When I got home this summer from taking our older two children out to lunch and to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I got in a little trouble with my wife. It wasn’t because I took five- and seven-year-old girls to see “Age of Ultron,” but because of a decision I made during the movie.
See, their little bladders reached capacity just as the epic final battle scene began and, being the father I am, I told them they were on their own. Obviously, they found the restroom and returned, because they were home with me when I related this story. My wife still thought I should have been a tad more attentive. At least she didn’t question the fact that I let them watch such movies.
Matt Debenham takes it a step further. In “Why I Let My Kids Watch ‘Inappropriate’ TV” published at (trigger warning) Buzzfeed, Debenham explains why he watches “Transparent,” “Broad City,” and “Orange Is the New Black” with his sons. Granted, his sons are now 15 and 12, but his permissiveness stretches back a few years. Regardless, here’s how Debenham describes what they’re viewing together.
My wife and I don’t go out of our way to introduce our kids to television and movies with adult content. We do go out of our way to show them things that we think are well-made and textured, and a lot of that happens to feature some, you know, serious stuff. To varying degrees, Broad City, Orange Is the New Black, and Transparent offer depictions and/or discussions of masturbation (male and female), hetero sex, lesbian sex, cross-dressing, gender reassignment, threesomes, fisting, dildos, and pegging. There’s very little monogamy and a lot of casual drug use. I can hear the uptight parent voice in myself saying, “Why do they need to see all this?” But these are three of the best shows on television right now, and quality has to win out over comfort. I think? There’s no handbook on how to pick entertainment for your kids. We figure it out as we go and hope we’re not screwing them up. So far, they seem fine.
You know what my life was missing when I was caught in the turbulent throes of puberty? Watching a bunch of sex scenes with my parents. In hindsight, it all makes so much sense now. Thanks, dad, for not fostering my awareness of pegging. I’m not really sure how I managed to grow up into a functioning adult. (Aside: If you choose to Google that term, be prepared.)
Let’s Be Real: I’m Not the Strictest Father
I kid, I kid. Back here in reality, I almost get the point he’s making. I am also a pretty permissive father when it comes to media. It’s not just “Avengers” they’ve seen, but virtually every movie from the DC universe. “Godzilla” is a current favorite. We’ve watched “Sharknado” and “Sharknado 2: The Second One” multiple times. They’re still upset that I didn’t take them to “Lost World” over the summer.
It’s not just movies where I’m permissive. I’ve stopped trying to turn the volume down when Lana Del Rey drops an f-bomb, although that’s partly because the last time I did my timing got off and cranked it up on said word. We rock out to Taylor Swift, who has gotten much more mature with her latest. Of course, LDR and Swift do cover topics closer to those Debenham mentions, albeit without rubbing it right in our faces. So, what’s the difference?
Miley Cyrus, with regard to Taylor Swift and “Bad Blood,” explained it thusly. She also explained it incorrectly. “That’s supposed to be a good example? And I’m a bad role model because I’m running around with my [breasts] out? I’m not sure how [breasts] are worse than guns.”
Well, according to #FreeTheNipple, breasts are just like guns in that they’re both just tools—but I digress. No, the issue isn’t the line between sex and violence, particularly fantasy violence perpetrated by giant lizards or wrecking balls. If you dig deeper into the issue, it’s the agenda behind how we choose what our kids consume that’s different. Back to Debenham and the real reason he chooses “inappropriate” TV shows.
Oh, Broad City. Abbi and Ilana, two New York women in their twenties, do their fair share of drugs. They get drunk. They have casual sex. They’re not lawyers. All this should be a parent’s nightmare, but to us they’re just about the greatest thing you could be showing to a teenage boy or girl right now. Abbi and Ilana are living their lives the way we’ve all been congratulating and celebrating guys for living their lives on TV for years. They are free to be stupid and make bad decisions and not have harsher judgments placed on them because women are somehow supposed to know better, or because we want to imagine women just don’t do those things. Well, America, they do. And we want our kids to understand that whatever Abbi and Ilana are doing, whether it’s “OK” or not is ultimately Abbi and Ilana’s goddamn business.
Why is that important for his sons?
Helping our kids understand gender issues feels, in 2015, like an emergency. We’re trying to raise two boys in a country and a time where the most dangerous thing seems to be…men. Men kill more people, they commit the most violent crimes, and they certainly rape the most. On a quieter, more insidious front, they control the conversation. They determine who succeeds and who doesn’t. And when they feel like that dominance and control is threatened, they lash out.
Will the Anti-Patriarchy Revolution Be Televised?
Oh, yeah, that’s it. To raise healthy boys, you definitely want to start with the assumption that they’re predisposed towards evil and world domination. Although most of us men are predisposed toward the world domination part, yardwork, football, and frosty cold beers distract us. Daughters should definitely get that message, too, so they grow up leery of every man they meet.
This is where permissiveness in the Cromwell household diverges sharply from permissiveness in the Debenham household. First and foremost, I’m not trying to sexualize my kids. Seriously, people. They have years to grow up. Let them enjoy the innocence of childhood.
Second, while I won’t eschew the topic, I’m not going to sit there and watch raunchy sex scenes with my children, even with they are older. I’d prefer to avoid the gritty details and focus more on the healthy, unitive aspects. Sex is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a big deal. Treating it with all the deference of a handshake is negligent. Part of raising future adults is pointing out that actions have consequences, and one of the potential consequences of wanton sex is unhappiness.
There is one more reason for my parenting style. It’s a little selfish, but in the long run it will benefit the girls. It goes like this.
Whereas “Thor: The Dark World” and “Iron Man 3” aren’t exactly what one would describe as world-class cinema, they do lie on the intersection between what the kids and I can watch together. Sure, I’m much more versed in the “Frozen” soundtrack than I’d like, but too much of that will drive a man mad.
Netflix is a cesspool of insanity that offers the kids crazy enviro-propaganda in which fire-belching blade machines mow down the rainforest, including the animals, because mankind and capitalism are evil. The less said about PBS and its slew of soft whiners, the better. Don’t even get me started on the other television shows for younger viewers.
Classic Mores Wrapped In Explosions and Battles
With movies like “Age of Ultron,” on the other hand, we all get something. Daddy gets the Scarlet Witch and some explosions; the girls get Thor and some explosions. Even though they may only be five and seven, they instinctively realize some things. A character like Thor may not appeal to them in the same way he does to their mother, but he is nonetheless appealing. His violence—cartoonish and not particularly gory—is focused on saving his love, his family, and mankind as a whole. But it’s not just entertainment, it’s also delightfully sexist. I never said I didn’t have an agenda.
Hawkeye has a family in the country that he will go to any lengths to protect. Black Widow grapples with being sterilized. Tony Stark adores Pepper, and Thor gave up the throne for Jane. Do the girls grasp all that? No, they don’t. So my agenda is likely pointless. Still, those are much better examples of normal humanity and normal human relationships than drugged-out promiscuity and regret, even if the latter is shown in hopes that it highlights the downsides. So I’ll take my chances.
Maybe I’m crazy—I did make the girls promise to give me a full Viking funeral with flaming arrows after we watched one of the Thor movies—but I have this idea that I can teach them how to think without inundating them with a steady diet of propaganda masquerading as entertainment. That I can raise them into functioning adults with functioning brains by teaching them, helping them learn how to process information, and letting entertainment serve primarily as entertainment rather than as education. It may not work, but at least I get to enjoy some explosions along the way.