This week one of my interns was dealing with a small boy with behavior problems at school. Interviews revealed that he hadn’t been sleeping well. He told her he’s been having nightmares.
He’s six years old, and among other things, his parents let him watch “The Living Dead.”
Parents!! We have the ability to recognize that the story we are seeing on television or in movies is make believe. It’s all done with make-up, and no pain is involved. Children, on the other hand, do NOT have this ability. Even if we tell them it’s make believe, they do not have the ability to believe that dead people don’t walk around eating other people. No wonder he couldn’t sleep! Then he couldn’t learn in school, either
In fact, a couple of years ago, I worked with a TEEN who believed that everything he saw on TV was true. He suffered with terrible insomnia! His cognitive ability was lower than most kids his age, but still. I would have thought that he knew better. We can’t assume that our children are processing information in the same way we are.
Generations ago, the phrase, “You are what you eat” became popular. I would like to expand that idea to “You are what you watch, read, and listen to.”
Children absorb so much, and they have little or no filters. Personally, I don’t believe that material about dead people eating people is worthy of anyone’s attention, but at least adults can make their own decisions. Children voice their opinions, but that does not mean that they have the ability to weigh all of the parameters involved in opening up their brains to the presented material.
Parents have the responsibility of making sure children get healthy food, healthy programming, healthy everything as much as possible. I realize that fulfilling that responsibility is more difficult when you’re tired, and when the number of decisions you have to make for your child seems to climb into the hundreds in a single day. That’s one reason I also believe it takes two adults to raise a child. I encourage single parents to partner with each other for parenting support. It’s so tremendously difficult for one adult to take on the task by themselves!
But back to the topic at hand….. Some children can’t even distinguish between real characters and cartoon characters. They don’t believe real people are cartoons. They believe the cartoon characters are real. Their brains have a lot of developing yet to do!
For example, if you have a dog, you may be one of those families that say things like, “He thinks he’s human, just like us.” Dogs often seem to have a “personality,” but they don’t think they are human. They do not have the capability to perceive a living thing at a greater level of development or capacity than themselves. They think you are another dog.
They don’t understand “human.” They understand other animals, but since you are clearly their family, you are just funny-looking dogs.
Children process things through their own level of development as well. Please try to look at what you are letting your children watch on television, in video games, in movies, in books, in the music they listen to, with a critical eye. Is this going to give them nightmares? Is this teaching respect for themselves and others?