What is more quintessential to the American childhood than Saturday morning cartoons? I'd say that most adults today have fond childhood memories of watching cartoons in the morning, before bed, or in the movie theater, and we want to pass that experience along to the next generation. However, that experience is far less innocent than it once was.
Many of us who enjoyed cartoons in childhood still watch them, and those who produce cartoons know it (remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cool World?). Much of the programming on the Cartoon Network is geared, not towards our children, but to fellow adults. Moreover, marketing firms know from research that young adult men (18-24) are avid consumers of entertainment. Consequently, the vast majority of movies are marketed (if not outright written) to appeal to that audience.
American culture has also developed in a social system that is far more tolerant of nudity, sex, violence, bad language, and other questionable or private behaviors than it once was. As a result, it is assumed that children know how to assimilate such information and are appropriate targets for the marketing of "adult content." For example, go to any toy store, and the shelves of "action figures" will include WWE merchandise. Toys 'R Us Even includes a subscription to Parenting School Years with purchase!
Our culture has also absorbed many foreign cultural influences. While I am inclined to believe that such diversity is generally a good thing, it does mean that people need to be aware of their surroundings as things change. In this particular case, Japanese anime has become very popular, along with graphic novels. In Japan, animation is for adults just as much as it is for kids, if not more so. If you don't believe me do a Google Image or Video search with the "Safe Search" function turned off (when you're kids are NOT around!) for "hentai," but be prepared to view some very disturbing images.
Many have also argued that American culture is currently too permissive of sexual imagery, and translates that permissiveness into overly sexualized fashion trends for women and girls. Regardless of content, most children's programming today adheres to modern fashion trends, which some would argue are detrimental to female self-image and the development of healthy attitudes towards women among males.
So how does all of this apply to our Aspies?
Kids on the spectrum have trouble learning social cues and values. They tend to have obsessive interests, and are drawn to amusements that are relatively simplistic socially and easy to control. They often have trouble distinguishing realty from fantasy. And due to social difficulties and frustrations are drawn to escapist forms of entertainment. They are also usually sexual late bloomers, who may feel embarrassed about their differences from their peers, resulting in a desire to "catch up," especially among girls.
Combine those traits with entertainment that is intended for adults and marketed to kids, and the results can be problematic, to say the least.
I challenge parents to educate themselves about their children's favorite shows.
- Read up on them. Try to find Internet conversations, reviews, and articles about them, and see if others thing the shows are good programming and why. Ask fellow parents you know and trust, too.
- Watch a few episodes. I would recommend viewing on the Internet so that you are not distracted by commercials and you can easily avoid having your children see if something inappropriate comes on.
- Don't just focus on language, sexual imagery, and violence. Think about what moral lessons a child would take from the show and whether it promotes behaviors that you want to see your child emulate.
- Consider whether the show has any content of value. Does it have a clear and satisfying story line? Is it more than just interesting imagery? Approach evaluating the show as if it were a book.
- If the show were presented in a live action format, would you want your child to view it?
- If you are thinking about taking your child to see an animated movie, go preview it yourself (maybe you could make it date night!), as animated feature films are just as likely to involve questionable content as television programing.
I look forward to seeing thoughts on this post and contributions to the conversation both in the comments below and on the Facebook page!
Please come back next week for another Media Monday and tomorrow (Tuesday, January 26) for Television Tuesday!