot in all fifty states,” and she was amazed by the idea. Since she told me, I thought how much I’d like to do the same.
I’m starting with Minnesota over at Go Mighty. I found this trophy in an antique store outside Minneapolis, and it still cracks me up.
If you need to catch up:
Feguson outline from USA Today that touches on all the major events.
If you’d like ongoing, current information with a high signal-to-noise ratio:
• Twitter list of Pro and am journalists on the ground in Ferguson will tell you what’s happening right now.
• Reddit’s Ferguson live feed is often updated
• Brittany Noble’s Instagram feed, she’s a local reporter
• Xeni Jardin of boing boing is tweeting and gathering articles
If you’d like to help:
• Use social media platforms to share information using the hashtags #ferguson or #justiceformikebrown.
• Furious About Ferguson? Here’s How You Can Help from Ebony Magazine
• Here’s How You Can Help the Kids in Ferguson Who Don’t Have Food Now that School is Closed on the Huffington Post
• Here are Ways to Help the People in Ferguson Right Now on Buzzfeed
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.” Statement from Michael Brown’s family and their attourney
A neighbor witnessed the shooting and live-tweeted it. (Distant photos of Michael Brown’s body and the officer standing over him are visible in this thread.)
“The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly tweeted Ferguson cops still weren’t wearing name tags on Friday and still refused to answer questions about their identification.” – Ron Johnson Addresses Ferguson Police Officers’ Failure To Identify Themselves
“The chief in the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by police says the officer didn’t know the teen was a robbery suspect at the time of the shooting.” -Associated Press
“The officer who shot Ferguson teen Michael Brown stopped Brown and another teen because they were walking in the street, not because of a robbery a few minutes earlier, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said Friday afternoon.
Jackson said the officer was aware cigars had been taken in the robbery of a store nearby, but did not know when he encountered Brown and Dorian Johnson that they might be suspects. He stopped them because they were walking in the street, Jackson said.
But Jackson told the Post-Dispatch that the officer, Darren Wilson, saw cigars in Brown’s hand and realized he might be the robber.” – St. Louis Post Dispatch
Michael Brown’s friend/acquaintance gives an emotional account of what happened with both the robbery and the shooting.
For now, this is a living post, updated as I gather things here.
How to Help
• A List of the Michael Brown Vigils happening at August 14, 2014 at 7pm EST/4pm PT. The one for San Francisco is in Civic Center Plaza.
• A Ferguson bail and legal fund for those arrested during the police-brutality demonstrations
“You didn’t have to shoot him eight times… You just shot all through my baby’s body.” -Michael Brown’s Mother, Leslie McSpadden (via Brittany_noble)
“It was just horrible to watch, and it hurt him a lot. I saw it in his eyes.” -Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Michael Brown when the 18-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer
• Timeline from CBS Local in St. Louis”
August 11: “It is announced that the FBI is opening a parallel investigation to that of the St. Louis County Police Department concerning possible civil rights violations.”
• Audio recap of early events in Ferguson from KMOV Reporter Brittany Noble
“Sunday night I saw lots of crowds of people, I saw police trying to work with those crowds and calm them down, but then the crowds became so violent, kicking the police cars and putting their hands surrounding the police and trying to intimidate them that police were almost leaving the area… It’s my understanding that the family is very disappointed with some of the violent reactions from the community.”
• 32 Powerful Images from Ferguson After the Death of Michael Brown, Buzzfeed
• Detailed breakdown and analysis by Dara Lind on Vox. Ed: This is the most organized thing I’ve seen so far if you want details.
• The Ferguson tag on Twitter
• Twitter List of Professional and Amateur Journalists in Ferguson
• Reddit Live Feed
• Ferguson coverage on Boing Boing
“Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers.”
America is Not Safe for Black People by Greg Howard
“Police forces usually fall into one of two categories, though there some grey situations between the two. You either protect the rule of law and the population, or you’re the type of police force that’s there to protect the regime. What’s happening in Ferguson is what regime protection forces do, not what rule of law police do.”
“They have the toys, and they just want to play with them, to put it bluntly. They look like guys playing army.”
– Jason Fritz, an Iraq war vet and specialist on policing in conflict zones on Vox
“[In Ferguson] three police officers out of 53 are black. Brown’s shooting was the first homicide recorded in Ferguson this year.” – Zachary Wilcha in Untied Mag
From What I saw in Ferguson by Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker:
“There’s not a tradition of unrest in St. Louis. Even in the sixties, when the rest of the country was exploding, you didn’t have that kind of thing here. And if there was some kind of problem it almost never lasted more than a day.” – Activist Etefia Umana
“The people who live in Canfield Green, the apartment complex where Brown was shot while on his way to visit his grandmother, not only witnessed his death but were subjected to an undignified wake: his prone figure sprawled on the street for four hours in the unforgiving August sun, with blood on the asphalt—an indignity in sharp contrast with the quick departure of the officer from the scene.”
• Ryan J. Reilly, reporter arrested in McDonald who says an officer slammed his head against a vending machine.
• Ferguson board on Pinterest by Jenifer Ancona
• The alleged name of Michael Brown’s shooter is reported on Twitter by Anonymous, and the account is suspended:
“Unfortunately, Mike Brown is but the latest in a series of disturbing events regarding police behavior against people of color. New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy is but a minor example of the micro-aggressions black men face on a daily basis. Many black people I know have their own stories about being followed in a store or stopped for “driving while black”, or other encounters in racial bias. But too often, this bias turns violent. Just this summer, an Arizona professor was thrown to the ground by a police officer for “jaywalking” to avoid street construction at the crosswalk . . . at the same time groups of white people can be seen crossing behind the altercation in the dashcam video. A few weeks ago, a grandmother was jaywalking and a highway patrol officer took her to the ground and brutally beat her, punching her in the face repeatedly – which was caught on tape by a stunned stranger. Earlier this month another man was stopped by police for selling cigarettes and was put into a choke hold and killed.” – Kristen Howerton, Racial Bias, Police Brutality, and the Dangerous Act of Being Black
“I’m tired of turning on the news and seeing a story of some unarmed black person gunned down or otherwise killed, and being horrified, but even more horrifically, not all that surprised.” – Karen Walrond, Affected