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November 27, 2010, Saturday

Smacking down exposure to violence

Yet again, according to my son, I am too tough of a mother. This latest accusation comes after he learned from friends at school that just before the Kurban Bayramı Turkey hosted its first World Wrestling Entertainment Smackdown.

I have to admit that I have not actually watched the show on television or over the Internet, so my opposition to my son’s pleas to attend the show were based on my own gut reaction and instincts as the parent of a young child.

Even though I do not allow my son to watch the show at our home, I know that he has spent numerous hours sitting in front of the television watching it at the homes of his friends. He has come back to our house and excitedly recounted to me the dramatic moves of the professional wrestlers that his friends admire and who they follow on the shows. Some of his friends even have costumes and masks similar to those that their favorite wrestlers don while performing the ring.

Shows that encourage our children to explore fantasy worlds or create characters can help ignite curiosity and imagination. However, as a parent, I try to know what my son is watching on television or on the Internet as well as what types of games he plays with his friends. Since he is at an age where most children are striving to fit in at school and on the playgrounds, I have noticed that his interests change often as he follows the trends popular with other boys his age at his school.

When he has friends over to our house to play, they often try to emulate the professional wrestlers they have seen, not really understanding that what they watch on television is usually only an act. This exposure to violence at an early age is worrisome to me at times. When I was growing up, our choice of television shows was much more limited. The main action heroes that I remember watching were the Lone Ranger, Sky King and Batman. While these shows had fistfights and limited violence, looking back and comparing it to today’s television fare, what little violence there was I remember as being very benign. In addition to the action shows, there was also a wide variety of cartoons like the Roadrunner who every week was dodging falling anvils and sidestepping boulders pushed by his nemesis, the coyote. As with most cartoons, we understood while watching it that this was all fantasy and that even though a character in a cartoon might have an anvil dropped on his head, this was not something we were inclined to test out ourselves.

From reports that I heard and read about “Smackdown,” there were warnings directed to the children in attendance, telling them that they should not attempt the wrestling moves themselves. After seeing my son and his friends making up their own versions of “Smackdown,” and before I intervened and called for a change of their plans, I wondered how many of the children who attended the show heeded these warnings and how many parents took the warnings to heart. I have often seen children at the local parks playing their own versions of “Smackdown,” trying to copy the acrobatic moves, leaps and kicks that they have seen their “Smackdown” heroes perform while they parents, if they are with them, sit and watch from the sidelines.

Some of the parents of my son’s classmates, who regularly watch shows featuring fighting, have told me that while they do not like the fact that their children watch shows that glorify violence, they feel as if they have no choice in the matter. They complain that they feel there is nothing they can do about the situation because if they try to change the channel or tell their children to turn off the television, they find themselves met with opposition and howls of protest from the youngsters. When we’ve talked amongst ourselves about our concerns in what our children watch, a few of the parents have been surprised to discover that I have completely banned such shows in our house -- both on television and through the Internet. While the result is that I do hear protests from my son about the unfairness of my rule, as long as I stand firm and stay consistent in my decisions, he knows that no matter how much whining he tries, there will be no exception to the rule for such shows.

I would much rather my son find ways to play or entertain himself with toys or games that will challenge him mentally or physically. Personally, I feel that parents should, and must, have a say in what their children see. I know that for me, juggling home and work, it is often hard, but I think the payoff will be worth it in the long run.

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