My kids don't watch TV and see ads. When they do watch TV it's pre-selected videos that Mommy and Daddy have vetted. Although we've loosened our stance a little, most of these movies are pretty tame stuff or - if featuring violence - have some learning potential.
The main reason I don't want them watching TV has little to do with program content and more to do with ads. Ads, brands, marketing and the constant flow of pop-culture junk are, to me, more dangerous than watching a violent show.
Despite my trying to raise them in a cave, they are aware of pop-culture. They hear it from their friends and schoolmates all the time. My son has come home reciting the entire plot-line of shows he's never seen. My daughter asks for toys and accessories that she heard about from friends.
You can't protect them forever and you can never protect them from everything. It is not my intention to never let them watch ads or be swayed by marketing. I keep those things at bay because I know that at 6, 4, and 2, they are too young to look at anything with a critical eye. As long as they believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, they're not ready to walk on the ground of media literacy.
But they hear things. Of course they do. Last night they heard my husband remark that he had finally caught on to the whole Charlie Sheen debacle. Over supper, he said a quick word about it. Something like "that Sheen, eh? Tiger blood? Really?"
My eldest heard it and immediately started quizzing us: "Who are you talking about?" "Who has tiger blood?" "Can people have tiger blood?"
Part of me wanted to just brush it off with another "oh it's just something silly that grownups are talking about." But he's six. And he is developing a critical intellect. And it's time to start opening the floodgates, just a teensy bit - a tiny trickle of our media-obsessed pop-culture to test his ability to understand and critically evaluate what so much of the world seems obsessed with.
And, though I hadn't expected to have this talk this early, it gave us the chance to let our son know what we thought about drugs.
The conversation went something like this:
Charlie Sheen does not have tiger blood.
Then why did Daddy say he does?
Because Charlie Sheen said he has tiger blood.
Is he lying?
Is he lying or is Daddy lying?
No one's really lying. Charlie Sheen...
Who is that anyway?
He's an actor - you know, he plays pretend on TV.
Oh. Have I seen him? Do you know him?
No. He's in a tv show for grownups. You don't watch it. And we don't know him. He's a man who thinks he's very important and lot of other people think so too, but Mommy and Daddy don't think so.
Why did he say he has tiger blood?
You know how we don't want you to take Mommy and Daddy's pills, and we don't want your brother and sister to take your pills? Because they're dangerous, right? Well, some people take pills and other drugs because they think it will make them feel good. But they don't really. So they take more. And they keep taking more and then soon the drugs make them very sick and sometimes it damages their brain so that they can't think right.
So he doesn't know how to think? Why does he lie?
Because he doesn't know he's lying, honey. He's mentally ill. His brain is sick - the same as your tummy gets sick. When yor tummy gets sick you can't eat and sometimes you throw up. Well his brain can't think and sometimes it makes him say things that aren't true -bad things come out just like throw-up.
But why does he think he has tiger blood?
Because he thinks he's a hero - a really strong man - and that he got that way by having strong tiger blood in him.
But he's not?
No, he's just a man. He has a lot of money and a lot of people listen to him, but he's just a man who's sick. And a lot of people are making fun of him and trying to get him to say more lies and silly things because they think it's funny. But we know it's not right to make fun of people, right?
So they're making him lie?
No, what they're doing is listening to his lies. And because he doesn't know he's lying he thinks that they're listening to really important things he has to say. So he tries to come up with more important things to say, but they're always lies. Remember, his brain doesn't work right.
Because of the drugs?
But that's mean - people shouldn't make fun of him.
Sometimes people forget that people that play pretend on TV are real people. They pretend to be someone else so much, that the people who watch TV don't know when they're pretending and when they're not.
But that's silly.
Yes it is.
And then the conversation naturally drifted into other topics. I mentioned that he has children and that he can't see them anymore because he might be dangerous to them. And my boy wanted to know why. So I gave a possible story of Sheen thinking he could fly and jumping off his roof with one or more children. And my son asked why other people would let him do that and then my daughter interrupted with a story of her own and we let the conversation naturally drift.
I don't know why people would let him do that. I'm glad I didn't have to answer that one because I'm not ready to discuss enablers with him yet.
But the whole thing made me realise that maybe he's ready to have the media world in it's full gore and glory unleashed on him. There's so much potential for learning there: drug abuse, scandal, body image, and just the general foolishness of it all.
I love that he thinks it's all very strange and questionable. That's exactly what I wanted - to let him live a life that wasn't inundated with this junk to the point where he couldn't question it.
Maybe tonight I'll show him this Dove Self-Esteem Fund ad
and then show him this Pond's Flawless White ad
And then we can discuss how one hypocritical company can have two completely different advertising campaigns (I'd show him an AXE ad but he's only 6). Or how making people feel good - whether by telling them they're good enough or by telling them they can be better (with their product) - sells things like moisturizer.
Think he's ready for it?