Growing up in the age of technology and social media, the generation of kids we’re raising today has the world at its fingertips. Literally. They can pull up almost any location in the world on a computer screen, using Google Earth.
With the flick of a mouse and the return button on a keyboard, our kids can access anything. But is that what we want? Without parental involvement or guidance, finding the answer to what Native Americans used for shelter is as easy as finding out the latest trending YouTube challenge; which may or may not involve self-harm and suicide.
Think I’m overreacting? I’m not. I’ve worked with kids my entire life and have been privy to conversations in my classroom, at lunch tables, and now in my own home over dinner table discussions. I hear the information and misinformation exchanged after a few hours of uninterrupted screen time. Kids can’t always determine fact from fiction, and their hunger for the outrageous keeps them wanting more.
Sure, we had dirty jokes, our dad’s Playboys, and stashes of VCR tapes full of Jason and Freddy. The dance of childhood and tempting NSFW content is as old as time. But the ante has been upped exponentially with the internet, and the seemingly unlimited access some kids have to it.
One thing that hasn’t changed is a parent’s right to gauge what their children are ready for, and limit what they’re not. BOTH are equally important. As a kid, so much of what I learned about puberty, sex, and fear came from books. Even if my parents couldn’t keep up with my voracious appetite for reading, they had some idea of what the pages contained and could at least keep me from reading Pet Cemetery before I hit double digits.
My kid has not had that luxury. The images and content available to his generation are instantaneous and profuse. Over the years his friends have shared their own media or YouTube knowledge with him about violence, sex, or the eerie, child-killing lurker “The Slender Man.”
Here’s the thing, if you think your kid is ready for this content, that’s your choice. Maybe your child is the youngest of five and has seen it all, or their threshold for violence and horror is high. By all means, settle in for a night of Sausage Party, Scarface, and It. Determining your kid’s readiness for adult content is your call. BUT PLEASE, before you send them out the door to school the next day, or to a birthday party filled with peers who aren’t yet ready to hear about murderous clowns or innuendo-laden deli meat, talk to them about the privilege that comes with that knowledge — and the power.
Your right as a parent to decide what digital content your child sees is as important as mine. The problem is that when your kid is privy to content that mine isn’t ready for (and I don’t mean heavy petting or the F-bomb, but terrifying child stalking…and d*ck jokes), the moment they fill my child’s head up with it, your choice overpowers mine. Your choice to open the door to horror, or sex, or violence, or murder is now the only option available. All the families of the kids at the lunch tables, or the backseats of cars, or at the park, have no choice but to open that door too.
And if my child’s lack of exposure to slasher films and sex jokes elicits cries of “You’re raising a snowflake!” and “Good luck in the real world!”, you should know my kid is as mature as they come. He can grocery shop, cook, and calmly call 911. He’s concerned about issues like poverty and homelessness. He saves his allowance to help shelter-animals and has a pen-pal in Haiti. I’m confident my kid is going to make a kick-ass adult. But for now, he’s still a kid. I’m content to let him remain one until he’s worn out childhood like an old pair of shoes, soles unevenly trod down, toes poking through, laces unraveled; until it’s time, the right time for him, to move on to the next size.
Because just like children’s outsides grow at different paces, so do their insides.
You don’t realize it, but the things your kid knows about shapeshifting, bloodthirsty clowns will keep my kid awake at night, and in turn, me; which makes me more than a little bit frustrated and resentful. Because sleep.
As parents, let’s teach our kids that with knowledge comes responsibility. If kids are mature enough to watch Pennywise chase down children, they’re mature enough to know that it’s not lunchtime conversation.
Our kids will all outgrow childhood at their own pace. The door to this time of believing in magical wizards, and feeling safe under covers in rooms filled with music boxes, snow globes, and stuffed animals has been slowly closing from the moment we brought them into the world. Let’s not allow our children to be pushed into adulthood too soon by their unlimited access to information. Let’s let them linger here, in childhood, until they’re ready to walk through the door themselves.
This post originally appeared here.