Until three days ago, I almost believed that the only dangerous content that a kid can take from the media is women gyrating half-naked in music videos and other sexually explicit content. Well, horror too although this was not anything more than a concern because I thought that horror will just scare them into switching off the TV, anyway.
But three days ago as I concentrated on my work, my niece who is about 10 years old, was scrolling through the TV channels and on one of the channels, the documentary on the life of Winnie Mandela was showing and they were at that point, at the beginning where Winnie’s mother has just given birth to her and her father is so disappointed that his wife has given birth to yet another girl. For some reason, this held my niece’s attention and being the close buddies that we are, she was not afraid to ask me her question exactly as it formed in her head.
“Aunty, mbona some people prefer to have boys?” she posed, examining my face, perhaps to be sure that her question had not upset. z
My niece had just asked me who is better between a boy and a girl!
Men and women are different but what you become or do not become has nothing to do with your gender. I have watched movies and read stories where a man married a second wife because he wanted a boy. I have also read about women suffrage and women empowerment (liberation struggle) and how women have had to deal with the misguided notion that men were better placed at doing things and how some progress has been done over the years. A lot of progress. I have also read about kingdoms where getting an heir apparent for the throne (normally a male child) is sought with so much desperation but I have also read about Cleopatra VII of Egypt who overturned empires and of Queen Dihya of Berber who lived during the 7th Century Algeria and whose power to tell the future was unrivalled. I, therefore, understand that no matter what stories are concocted about the genders by misguided beliefs, a male child and a female child are both good and if you are a parent, your life will not improve because of the gender of your child. Today, a male teenager is as likely as a female teenager to get into the wrong group and start drinking alcohol instead of studying. Equally, a male child is as likely as a female child to go to school, concentrate on their studies and succeed at whatever path that they decide to put their lives on.
Are you thinking about the family name? And the ancestral land? And that your culture only allows men to inherit land? Culture is evolving and very many dynamics have come into play and a female heir is no longer unheard of. I mean, if Queen Sheba could be named Queen Regnant in ancient Ethiopia to rule over land and people because of her wisdom, how much more today? In the 21st Century?
So I wanted to explain all these things to my niece and make sure that she perfectly understood that has gender has nothing to do with who she becomes in life. But she could not understand the ancient histories at her age. Plus, I have been to the university and met professionals and academics people who logically understand that our lives are written in our choices and how we use our opportunities and not our genders so I understand so many things which I had to break down for my niece to understand. So we sat down and I watched the movie with her and saw how Winnie then grows up to read properly, gain a scholarship and make her father proud. He takes back his words. Then Winnie goes on to be a great woman who until today, continues to divide opinions on Apartheid South Africa. I could see that she was happy and relieved that she was not useless after all. Then we talked about great women that she admires and I also told her about the great women that I admire and I saw realisation dawn on her face – that gender is as random as being born African or White because it is not something we can choose. Fate chooses it for us because of our special destinies on earth.
But this incident made me understand what film classification boards mean when they say that “adult supervision is required” for kids of a certain age watching certain films. And I wondered what conclusions my niece would have drawn if she did not get someone to ask this question and take her through about an hour of analysis where she could ask whatever question that popped into her head.
And that got me thinking about all the disguised dangerous content (if unsupervised) that your young one could be imbibing even if you think the characters are not half-naked or kissing. In my opinion, here are some of the messages that could harm your child if not put into perspective.
- Messages where skin colours are a constant bone of contention with one being pitched above the other.
Skin colour continues to be an emotive subject. Most people who are not content with their skin trace their problems to being younger and always wishing to be the other girl who had the right skin courtesy of the TV content they encountered and hence had more friends and a better social life and regarded as beautiful.
- Movies where certain heights and weights are preferred
Make sure you do not damage your child’s self-esteem as they struggle to be as tall as Barbie. While I doubt there is a parent who happily longs for an obese child and every parent tries to give their child a healthy lifestyle, make sure they understand that the media-created ideal is not the ultimate truth and that people can have varied weights and heights. Make sure they know that your response is not escapist because these kids are brighter than we imagine them to be.
- Movies where country/continent is insulted or looked down upon
While there is nothing wrong with dreaming of moving to the US in search of a more diverse or area specific course, you do not want your child to grow up feeling inadequate because she grew up in Kenya or Africa. Even when themes of calamities come up on BBC Focus on Africa, please make them understand holistically and be able to distinguish stereotypes from facts, common realities in life from isolated incidences and so on.
- Movies that could be sensitive
If your child’s favourite subject is not mathematics and their struggling to study does not help, watching a movie where someone is being humiliated for failing in exams is not something that can immediately shoot their self-esteem by 100%. Make sure they watch the movie to the end where the character succeeds at something else and they understand that the moral of that story was not to humiliate people who fail at their academics.
- Movies where vices are promoted
Sitcoms take number one here. Kids bang doors at their parents and prank them in many devious ways or snap at authorities such as cleaners at their school or gatemen with no serious consequences. Now, you and I understand that these are situation comedies. A kid watching these is getting entertained and influenced.
I think it is also a good idea to run through the themes of these sitcoms and see if it is something your kids could watch. And most importantly, let your opinions about important issues be known to them so that they will not be overwhelmed when they experience situations that can damage their esteem.
Now, parenting does not sound like something that can be done using a remote control, does it?