A friend of mine has asked me to review Ouran High School Host Club for her to see if it’s something where she should even try to have certain conversations about it with her son. (She reads my columns, guys, so be nice.) Her son is a baby. She and her family share a house with another family whose daughter is about my son’s age and whose son is two years older, and those kids won’t watch it, because they think, to paraphrase The Princess Bride, it’s a kissing show.
My son Simon saw Raging Bull when he was about her son’s age, because I figured he was too young to know what was going on anyway, and he napped through most of it. I could not, note, really be said to be showing him the movie, because I was watching it with a full understanding that he wasn’t paying attention; this was before he really paid attention to much of anything on screens. However, I do claim that his first movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark, because it happened to be playing on TV the day after he was born, and we were bored at the hospital. And even there, his godmother the archaeologist asked if we’d had the conversation with him about how that wasn’t what archaeology really looks like.
Right now, there are things I’ll watch while Simon is in preschool, because his younger sister Irene is still too young to be at all interested. But she’s getting old enough so that she actually pays attention to things; she fusses when I watch certain shows because she’s bored. I may like the visuals of 1920s Australia, but she doesn’t, and she’s too young to be intellectually stimulated by murder mysteries. Most of what I watch is tame enough so that the biggest issue for both of them is boredom, but that isn’t always the case, and where do I decide that she’s old enough to notice and care?
I think the main reason we don’t have this discussion much is that there’s a tacit belief that parents will give up screentime because too much of it has been deemed bad for their kids. So who cares at what age your kid becomes old enough to notice what you’re watching; you’re not watching things in front of your kid anyway, right?
This obviously ignores things like the women I know who’ve survived breastfeeding by using it as time to check their phones. (I was told in the hospital that maintaining eye contact made for better nursing, but who was going to tell my kid that?) It’s a few uninterrupted minutes where your kid isn’t grabbing for whatever you have in your hands; seizing on that to connect with people or even just play a few levels of something mindless is, in my opinion, healthy. Especially in the first few months, anything that lets you be a separate person from your kid for a little while is healthy, because unless you’re actively neglectful, you’re probably not going to get as much of that as you used to.
Beyond that . . . well, I’m on the record as saying that I think how you use screentime is as important as how much of it you use. And today was the first time my kid every played the “you watch as much as I do” card when I told him he watches too much TV. (And I played the “it’s different because I’m a grown-up” card right back, though the real conversation would’ve been much more complicated than that if he’d been interested in a discussion as opposed to another episode of Odd Squad. Which he still didn’t get.) It’s also the day he was told what he has to do in order to be allowed to get his own library card when the school year starts, the day we determined an “away” in his room for his library books.
Library books are easier for now—he wants pictures in his books, and he gets frustrated with too many words and demands to be read to instead of reading. So I can keep him away from swearing and mature themes. Those aren’t in the books he wants to read anyway; even graphic novels don’t much appeal to him, because the writing is usually too small. It’s different with movies and TV, because the method of consuming Odd Squad and the method of consuming Raging Bull is the same. And Ouran High Host Club looks enough like Castle of Cagliostro at a glance for him to watch at least a little. Will he understand mature themes in either? Ought we not show him Lupin III until he’s old enough to have it explained that Lupin’s attitudes toward women are almost universally terrible? Or is he still young enough to just laugh when the funny man falls down? Even then, I’m quite sure he’s only laughing half the time because we do; he’s a sociable kid.
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