Out the Nursery Window {A Less Digital Life…Day 14}

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It was a sad sight–where there used to be a Barnes & Noble sign, there was now a grotesque orange font with a smiley-faced jack-o-lantern inviting us into the pop-up Halloween City. The sign advertising kids costumes lured us in. We fell for it. Maybe they’d have the Peter Pan costume we’d been looking for all over town. We’re not real keen on skeletons and ghosts, but we do let the kids dress in tasteful costumes and even enjoy an old legend or two.

No luck in that store either, but while our little Tiger Lily checked the infant section for a Tinkerbell costume for baby sister, big brother wandered off. When he came back he seemed out of breath. He covered his mouth and squinted his eyes as if caught in mid-flinch. He gulped back tears and pulled his daddy over to the sight of a life-size plastic baby with jagged teeth, bulging blood-shot eyes and blood streaming down its chest.

We have enough of a problem with grim reapers and ghouls, but this was a whole different level, taking the innocence of a baby and twisting it into a horror…right in a store that sells items for children.

“I can’t get this out of my mind,” he cried over and over again, “Who would buy that?” Thoughts of his sweet baby sister intensified the shock.

My husband scooped him up and hugged him, then scooted the whole crew out of the store. Luckily, Farah didn’t catch sight of anything scary in the process. On the way home, my husband kept shaking his head and saying he wished he could step back an hour and skip the store altogether.

The regret in his voice reminded me of a time recently when I searched YouTube for a demonstration of the “Rockin’ Robin” clapping game that some friends used to do on the playground in elementary school. My kids were looking over my shoulder, eager to learn the motions, a fun way to celebrate the fact that a mother robin had chosen our balcony for her nesting place.

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We found a video of a few teenage friends circling up and turning from side to side, clapping each other’s hands right on beat. And then, as they finished up with a high-five, one of them blurted out a cuss word…a really bad one.

I felt like someone had lit a bag of doggy doo on fire and put it on my porch. I wanted to clean out my children’s ears in hopes that it would wipe the bad word from their minds in the process.

And that was just what they heard and saw with me controlling the search. Imagine what they could come across on their own. Violent movie trailers. Sexually-explicit images. Predators. And as children get older and more independent, their own over-sharing in words or images can be the thing that comes back to haunt them.

I know I can’t keep my children in Neverland forever, but my goal is to help them develop slow and steady like they were meant to, in spite of the media and commerce around them that try to pickpocket their innocence.

Internet safety advocate Donna Rice Hughes shares what normal, healthy development looks like:  “Sexual identity develops gradually through childhood and adolescence. In fact, children generally do not have a natural sexual capacity until between the ages of ten and twelve. As they grow up, children are especially susceptible to influences affecting their development. Information about sex in most homes and schools, comes, presumably, in age-appropriate incremental stages based on what parents, educators, physicians, and social scientists have learned about child development.”

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She goes on to warn against the dangers of kids seeing too much, too soon, which is unfortunately becoming the unhealthy norm in this digital age, “But pornography short-circuits and/or distorts the normal personality development process and supplies misinformation about a child’s sexuality, sense of self, and body that leaves the child confused, changed, and damaged…. Pornography often introduces children prematurely to sexual sensations that they are developmentally unprepared to contend with. This awareness of sexual sensation can be confusing and overstimulating for children.”

A walk through the corridor of a mall or the adult costume aisle at the department store can make you want to put blinders on your child. But consider what scarring images may come across their gaze while doing a Google image search. Blogger Traci Little shared an example of her experience in allowing her daughter to search for images of American Girl dolls. When racy images began to pop up, she exited as fast as she could and made some changes, starting with not allowing her daughter to surf images, and then taking other precautions such as installing a pop-up blocker.

Then there’s the issue of violence and aggression. I’ve seen firsthand how some parents allow their preschoolers to play video games in which the child functions as a dangerous animal, using the controller to help the animal bite the heads off of innocent citizens. Not such a good idea says Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development: “Repeated exposure to even cartoon violence desensitizes children and increases the likelihood that they will behave violently in real life. Parents are surprisingly poorly informed about this, and in our studies we’re working hard to educate them. Parents need to know TV and other media have real and powerful effects on their kids.”

This scares me for us all. Notre Dame Professor of Psychology, Darcia Narvaez, warns about the dangers of unsavory media, “Child and adolescent brains are typically susceptible to addictions as their brains are under development till the middle 20s. Recent brain research is suggesting that any addictive behavior (drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, violence) can harm the final stages of brain development in young adults, leaving them with a less than mature decision making system and diminished empathy for others.”

Less empathy means an impaired ability to truly love another person, the tendency to see others as objects for one’s own pleasure or feel pleasure in watching someone else’s pain, a lowered likelihood of helping another person who is in danger and a higher likelihood of acting out criminal behaviors.

For the sake of future sanity, we have to be thinking of these things even while the children are still in the nursery, taking steps to protect them, keeping them innocent of evil and wise about what is good.

Here’s a little Internet break for you. Right now, before you do anything else online….
For the next five minutes, pray over the children in your care.

 

 

{I’m linking up with Nester for her annual 31 Days blog get together. Don’t want to miss this series? Be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box on the homepage sidebar. Find all posts in the series here.}

One thought on “Out the Nursery Window {A Less Digital Life…Day 14}

  1. I am so SO happy you are doing this series. It’s something I feel passionate about, and love the research and information you’re able to add to it. This post in particular makes me think of when a praise song played on Pandora with the voices of kids and Veggietale characters singing together. My daughter (4 at the time) excitedly asked how the kids got “there”–there being wherever the Veggietales are in order for the kids to sing with them. Pretend and reality are so blurred when they’re young. I try to be cautious with her, and I still find myself surprised at her innocence. Kids understand things so differently than us, and what they hear and see and learn can’t be erased.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to write this series (and beautifully I might add!) and help us think more about this.

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