By MARY HOOD HART
Recently, I read a local news story about a grandmother who was distraught because her 15-year-old granddaughter, while staying at the grandmother’s home, ran up a phone bill of over $300 in calls to an international phone-sex line. Apparently unaware that her grandmother was being charged for the calls in less than two weeks’ time, the teen sneaked in 17 calls to the foreign pornographic line. Her actions were discovered when the bill arrived, and the grandmother questioned the charges.
While I feel sorry for this family, I was dismayed that in an attempt to explain the teen’s behavior, her grandmother and mother told the reporter that “the girl may have been curious about the sex line because she has led a sheltered life. Even MTV is blocked from the television in her home.” Please. I fail to see any connection between being a sheltered child without MTV and calling a phone-sex line. However, I understand what prompted the family to offer that excuse. In the information age, sheltered children are sometimes considered as deprived, in the sense that they must contend with a society whose sophistication has been denied them. Indeed, some parents believe that by exposing their children to the “realities” of sex and violence (as portrayed in the media), they are actually helping their children cope later in life.
So, according to this theory, had this 15-year-old been exposed to the raunchiness of MTV, perhaps she’s have been less inclined to sneak calls to the phone-sex lines. Such a theory is ridiculous, of course. No matter how sheltered, a teen can understand the difference between right and wrong. What this child did was wrong. Regardless of how curious, she should have known not to indulge her curiosity by making the calls, all 17 of them. And her family needs to look beyond the “sheltered child” theory and make sure she gets the help she needs. Whether it’s in the form of discipline, counseling, or both.
Some people love to find fault with sheltering children. I’ve actually heard well-intentioned parents say they let their children watch trashy daytime talk shows because the children need to know such behavior and people exist in the world. These parents believe that this “knowledge” will help the children protect themselves from falling victim to the perversions these shows love to spotlight.
While I’m appalled by this attitude, I’m also disturbed that parents most inclined to let television teach their children “the realities” of life are actually those least inclined to give them real guidance and honest answers. One family I’m acquainted with lets their children, from very young ages, watch graphic violence and R-rated movies. But then the family cat died suddenly, these parents went to great lengths to hide the truth from their children, claiming the cat ran away. Indeed, lots of children exposed to the distorted views of sex and violence on television in their homes are never exposed in these same homes to the truth about dying and human sexuality. And sadly, they’re only rarely exposed to any discussions of morality.
As a result, these children are growing up with a concept of a “reality” that’s been created by those who profit from exploiting sex and violence. Because these parents are too uncomfortable (or preoccupied) to discus the truth about sexuality and death, their children remain exposed to only one view, the one they see on the screen.
Personally, I have no qualms about sheltering my children from MTV, R-rated movies, explicit sex, or gratuitous violence. Nothing can convince me that by denying them access to such content, I’m setting them up to be so curious they’ll seek information in even more harmful ways. Sheltering them doesn’t mean I’m putting them on a desert island, oblivious to what’s really going on. Indeed, a sheltered child can actually have a better grasp of reality because her view is not clouded with false images and lies.
Yes, it’s my responsibility to answer my children’s questions about sex and death. But my answers won’t be limited to the facts. I’ll teach them morality, as well and I’ll do it without any “help” from a screen.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan newspaper of Springfield Cape Girardeau, Mo.