2010-04-09 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Family Vs. Family Guy
Commentary By Mary Keim

MaryAnn Keim , is President of I’m All Girl (and Boys, Too) Inc., IAGB2 offers workshops for parents and for parents/guardian and their children. To learn more, visit her website at www.imallgirl.com or www.iagb2- info.com or on Facebook.

You may be like me, not a big fan of “Family Guy” (I personally don’t get the joke) or you may be like my husband (or the rest of my family for that matter) who thinks the show is hysterical. But one thing is for sure: Everybody is watching it, including children.

Unfortunately that’s not the only adult-content show they are watching. When 7th and 8th graders were recently asked what their favorite show was, “Family Guy” was number one followed closely by “The Jersey Shore,” another hallmark of television.

Now unless you throw out all your electronics and ban television completely (I say completely because “Family Guy” is on constantly throughout the day), there really isn’t an effective way to shield your children from these types of shows. Living in a bubble is only practical until your children go to school. I don’t allow my 13 year old to watch Jersey Shore, but pretty much everyone else her age does and that’s all they talk about. Besides, the knuckleheads are all over the media.

She does, however, watch “Family Guy” which, like the rest of the kids her age, she loves. I know she doesn’t get most of the innuendo, but I cringe to think what her generation is going to be like when they become adults being raised on this show.

So what can a parent do? First, talk, talk, talk, to your children. My 16 year old watches “The Jersey Shore.” She is a sophomore in high school and unfortunately this show is all the rage. I watch it with her and talk to her about different aspects of the show. At least this way she is getting a more rational view. Experts say watching shows with questionable content with your children and discussing it makes a great opportunity to diffuse some of the glamour of what they are seeing and make it a teachable moment. It also enables the children to hear an adult’s opinion. These shows and others like it are engaged in a subtle indoctrination of value and behaviors which are not conducive to the reliable, responsible and respectful young adults we hope our children become. So we must do all we can to combat the messages these shows are sending our children by watching it with them and making it a teachable moment every chance we get. I recently caught the end of one episode of “Family Guy” and the creator (ironically) had one character make a point to the audience (parents) to stop blaming the show their kids watch for their bad behavior. I quote” Be a parent! Don’t let your child watch the show”. Easy for him to say! The show is all over the media, and no, Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) we can’t blame you or television for our child’s behavior but you sure aren’t making our jobs any easier, thank you.

Another way to combat the media and help our children deal with today’s overly sexual (and sarcastic) society is to speak to your children about the changes going on in their lives. Middle school children (ages 11 - 16) are experiencing puberty. Puberty is a life course transition - a physical change that also redefines social roles and brings about new expectations and obligations. (Cavanagh, 2007). In a way, adolescents have one foot out the door of childhood and the other in the door of adulthood. This period in a child’s life is rife with conflicts and confusion. Their friends become more relevant that their parents in their increasing search for independence. Peer pressure related to how to dress and act, what friends have to say, what music to listen to and what movies to watch is more pronounced at this age. How often do we hear “But everyone is doing it, wearing it, etc.” These battles aren’t new. I remember the fights at my house when I was a teenager over the length of my brother’s hair and the Beatles (my mother swore they were the ruination of my generation). The difference is that today’s adolescents are exposed to more sexual content then we ever were. Please don’t assume that today’s teens are more knowledgeable about sexuality and reproduction because of the ubiquity of sexual activity on television, in the movies and in song lyrics. Data does not support this conclusion. Whatever media exposure may be present it is not leading to a well-informed teen population (Caerrera, 2000).

I realize it is a sensitive subject and I know many of you feel unprepared to speak to your children about sex or puberty. A recent poll showed that 80% of mothers felt only “somewhat prepared” or “not prepared at all” to talk to their daughters about puberty. As a friend recently said to me “I’m afraid I won’t say it right”. Remember in today’s world information is a click away and there are really good websites out there that can refresh your memories.

For the past four years I’m All Girl and Boys, Too have been busy helping schools and parents provide adolescents with appropriate information about puberty. Fortunately more and more schools, such as P.S. 146, P.S. 114, and Scholars’ Academy, are using our Changing & Growing program. This program, developed in conjunction with Arlyn Kelly and Angela Welsh, covers all the emotion and physical aspects of puberty in a unique and engaging format. When parents get the notice home that their children will be attending the seminar, it provides the perfect opportunity for that very important conversation. According to Lynda Madaras, author of What’s Happening to My Body books for girls and boys: “Parents need to realize what a powerful bond they can forge with their children if they will ‘be there’ for them during puberty - not to mention how well the ensuring trust and respect will serve all concerned in later years when they are faced with making decisions about sex.” Remember: If you are there for your kid when they are wondering, they will more likely turn to you for advice when they are deciding.

We also have workshops for parents and their children. Recently Rachel Colleran has joined us and she brings with her many years of experience teaching children and parents about puberty. Together we have created our “Mother and Daughter Workshop.” Emphasis is placed on supporting parents and children in opening the lines of communication.

We will be holding a Mother and Daughter Workshop on April 22 at the Activity Center in Breezy Point. We are also very proud to be asked to be part of the Women’s Empowerment Conference at The City College of New York on April 10. You could visit us on Facebook to see other dates for seminars and workshops.

We are all so busy trying to be the best parents and to provide every opportunity for our children. We forget that sometimes the best thing we could give our children is time and attention. Our kids have so much coming at them at once in today’s multimedia world. Now more than ever we need to give them that extra attention to make sure our voice is the one they hear when they are making important decisions.

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