Monday, December 26, 2011

Bloody Murder in Mario World

So, here we are in the Christmas aftermath -- that small stretch of time during which the kids are allowed to digitize themselves with no limits: play video games until their eyes implode; watch new movies over and over -- that period of sloth and messiness that thrives especially in the homes of teachers and educators like myself who have a break over the next week. One can never quite keep the housecleaning until the tree comes down, what with pine needles and toys everywhere. Yet, we try . . .

My kids got their latest electronic devices (iPod Touches). We're holding out on phones, even though, as my older son's principal informed us: "95% of fourth graders have cell phones" in his school. This number shocks me, but, so it goes.

Sure, they look innocent enough . . .
So now they have devices that can access the Internet -- You Tube, etc. They're good boys, my sons. They stay, most of the time, with the parameters we set for them. But it occurs to me, especially now, how nearly impossible it will be to protect them from things they shouldn't see so early in their lives.

For instance, a few months ago, they wanted to search You Tube for videos of Mario Brothers. They found some and started watching. I was in the room. I walked up behind them, checking, every few minutes. If I heard a voice that didn't sound like Mario or Luigi, I would get up and check. After a few minutes, they turned it off.

After dinner that night, they told me they had seen something that had upset them. (How could this have been? I thought -- I was in the room the whole time.)

I had them show me. There were the cute Mario Brothers characters; the funny little Brooklyn/Italian voices; the iconic music . . . except, in this video, Luigi was brutally murdering Yoshi, his cute little horse like friend. Cartoon blood was everywhere; Luigi had a demonic glazed-over expression as he mauled Yoshi, repeatedly, in an endless video loop.

To a teenager, I'm sure this would have been hilarious. To a six and a nine-year old, not so much. My six-year-old cried.

We parents try to be as diligent as possible -- I did, while they were watching. But unless we watch along with them, always, or unless we deprive them of every electronic device made, something is going to slip through to them that we parents would rather them not see.

So, if we are not willing to go the "helicopter parent" route, we have only one choice: communication. I'm about to have a long talk with them, reminding them to come to me or their mother  if they see anything or find anything online (or anywhere ele) that upsets or confuses them. I have always told them that whenever their friends tell them stories about things, that they can come to us for the truth. Now they need to be able to come to us when the digital cacophony gets too loud and when the indiscriminate and the bad-intentioned people in the world wind up spreading their poisons through all conduits electronic.

We talked about the homicidal Mario video. They felt better. I gave them a place to focus for their feelings: a little anger and a little sorrow for the kind of person who would make a video like that to upset little kids.

But this won't work unless our kids really feel they can tell us anything. Plenty of parents say, "You can tell me anything or ask me anything . . ." but plenty of kids think, Yeah, right.

Unless we foster confidence and openness, it will never work. We can't react with embarrassment or anger when kids ask us things. We certainly can't react by laughing at their questions, no matter how cute they are. (I have always wondered how much teenage rebellion comes out of twelve years of being laughed at and treated as sub-adults by parents who hadn't the slightest bad intentions.)

Well, I think, at least, that I have established that link with my kids.

On Christmas Eve, my older son, now ten, came to me in a crowded living room and said, "Dad -- can you come in the kitchen for a second. I have a question." I went and he pointed to a picture among the many on the side of our refrigerator. It is a picture of my wife in a bikini -- a shot from a seaside house we had rented in our twenties. She keeps it on the refrigerator as a reminder -- to keep her on the straight and narrow with diet and exercise. My son asked, in a whisper, with a slightly wrinkled nose: "Were you and mom about to have sex?"

Without laughing, without shock, I asked." "Why do you ask?" (My favorite response to big questions from my kids.)

"I don't know," he said. "Because mom's all kinda almost naked and you are in the back of the picture with no shirt on and just shorts . . ."

"We were about to go to the beach, buddy," I explained. "We were in our bathing suits."

"Ooooohhh," he said, laughing. "I get it."

And that was that. Thoughts processed. He had seen his mom strutting her stuff a little and he needed to sort it out. If I had seemed shocked, he would have thought his thoughts were somehow not okay. If I had laughed, he would have thought his thoughts were silly -- maybe insignificant. In my response, I hope he got the message that his thought was not absurd; that is, he understands, how he got here after all. He might even, now, understand a little better that women sometimes present themselves with some sensuality but that doesn't mean sex is going to happen as a result.

(Lord knows there are enough men in the world who never quite get this message.)

If this is event was any indication, it seems to me the lines of communication are open, for real. I fear this trust might be my only hope, as a dad, when the floodgates holding back a tsunami of information and misinformation are presented for my sons to open at a time when my wife and I are out of the picture for a little while or when we're fooled into thinking a Mario is a Mario is a Mario . . .


  1. So when shall you write a book on parenting, because, for the most part, I've liked all that you've had to say on the matter, maybe you can add it in your collector's edition re-release of Hats N Rabbits.
    Let's hear it for learning for the future!


  2. LOL that is awesome , i love Mario