By Guest Blogger Laura Simon
“Mommy, you be the zombie and I’ll be the zombie killer, OK?” He flashed a toothy grin at me and batted his eyes.
“Son, what do you know about zombies?”
“Um, they’re scary. They’re undead. People are afraid of them.”
“Do you know if they are real or not?”
“Um….no.” He was clearly annoyed with my questions. “But will you play with me? Please, please, please?”
My son is five. We don’t have cable, we watch very little live TV, and tablet time is severely limited. I’ve never let him see a zombie movie or show. My interrogation revealed that he had, in fact, picked up the concept from some friends, likely from daycare. A year ago. It caught his attention, probably because he suspected zombies were scary and gross.
“We don’t believe in zombies, son,” I told him. “There’s nothing fun or lighthearted about them, and I don’t want you to see something that will make you fearful. Once you see an image, you can’t make it go away.”
He wasn’t impressed with my answer, I know, and I suspect some of you would take his side. I get it. Many of my friends love everything zombie: movies, television, books. I’ve tried to understand the appeal of it, but I just can’t. I’m a very sensitive, visual person, and I cannot get those images out of my head once I’ve seen them. They make my heart heavy, and I don’t want my kids – who are sensitive like me – grappling with that in their dreams. As the person who handles night terrors and nightmares, I think I’m entitled to be a little bit selfish in this area.
Even while I was telling my son “no”, I could hear the well-meaning voice of many friends and family through the years. Why are you saying “no” to that? You can’t protect them forever, you know?
Yes, of course I know. Isn’t that what keeps all of us parents up at night? The fact that no matter how hard we try, at some point the darker parts of life on this earth will visit even our children? I know I can’t protect them forever. I taught middle and high school for fourteen years. I worked with underprivileged teens, who faced trauma I can’t image even as an adult. I know what the world looks like for children and teens. I know I can’t protect my children from everything.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. I can’t protect my children from every variable in a car accident, but you can be darn sure I strap them in and check their carseats every single time we leave the garage. I bet you do, too. And I can’t protect them from every ray of sun, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lather them up with sunscreen every chance I get. The fact that I won’t always succeed doesn’t excuse me from trying.
Frankly, I don’t understand why people are so hard on parents who are trying to protect their kids, especially when it comes to choices about media and music. That’s our job as parents. We keep them safe until they can protect themselves, and frankly, I think kids are ready to make their own choices a lot later than we’d like to believe. We shouldn’t have to accept everything our culture throws at our kids while shrugging our shoulders or throwing up our hands. It is OK to say something is not OK.
Of course, what I think is not OK is probably not the same as what you think. And it’s hard not to feel judged when someone else won’t let their kid see, watch, or do the things your child enjoys. Can we all agree to stop taking these things personally? I mean, every kid is different, even within a family. Your kid might totally be able to grasp the zombie concept as fiction, but mine isn’t there yet. He doesn’t really understand what death is…how can he understand un-dead? He still gets freaked out by the scary train scene in The Polar Express.
Before you think I’m one of those people without a TV, please know that I’m not. My kids have watched Star Wars, A Christmas Story, and the source of my own childhood nightmares: ET. They have limited access to tablets. They are friends with people who don’t believe the same things we do. They know words I wish they didn’t. But as I get older, I’ve realized that the people, music, and media I allow into my life have a profound impact on my emotional health. It is my job to help my kids make good decisions until they are old enough to make those decisions by themselves.
A wise, thoughtful parent lets kids learn from their mistakes, demands that they work hard, supports outside authority, and opens their eyes to a world that needs them, while also making sure their eyes and ears are ready for the things they’ll experience. I aim to be that parent, and if that makes me overprotective, so be it. I’m the parent. It’s part of the job.
What about you? How do you determine the media that’s appropriate for your children? How do you handle it when your choice is unpopular with their (and your) peers?