the door of Troy’s Children’s Museum of Science and Technology—an
institution of which I am very fond and of which my family
is a member—there is a bank of several television screens
up on the wall. In my experience, these screens are always
on, hovering over the area where the children hang up their
coats and wait on line to pay and play in the dugout canoe
next to the model of Lake Tear of the Clouds on Mount Marcy.
The screens have signs on them instructing that they are to
be left on.
Now, I’m not a fan of kids interrupting their museum time
to become entranced with TV as a general rule. But worse,
in the times that I have been there, I’ve seen those screens
playing at various times prison dramas and explicit post-
earthquake scenes from Haiti.
This is an institution that is so focused on children adults
can’t even enter without an accompanying child. (My parents
were kept waiting outside once when they were trying to meet
up with us.)
I have complained to the staff about the TVs and their content
and gotten no response.
I can’t imagine why. If I’m to be totally honest, if I ran
into another parent who was holding forth about things they
hadn’t wanted their child to be exposed to in a public place
odds are fairly high that my response would be to make fun
of them, possibly in print, for being so uptight and expecting
the world to conform to their idea of appropriateness.
This is, of course, because the people who tend to make the
loudest and shrillest fusses about this tend to be worried
about their kids seeing body parts, hearing about different
family structures, or hearing passing expletives. Having become
a parent, these things still don’t bother me. I either find
them easy to explain, or, more importantly, they don’t bother
my kid, and I know if I don’t make a kerfuffle about it they
mostly won’t register.
So I can make an argument that there is sort of a difference.
I can argue that there is more of a developmental issue with
the things that I resent being blindsided by—violence, dead/missing
parents (why oh why are so many children’s stories and movies
centered around dead parents?), things that force the issue
of why people do bad things. I think this is true. People
who study child development and write about talking to kids
in the aftermath of events like 9/11 say that under six they
really take everything personally, and have a hard time with
the idea that something bad happened but it’s not likely to
turn around and happen to them.
Even just explaining why we lock up our bikes has set my daughter
on a streak of being paranoid that someone is going to steal
any random thing she sets down for a second outside.
But even given all that, I’m forced to acknowledge that there’s
not that much difference between my reaction to those CMOST
TV screens and the nervous Christian Super Bowl watchers’
reaction to Janet Jackson’s nipple: I dislike being forced
to have a conversation with my kid I wasn’t prepared for,
about subjects she and I are uncomfortable about, without
getting to check in with her other parents about how detailed
we want to get at the moment about the depth of evil in the
world. Dramatic though it may be, I feel blindsided, like
my parental judgment has been superseded in a place I thought
was “safe” and my guard was down.
I have come to realize that my initial solutions for those
I have had little sympathy for—preview what your kids watch/read,
enact your own controls (as opposed to calling for censorship),
be prepared for difficult conversations—is great, but impractical
writ large. I wouldn’t have been allowed in CMOST without
my kid, and once there, I’m not going to make her leave just
because there are TVs there. If I want to be able to preview
everything she watches/reads we can’t bring her to the library
at all. But that would clearly be a greater loss than ending
up with some stinkers, some stories that leave her in tears,
and some awkward conversations.
Where I depart from the right-leaning “family friendly” folks
that I now have more sympathy for, is that I don’t put alleviating
my discomfort and grasping for total control above all other
values, especially the freedom to move about the world and
interact with various people in various contexts, and, you
know, the First Amendment. (I’m still not sure that pacifying
a funder who wanted to buy TV screens with their name on them
constitutes such a value, but perhaps I’m missing something.)
Meanwhile, we’ll be heading out into a world that contains
all sorts of unpleasant things, and do our best to be on our