My 3-year-old sons wear Batman underwear. I was just folding them in silence a few moments ago. I didn’t want to watch TV while I folded the laundry, or listen to music, or the news. I needed to think a bit. As I was folding, I thought about my kids’ goofiness and smiling faces, and how incredibly lucky they are to not have a clue, not even an inkling of a hint, of what happened in Aurora, Colorado today. I can palpably feel the loaded space between what I know and what they don’t know. I feel sadness, and pity, and panic, to think that some day they will also have to know, involuntarily, simply by reading a friend’s social media post, or tuning into the radio, or opening up their web browser, or getting a text from a friend. How can I delay that moment in time as long as humanly possible? How can I help them integrate into today’s media-saturated and technology-driven society armed with the ability to shut it off, and shut it out?
One day, out of the blue, my sons decided that Batman and Spiderman were cool. I have no idea who told them about Batman and Spiderman; maybe some older kids at school. Then on another day, they decided that guns were cool, and added pretend shooting to their play repertoire. Again, I have no idea who introduced them to the concept of guns or shooting. Some say it’s in boys’ DNA, but I am very skeptical of that theory. Next, there were suddenly “good guys” and “bad guys”. Only the bad guys got shot, and only the good guys could shoot them – or was it the other way around? I can’t keep track. It’s nonsensical.
What the hell is happening?
It’s been a personal milestone of mine to be able to take my kids to a movie theater to experience stories on the big screen. We’ve made it to two so far. My kids are 3 and 5 years old. Unfortunately, and fortunately, my kids are not big fans of antagonists. They’re still enjoying their Barney period – and I’m totally ok with that. After reading Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, I became keenly aware of relational aggression in children’s television. Before they are even exposed to physical aggression and violence in the media, kids are surreptitiously introduced to the concept of belittling each other; winning versus losing; comparing; and excluding each other. It’s insidious. At the same time, I embrace the empowerment and the enjoyment that today’s convergence of story and technology can provide. I want them to experience – and learn how to process – movies in the theater, mind-boggling iPad apps, and the omnipotence of a smart phone, to name a few. But I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I think about the tightrope I will have to walk to facilitate their healthy immersion.
Within hours, each news channel had its own name, slogan, and logo for the Aurora shooting incident. I was stopped in my tracks in the waiting room at the car dealership this morning, confoundedly staring at the television screen along with everyone else, utterly disgusted. I thought about my graphic design background, and how much it would suck (and I don’t use that word lightly) to be the designer who was assigned to that project. “Gimme a gory, shocking logo by first thing tomorrow!” “How about using an image of yellow police tape… yeah! And that horror movie font. Perfect!” Everything from the coiffed newscasters to the 24/7 stream of bad news made me nauseous.
So folding my boys’ Batman underwear in silence, knowing they are sleeping soundly in their ignorant bliss, felt comforting. Let’s slow life down for a bit. Stop, think, consider. What small thing can I do today, and each day, to at least try to steer my children away from that horrific intersection where media, gun violence, mental illness, isolation, and spectacle collide?