To civilize a child, try parenting them

Posted: Monday, August 21, 2000

"Why can't all of us including the media give parents more control over what their children see on TV, in the movies, on the Internet, and videogames?"

So lamented first lady/New York senatorial candidate Hillary Clinton in her Monday night speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Pardon me for disagreeing with the smartest woman in America, but the only parents who don't have control over what their children see are the ones who choose not to exercise it.

Here are a couple of suggestions for Hil to take on the campaign trail suggestions that might appeal more to some of those undecided voters in Scarsdale and White Plains than turning to government for all the answers.

It's called the "off" button.

It's called don't let your children have TVs hooked up to VCRs and DVD players in their bedrooms.

It's called monitoring your child's access to the family's Internet connection.

It's called screening the videos and CDs that your children buy or borrow.

It's called knowing who your children's friends are and who their friends' parents are so you can be confident that when little Jennifer and Joey are next door or down the street, they aren't watching or listening to anything you disapprove of.

It's called being parents who are engaged and involved in their children's lives. It's called being the adult in the relationship, the grown-up who firmly but lovingly uses one very simple word: "no."

What a concept.

It's apparently a concept too hard for many people to grasp, including some people running for elected office. Therefore, government must step in as that oft-cited village to help raise the children.

So we get V-chips that are supposed to keep the little ones from accessing programs that we don't approve of, and a TV ratings system so convoluted that no one understands the warning chyrons that appear in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Parenting tools, they're called.

Not all diehard Democrats buy these high-tech substitutes for parents.

James A. Fox, an expert on violence and crime trends, has been an adviser to the Clinton White House on a number of occasions. In Fort Worth last week to address the Crime Prevention Resource Center about juvenile crime, Fox said that this country is moving in the wrong direction by trying to handle the problem of violence and sexual content in the media by enabling adults to parent by long-distance via remote control.

"The fundamental issue is not what the kids are watching, but who's watching the kids," Fox said. "Too many children are undersocialized and undersupervised."

Fox said that 60 percent of America's children do not have a full-time parent at home; 49 percent of those children are under the age of 6.

Yes, there is an increasing level of vulgarity and violence in the media, and not just on cable TV and in the movie houses. But part of the reason is that the ratings and the V-chips tools that were supposed to give parents "more control" over the content of what their children watched backfired.

The networks "guiltlessly infused TV shows with sex and violence," Fox said, because the onus is on the parents to use them. Hey, they warned you. If you're too lazy or too inattentive or just too busy with things in your life other than your children, that's not Rupert Murdoch's problem now, is it?

"No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children," Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman protested Wednesday night during his acceptance speech for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination.

Pardon me, but who let Hollywood take your kids to raise? When did it become acceptable for parents to cede authority to the networks or the movie moguls or the music producers for their children's cultural edification?

People who want to get the media's attention, who want to make a statement about the garbage that is masquerading as popular culture, can do it without V-chips and ratings and government regulations.

It's called being a parent.

Jill "J.R." Labbe is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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