Last night, my son wanted to watch a YouTube channel where someone played Grand Theft Auto V. When I hesitated, he misinterpreted me and informed me that the person who made the videos didn’t swear much. Now, my son is nine and wants to be a gamer when he grows up. However, we don’t actually own a gaming console more modern than the Wii his aunt passed on to us because she didn’t need it anymore. He’s out of touch with a lot of games and didn’t really know the GTA games outside the videos of people playing that he’d watched. So he didn’t know why I was hesitant.
As it happens, the video he wanted to watch was someone playing “boards,” which are just challenges of some sort involving the driving mechanics of the game. At least that’s what I think was happening; our lack of consoles may indicate to you that his father and I aren’t exactly hardcore gamers ourselves. That’s fine; we don’t have to be. But I did know I didn’t want Zane watching regular gameplay, because I’ve watched people playing the actual game—in person, in various situations—and don’t think he’s old enough yet. So we sat down and watched it together, and I gave him permission to watch the channel. Just not with me anymore, because I don’t care.
Zane and his five-year-old sister, Sandy, are not constantly supervised when they watch things. As we’ve established over the course of this column, I often can’t stand what they’re watching. In fact, that’s one of the reasons this is the one column that I’ll just occasionally skip; I don’t always have feelings about the new thing they’re watching if it’s something that I don’t have a problem with. If it’s a Disney+ or Netflix show aimed at children, I generally trust that it’s something they’ll be safe watching. Their dad watches Owl House and The Dragon Prince with them, and he doesn’t always worry about my interest in the show, so I’ve only seen a few episodes here and there.
But we as parents do have an obligation to keep an eye on their viewing at least roughly. It’s harder for us than it was for my mom, too, and not just because we had one TV that my mother controlled much of my childhood. We have two TVs in the house. Sandy has a tablet. Zane did, before it broke. There are three computers. My tablet, too, not that I let them watch things on my tablet. At some point, I want to buy a third TV for our living room (you can help with that by contributing to my Patreon or Ko-fi!), so I can play things while sewing. (The other two are in our bedrooms; with their dad on graveyard, he’s moved into his workshop.) With their dad’s schedule what it is, there’s almost always a parent awake, but not necessarily home and in the room with them as they watch something.
I don’t worry much about swearing—if a video is nothing but f-bombs and so forth, I don’t want Sandy watching it, because she tends to pick up on that, but a few “damns” never hurt them. For violence, it depends on the kind and severity of violence. It’s not the “never show blood” concern of my youth, but I don’t want them seeing sexual violence, and one action scene is fine but body horror is not. Nudity is context-dependent, too. We don’t care if they see naked bodies, particularly, but if people start doing things with their naked bodies together, the kids aren’t mature enough to watch that.
The place I’m not sure the kids get but that is extremely important to me is how people are treated. I’ve been watching a lot of anti-creationism videos, and a conversation in one of the videos we watched last night was that it wasn’t okay to insult someone dyslexic for their writing ability. Now, in this case, it kind of was, because this was supposedly his PhD thesis, and dyslexics can use proofreaders, too. But it wasn’t “ha ha dyslexic person stupid.” If I knew they were watching something more along those lines, that, I’d forbid. Similar treatment of women, disabled people, ethnic or sexual minorities, and so forth would get the same response. Sandy’s too young to understand “punching down,” but she’s old enough to understand “don’t be mean.” I’m just not sure she gets “your show promotes being mean.”
A place I’m currently having a hard time is with waste. There’s a channel Sandy watches that I’m verging on forbidding on the “don’t be mean” principle—they did a video where they went around deliberately violating rules as a “prank,” including rules that protect other people—that also bugs me because these young men, who have probably been made very wealthy by YouTube, do things like fill their mansion with packing peanuts. Even if they’re using the cornstarch ones, that’s a lot of packing peanuts. Similarly, they waste food, and all things considered, I have a real problem with that.
In the end, I’m the mom. All this is my job. As someone more media savvy than their dad, it’s more my job than his. Honestly, he mostly does what my mom did—yesterday, he and the kids were watching Leverage, because that’s what he wanted to watch, and they were more interested in that than Dapper Dinosaur. Which is fine, I suppose. They’re allowed. But that’s the point; we knew what they were watching, and they were allowed.