Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dialed-up terror

Have I mentioned that I am looking forward to Halloween? I am very much looking forward to Halloween! I always look forward to Halloween, although over the years the various anticipations and enjoyments have inexorably shifted. When I was a kid, it was all about the day of, looking forward to dressing up in my costume and going trick-or-treating. When I got a little older, it was still about costumes but I enjoyed people-watching at parties (held near enough to but rarely exactly on the 31st) every bit as much as attention-seeking in my own get-up. And now I’m a little too old for either door-to-door begging for candy or raging keggers, but it’s fun to help my own kids dress up and have a low-key get-together with friends so that all of our kids can roam the cul-de-sacs together.

And I still revel in the spirit of the season, the decorations and the general celebration of weirdness that marks the build up to Halloween (which of course includes me personally binging on monster movies and horror novels, of which there will be much discussion in the coming days, as I cram a lot into the final ten days or so of October). But this year in particular there’s been a new tinge of frustration accompanying all of the preparations, and it’s kind of a drag.

My daughter falls asleep to music both at naptime (at home, at least) and bedtime, played on a clock radio in her room which turns itself off after 59 minutes. We’ve been employing that strategy with great success for months and months now. The hour of free music coming across the FM band comes with a certain number of commercials, of course, but that never really fazed me … until the pop station we normally have the clock radio tuned to started playing promos for America Horror Story: Asylum, which feature a fair amount of screaming and other aural disturbances. I get it, disturbing’s the point of the show and it’s not like they’re advertising during children’s programming or anything. It’s just a bit off-putting from my perspective, in the context of the nursery.

My wife and I were pretty rigid about making sure that the little guy didn’t watch any television at all before he was very close to two years old (after that, of course, the floodgates were flung wide open) and we’re trying to hold ourselves to the same standard with the little girl, but of course it gets harder with each iteration. She’s four to six months away from us being okay with her watching one half-hour toddler-oriented show per day, but we don’t shield her from the infernal appliance entirely. The biggest example there is live sports, where if she’s in the room or on the couch with us while a football game is being broadcast, that strikes us as relatively harmless. At least, it should, until there’s a timeout and the next thing on the screen is a commercial for Silent Hill: Retribution 3D, which …


For the millionth time: I know I got up to no good when I was a kid. I was allowed to watch pretty much anything on cable and read whatever made its way to my hands. I have over-indulged in video gaming and lost a fair amount of my hearing to heavy metal. And I’m not so hypocritical as to think these things were harmless for me but unacceptable for my kids. Within reason, I think I’ll be all right with them exploring the darker corners of entertainment (or history, you know, whatever floats their boats) without expecting them to hide it … as long as it’s their choice, and they come to it on their own terms, and they’re at least, say, seven years old. I mean for the beginner stuff, at least. No gratuitous slasher flicks for second-graders, I think that’s a reasonable line to draw, but if I find myself with a precocious seven-year-old curious about the 1931 Dracula film, I’d probably allow it (and assuming no co-parent veto) and see how it goes from there. But man, I just don’t need the nightmare fuel that comes out of nowhere to terrorize my pre-schoolers, interspersed with Katy Perry and Maroon 5 songs, or wedged between a kickoff return and a KFC Dip’ems campaign.

Not that I’m proposing any kind of solution to this dilemma. In fact, even with kids of my own it’s still one of my pet peeves when hyperconcerned parents comport themselves as if it should be the entirety of society’s utmost concern to bowdlerize the world and make sure nothing ever sullies the eyes and ears of their little darlings. Number one, you can’t shield your kids from everything, and number two even if you could (and even if you further decided such total shielding is optimal parenting), that would be your responsibility and no one else’s. It’s a big, weird, messy but wonderful world out there and there are some safe havens for innocence and there are some truly grotty areas to steer kids clear of, and there’s a lot in between as well. Pro-football may not be entirely wholesome and family friendly, and neither may pop music, and ultimately not only do I accept that is the world we live in, but I’m glad for it. And truth be told, I’m glad raising kids is not something that can be done on autopilot. If staying vigilant enough to ward off the weird stuff my kids aren’t quite ready to process on their own yet keeps me engaged and focused on them, I’m all for it.

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