November 2009


On Quality Parenting and the Parents Television Council

In response to yesterday’s post, I received some criticism from an anonymous commenter:

Don’t trivialize what children do and don’t understand. There are some things that are family friendly and some things that aren’t – plain and simple. If you want people to respect you, you have to be a bit more open minded to their perceptions and why they might feel that way. It doesn’t mean that they’re all out to condemn you.

I whole heartily agree with on key point of this comment: I agree that there are some things that are family friendly and some things that aren’t. This is, to me, a “no duh” statement and I fully open to the fact that different people have different perceptions. Ultimately I think that we can all agree to one basic premise: Children shouldn’t be seeing anything that is overly sexual, overly violent, or overly stupid.

I take that statement and distill it to its basic essence: children shouldn’t be watching television as it’s usually overly sexual, overly violent, and, simultaneously, overly stupid.

Maybe I am a bit too harsh: children should be allowed to watch limited amounts of television.

Not a babysitter.

Not a babysitter.

Too many parents today seem to rely upon the television to act as a baby sitter instead of actively engaging with their children. That said I accept that some television is acceptable—parents need breaks and that television can provide a necessary distraction while the parental units unwind in the afternoon—but it should be limited. For the under 10 set, I’d guess that the maximum amount is probably no more than one hour a day. The rest of the time ought to involve reading or active engagement with toys.

I don’t recall the rules at my house, but I do know I wasn’t allowed to watch television all that often. For most of my youth we had a black and white television that was stored in the basement, so if you wanted to watch TV you had to go down to the playroom and turn it on—we also lacked cable and watched only what was over the air. We finally got a color television in the mid- to late-80s. As I remember it, I had to ask my parents if I could watch specific programs—there wasn’t really channel surfing allowed (and since both the black and white TV of my childhood and the color TV of my teen years lacked remotes, it was a chore to change channels).

Notice that one of the key elements here is that adult units were involved in deciding what I could or could not watch. I watched Star Trek (the original series as well as The Next Generation) with my (much) older brother and sisters; I petitioned to watch that new sitcom on that new television network about the US President; and I remained blissfully ignorant about MTV until I got to college.

Which brings me to why I object to the Parents Television Council and its efforts: they want to decide, for me, an adult, what I can and cannot see. They have decided, somehow, that they are the arbiters of taste and what should be on when. They are “focused on making sure (parents) don’t HAVE to turn off the TV to protect a kid” (Tweet via Dan Isett). In other words, they seem to think that parents are incapable of monitoring what their children watch—that parents are actively disengaged and willfully ignorant of what their children watch—and thus I am punished and that their standards will determine what I can watch, when I can watch it, and its content. (Plus there’s a disturbing assumption that by default the television is turned on!)

Looking specifically at the American Music Awards, the conservative Parents Television Council is upset by Adam Lambert’s “musical” “performance”. It’s not clear to me which aspect the PTC found most offensive: the same sex kiss (Das Isett says it wasn’t the same sex kiss), the simulated oral sex, or the leather and chains.

To be honest, I’ve never watched an AMA show from beginning to end but it’s my distinct impression that music award shows of all types are often hyper-sexualized with men and women performers either singing about sex or performing dance routines that simulate or imply sex of some kind—so there was nothing that hadn’t been seen on television before in Adam Lambert’s performance.

To children these are simply songs and dance routines—the sexual meanings escaping them. When I was in middle school, I didn’t understand what Madonna’s song “Like a Virgin” was about—and I can recall to this day a charades game played during some downtime in class in which this song title was the object of guessing. The person guessing the song title got as far as guessing “No Fuck” based on the charade. (I might note this took place because we finished an in-class assignment early; the teacher did not sanction the game.) It was innocent to me then and I’d hazard a guess that it was innocent to my classmates, albeit it slightly racy.

That said, if you’re the type of parent who thinks that your child should remain ignorant of such things, you shouldn’t try to impose your moral standards on the community-at-large, you should be a responsible parent by monitoring your child’s television viewing and not allowing them to watch music award shows—in other words, your moral standards and beliefs should not interfere with mine.

Meanwhile, I doubt there is any actual harm (other than the consequences of hearing bad music and seeing bad performances) in children watching it—first of all, it helps normalize same-sex relationships and behaviors. Seeing two men kiss shouldn’t ever upset anybody; it’s a natural behavior. Secondly, unless the children are aware from other sources, both the simulated oral sex as well as the leather and chains aspects will come off as being part of a dance routine—perfectly innocent. That said if the children are old enough to understand the sexual aspects of the dance routine, what’s the worst-case scenario? While they might go to bed early and masturbate to the images in their mind, I doubt any of them will go out and seek either real oral sex or head to the neighborhood leather shop to buy some ropes and chains.

An aside: Yes, I don’t think that teen masturbation is a big deal unless they are flushing socks down the toilet (points if you know the reference). Masturbation is far better than any of the alternatives.

That’s not to say that some won’t try to find real oral sex or S&M experiences—but the number that will is incredibly small, and I sincerely doubt that the American Music Awards show is what will have put them over the edge to seek out such pleasures.

(Nor do I believe that we should be criminalizing or prohibiting the under-18 set from exploring their sexuality—I also believe that full sex education should be included in school, especially including how to use condoms and other safe sex activities; probably at the same age I had my first sex education class: fifth grade, 11 or 12 years old. There’s a whole can of worms to be explored there: the US needs to stop punishing underage, consensual sex with required sexual offender registration for life.)

Ultimately the Parents Television Council’s efforts are pointless. Television is fracturing into more and more channels, each with a narrow specific audience, and with time shifting, programs recorded late at night can be watched the next afternoon. In other words, parents need to be individually and actively responsible; parents need to monitor what their children watch and not rely upon a group to externally impose what it thinks are the best “decency” standards.

17 comments to On Quality Parenting and the Parents Television Council

  • I don’t think it matters how much TV kids watch, or what the subject matter may be. Most kids are bright enough to know what they’re watching is not the way things work in real life. I watched a lot of TV as a kid and I don’t remember ever being influenced by what I saw.

  • disenchanted

    I am in total agreement with you, TQE. Parents should be the ones to decide what their kids watch, or don’t watch. It’s just lazy to think that the government should do it for you. And what ever happened with going outside to play (oh wait, someone might kidnap you)? Or reading a book? Or playing with dolls, trucks, Legos — anything that makes a kid be creative or imaginative? I don’t think I ever watched that much TV as a kid because we were always playing softball or at cheerleading or doing homework or reading a book. But then, I probably had an odd childhood — my grandparents never let me watch anything aside from Donny and Marie, Hee Haw, or Saturday morning cartoons and I lived with them until I was ten. Instead, I was told to read a book, write a story, draw …

  • When you made the sock reference, for some odd reason I felt a sudden urge to go find a banana. Odd…

    OK, seriously now… Growing up I probably watched more television than yourself as I was a child of a single parent. However, my grandparents lived next door, and often my days were filled with chores and homework after school. I remember my first “computer” was some sort of gadget from Radio Shack I had to wire myself and figure out how to run. It was a simple peg/circuit board, but it opened my creative mind and curiosity for how electronics function.

    I also had to go outside and play, and I had about 100 acres I could run around on to get fresh air and exercise.

    As a mid-teen, I was allowed to watch pretty much anything I wanted, so long as I was in bed by 10:00 on school nights, and that was extended to later when I came of dating age. Of course, I remember the TV was tuned to the news most evenings, when the news in the US actually reported on things other than the latest Britney Spears “kitty” sighting.

    I can already see the dangers to society of what is coming from the Nintendo generation that grew up with helicopter parents. They expect everything for nothing, and the government to provide everything for them, while at the same time decrying government interference.

    I get sad when I think about it. 🙁

  • G

    As a parent, I disagree with what you are saying. I am not asking the gov’t to control my children’s viewing. Clearly, I am asking for truth in advertising. If the AMA is family friendly, I don’t want overt sex or simulated sexual acts. That is the problem here, isn’t it, as it was with Jackson and the bare breast during the Superbowl.
    I don’t actually have bare breast problems- I’m fine with nudity- but people do and they have the right not to be forced to have their children see it when watching football. Unless there is a warning stating that this football game will have simulated sexual acts attached (and I think her shirt being ripped down was indeed a sexual simulation meant to titillate). I also don’t have oral sex issues, but I don’t want my kids seeing sex or simulated sex at their age. So label the show PG-13 or R. But they won’t, because it was supposed to be family friendly, and Lambert breached the concept. Or the show did. But someone violated it.
    It’s a different world out there than it was when I was watching Bewitched and the objectionable behaviour I saw modeled was simply patriarchal and misogynistic. I don’t have a problem with help in protecting my children through warning labels- why do you?

    • Dear G:

      As a member of society, I disagree with what you’re saying. You seem like one of these people who think the purpose of government is to stay out of *your* life, but to place themselves into the lives of everyone else because you have decided to abdicate your parental authority. Take responsibility for yourself and your family and leave the rest of us alone.

      It is up to you to educate your children about sex. It is not the responsibility of the television networks, other media, the government, or the rest of us. Society at large should not be shielded from such things because you’re not comfortable talking with your kids about sex. So quit your whining and do your job. Take these types of things on TV as an opportunity to have those frank and difficult discussions with your children about sex. If they ask you a question, answer it honestly.

      Your little snowflakes are not going to be young forever, and you need to be having these conversations with them. The sooner, the better. You can either choose to do it yourself, of you can let them learn about it on the streets.

      One thing is certain, they *will* learn about it one way or the other.

  • G

    Dear Cynical Queer: I don’t abdicate my responsibilities and my children aren’t watching TV. But you don’t have the right to require me to not have labels or descriptions on the things that I buy or watch. I have the right to know what I will buy or be seeing. Why would you be against more disclosure? Is it because you think that I should be forced to see what you want to see by accident?

    Do you think that labels on video games are unreasonable? Do you think that ratings on movies are? Do you not read the info on the inside or back cover of books before you buy them? In just such a way, if I were watching a “family friendly” venue, I would be unhappy to see acts of simulated sex.

    I didn’t see this show, I don’t know who Adam Lambert is, none of the specific acts matter to me. What matters is my right to not watch what I don’t want to and specifically to not have my children watching things I don’t wish them to. When they leave the house they will have judgement, at this stage I am shaping that judgement.

    Your tone is pretty strong and I think you are completely wrong and I don’t appreciate your ad hominem attack.

    Your rights stop when you force me into voluntary acts I don’t want.

    • @ G: How much disclosure does society need? We are presently getting disclosed to, labeled, cautioned, and litigated to death.

      Guess what? Coffee is hot, knives are sharp, electricity can hurt you, and sometimes you’re going to see something on TV you might not like.

      What ever happened to common sense?

      Just as you wish not to see this stuff, most of the rest of us do not wish the government to tell us what we can and cannot see on television because someone might have their fragile ego bruised.

      Don’t like what is being offered on television? Turn it off. Better yet, why not get rid of your TV entirely?

      The rest of humanity will thank you.

  • Frank

    Let me please throw my liberal-socialist-european-wacky point of view in the ring(At least Ann Coulter would name me that). Here in Germany you can see sex everywhere (to much for me sometimes) and nobody cares anymore. My gf is American and I really love the US for its people and their friendly behaviour. The grandpa of a friend of my gf took me on a day trip when we visited him in Nebraska. It was a wonderful guy and I enjoyed the day. But he took me to a weapon store and wanted me to hold a big gun. He told me he would buy a gun for his 11-year old grandson. So weapons are ok but god forbid, no bosoms for the kids!!!!!!! I would rather expose my kid to nudity than to weapons. Sex is the reason why we are on this planet and you should learn to have a normal relationship with it. Of course, there is a limit what children should see on TV, but as far as I know this scene with Adam Lambert was on TV at night. Hello people who are outraged, what are your little kids doing up so late? As a little kid I had to be in bed at 9 pm the latest and I was allowed to watch the children stuff which was on for an hour every day arround 4 pm. I was never allowed to watch the evening program. The people don’t feel responsible for their children anymore. They have to protect the children and no legal institution. (Is it really true, that a German campaigns for the more individualistic way?, Huh….
    For the adults there is an easy way if they watch something they don’t like, – click- (that was the remote to switch to another program!!!!!)
    PS: Could any of you wonderful Americans explain it to me, why weapons are ok, but sex ist bad, bad, very bad!!!!!!????? Really, I love the US very much but for me that is not to understand.

  • G

    Gee, @Cynical Queer, I do turn my TV off. I still have the ability to weigh in on what are, for me, hypothetical questions.

    You are defending lack of disclosure by pretending that there is disclosure. Using a strident tone doesn’t make lies true. Feel free to follow this up with e-mail, because I think my pointing out the falsehoods in your statements is really a circular discussion, where you yell at me that disclosure is not necessary because other things have what you consider unnecessary disclosure and TQE’s blog is not the place where I want to discuss your lack of intellectual rigor. Nor do I appreciate your inability to refrain from ad hominem attacks.
    @Frank, I have no idea when this show was. Never saw it, don’t care. I had thought we were discussing why individuals had become upset and were looking at the concept of family friendly versus not. Indeed, if this was an adult oriented show, then we could discuss why simulated oral sex between strangers should be adult oriented and at what point it requires a warning label and at what point it should be an acceptable part of a variety show.
    Germany has an awful lot of sex in its ordinary programming (the first time I saw the ad for a hardware store that used bondage and nipple clamps, I was a bit shocked. But amused, in an observation of vaguely misogynistic heteronormative advertisement. ) That’s why Kika is the only channel in use when my kids are in the house. A-ok with me. In the US, the problem appears to be that this program was marketed as family friendly. If it wasn’t, why are we talking about it- the answer is that this was an adult program. If it was, the question is why adult content should be hidden from the viewer instead of having the program labelled that way. I assure you, I never fear that when we are watching a movie or music video on KIKA, that a character will start simulating sex, oral or penetrative.

    • I simply refuse to engage any further in this conversation. Clearly we’re on opposite sides of the issue. I believe in common sense prevailing over endless warnings, labels, and other insanity. You’d like to go around the world putting labels on everything to warn of the “hidden dangers” of roaming planet Earth.

      Continuing this conversation would be similar to talking to a dining room table; it’s a waste of time and I have better things to do.

  • Starman1695: Kids are easily influenced—say like wanting to go to McDonalds after seeing advertising for it; of course if its above their heads they won’t understand it, and with respect to the AMA awards show, kids will think its dancing, completely missing the sexual aspects.

    Disenchanted: I find it strange that conservatives, who seem to want smaller governments and limited government interference in business, seem all in favor of having government regulation of speech on television and government regulation of women’s bodies. And again, one of the things that amazes me about the Parents Television Council is that they assume that the television is always on and that parents are not actively parenting.

    Cynical Queer: Don’t leave the banana skin in the microwave for too long, or Yoooowzzzaaa!

    G: I don’t think that the AMA was advertised as “family friendly,” it was given a TV-14 L rating. I don’t know what that means, but probably the language in it was inappropriate for kids under 14. The problem is, of course, the definition of “family friendly”—your definition and mine obviously do not coincide—I suspect they’re miles apart. That said, I do not want any government or any organization defining the phrase, instead I want the individual parents to be responsible—and parents who look at the listing for the American Music Awards and think that there won’t be sexual innuendo in the lyrics of the songs or in the dance performances is hopelessly naïve and probably shouldn’t be a parent.

    By the way, I agree that the descriptions of the programs in the listings should indicate what elements are expected—sex, violence, strong language. I just don’t want the government editing the programs to meet somebody else’s morality standards because by my standards, nothing Adam Lambert’s performance involved was indecent: same sex kissing, simulated oral sex, or leather and chains; for me it was innuendo and part of a dance routine, and nothing that should offend anybody.

    Frank: Thank you for your comment. I’m at a loss to explain why guns are ok in America, but sex is not. That said there are perfectly legitimate places and times for guns in American culture, say hunting in Wyoming; I think its safe to say that people in New York City will never understand hunting—and I don’t fully understand it either, but with my Wyoming experiences I understand that it is a valid part of the experiences there. As for why bosoms are bad—that’s something I agree with, but then again, I’m queer 😉 I really do not understand it though, truthfully. I’ve see sex toys for sale in The Netherlands, advertised in store windows, and little kids walking past, and I dare say the Dutch are just as advanced as the US, maybe more so.

  • Frank

    Dear Adam,

    Thank you for your respond. When I wrote about the bosoms it was just a word for nudity in general, no offense. I learned it on a TV show and to get it into my vocabulary i use it a lot. My gf is already annoyed;-). Maybe i just don’t have the gen to understand the weapon situation in the US. But that is ok for me and I know that it is not just me. My gf’s family is for a strict gun controll, against death penalty, pro choice, pro public option, pro same sex marriage etc. and they are Americans. I think I am loosing it this is not the theme of your post, sorry. It is just that I really love the US and I love to get involved in politics, discussions, etc. there. It is so much less boring than German politics.
    I don’t know what to say about this nudity discussion anymore. I can just hope that G will never go to the beach in the former DDR where all the retired nudist are giving a drastic example of the gravitation. She would get the shock of her life (Everyone who belives in the aesthetics of the human body should avoid to go there. Fox News should make a report about it like: The real visage of socialism;-)

    • Hi Frank–I’m glad you’re joining in. I got that bosoms was code for nudity, but I couldn’t resist making fun of myself and the fact that bosoms are something I’m not interested in. I make the same joke with cats–I adore playing with cats and petting them–but since cats are often, at least in America, called pussies (or, singularly, a pussy), I will say that I am playing with a pussy–another code, as you probably already know, for a woman’s vagina…

      As for weapons–there’s a huge divide in America: people and politicians from New York City have very different opinions about guns because there guns kill people; in Wyoming they are used for hunting. That said, gun-rights people go over the edge because no true hunter would use an AK-47 for hunting — they want the carcass, hopefully for eating (I’m absolutely against trophy hunting; hunting for food is fine with me).

      Meanwhile, I will be heading for a nude beach sometime–just not this month in Germany. It’s too cold!

      As a somewhat related aside, have you seen these two YouTube videos (about Fox News and Bill O’Reilly)?

      1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTPsFIsxM3w

      2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpU0NxPhA78

  • Frank

    Hello Adam,

    thank you for the links. I really enyoied the FOX News and Bill O’ Reilly bashing a lot. I was very busy the last days so that is why i respond so late. Have a great christmas time.
    Best Regards,

  • Anon

    Why the personal insults lobbed at G?

  • Frank

    Hello Adam,

    i just wanted to let you know, that I started my own blog. As an expat living in Germany you might be interested in it. If not just get rid of my post. I don’t know at all how you show other bloggers that you are here also. I just don’t want to bother anyone.
    Has nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to reply again.

    • Hi Frank,

      Good luck with your blog. I’ve added you to my reader so that I’ll see what you say as it’s posted.

      It looks good so far.