Newtown and the TV Shows Parents Let Their Kids Watch

A couple of weeks ago in her pre-K class, my daughter Sasha created a book called "All About Me." Illustrated by Sasha, it featured captions, transcribed by her teacher, such as "I want to be a princess when I grow up" and "My favorite animal is a giraffe." One particular page caught my eye, however. "My wish," began the lines, below her drawing of what I assume is our family, "is for Jewish people to eat turkey so they can grow up big."

Since then, not a day has passed without my wondering giddily at what was going through her mind. Some kind of conflation of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving? But those were well over a month ago. In fact, it's a kind of confounding bit of prose—there is no way to try to understand it, and all I can really do is marvel at the impenetrable genius of her thinking. Sasha dictated those words to her teacher because she lives in her own world, paying attention only to the things she chooses to, and letting her imagination run wild. That is Sasha.

And that is why, in aftermath of the Newtown shootings, I felt perfectly comfortable leaving the radio on all the time, tuned to the unsettling NPR reports of precisely what had happened in Connecticut. Occasionally, Sasha would overhear a word she knew and liked and bring my attention to it—"They said New York City!" she'd call out—but as far as I could tell, she wasn't picking up the import of the broadcasts. Even though, on the day of the shooting, her class had practiced hiding, it didn't mean anything to her. It was a fun game, and nothing more.

I, too, was a lot like this as a kid (okay, as an adult, too). The world existed only when I chose to consciously observe it, and when I didn't I retreated into my imagination, concocting stories and characters and ideas that bore little relation to the reality that surrounded me. I saw plenty of violent cartoons—I particularly remember watching Robotech and realizing that it was the first animated show I'd seen where people actually died—and yet retained my innocence. As a geeky teenager, I watched A Clockwork Orange and Reservoir Dogs and played the first generation of first-person shooters, and yet did not become a mass murderer.

And so Sasha, too, has a great deal of freedom in what she watches and how she plays. If she and her friends want to pretend to kill each other, then someone's going to end up pretend-dead. If she wants to watch Star Wars, I'll happily arrange a screening. I'm not worried. At some point years from now, the reality of death will dawn upon her, and the consequences of violence may shock her for the first time in her life, but until then, I'm willing to let her be a child, ecstatic in her own ignorance.

Of course, there's a flipside to this as well: other kids. I don't know what makes some kids into bullies, or killers, or just run-of-the-mill unthinking jerks, although I highly doubt it's any of the media-Hollywood scapegoats. But I do know they exist, and I'm far more concerned about protecting my daughter, and her bubble of pure fantasy, from them—from their taunts, their fists, and their guns.

–Matt

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Presented by

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, & Nathan Thornburgh

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, and Nathan Thornburgh write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a Jew?

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