In the film, pre-teens and teenagers as young as 11, discuss their attitudes to oral sex as a legitimate form of ‘ romantic ‘ exchange between boys and girls. It offers a portrait of a society in which such girls consider oral sex ” no biggie” especially when it comes to potential rewards such as drugs, alcohol or money.
Blurring the lines between romance and prostitution is a deadly game being played in our society encouraged by television programming, internet access, billboards, magazines and even shop windows. In short, our children, no matter where or how they are raised, cannot escape the propaganda of our highly sexualized culture and we run the risk of raising a generation of children for whom romance, reticence, politeness and respect for the opposite sex will disappear entirely as governing social attitudes, opening the door to the acceptance of prostitution, pornography and sexual license for children as societal norms.
This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when a friend confided to me that he was extremely disturbed by what he had been seeing in the conversations on his son’s Facebook page. The 13 and 14-year- olds, all hailing from Orthodox Jewish high schools, regularly employed words such as ” Ho” ” Bitches” and ” Sh-tface.” Even the girls were getting in on the act, gleefully referring to themselves with the same pejoratives.
Is it any wonder? Look at some of the “children’s” television offered on Network TV these days, including The Secret Life Life of the American Teenager, Roommates or The Hard Life of RJ Berger – a recent NBC offering whose teenage hero’s claim to fame is the size of his penis. Even shows as seemingly innocuous as The Suite Life of Zack and Cody or Hannah Montana present young children, not much older than those presented in The New Goodnight Kiss, who are given adult roles with adult responses to adult situations. Sexual innuendo runs unfettered throughout most of these shows, even if there is an attempt to render it subtle and hidden.
The collapse of the boundary between public and private life, intimacy and sex, romance and pornography – and its societal implications, has been a concern of mine for years and was highlighted in my Western Word Radio show with Diana West in March, 2009 and in my blog entry Four Bedrooms, One Bathroom, No Boundaries. Readers may want to also pick up a copy of Rochelle Gurstein’s The Repeal of Reticence (1999) where the author argues that there has been a death in the U.S. of a “reticent sensibility” valuing tact, discretion, good taste and politeness. She points out how our culture has become a “noisy, vulgar circus where privacy and modesty are flouted, and where so-called avant-garde artists invoke free-speech rights to justify violent, dehumanizing or pornographic works.”
That assessment could not be more accurate. In the Davis household we have a word to descibe the moral demarcation between good taste and prurience. That word is” inappropriate” and it is employed by my sons regularly to identify areas where they know they cannnot go. This, of course, does not shield them from the images and influences with which they are bombarded every day and there cannot be a sensitive parent alive who is not worried, no matter how good they believe their children to be, about the content of the text messages their children receive from friends, or the Facebook interactions they undertake each day.
Carol Shipman, the ABC News Anchor who broke the story on The New Goodnight Kiss, wrote in her own news blog about this parental dilemma:
“Firm family rules and values and limits are key. We were told this stuff is not about money–it happens in the “best” of families, with well-intentioned parents who are not neglecting their children. But who may simply be somewhat distracted–and not paying active attention to what is going on in their children’s lives.”
While I agree with that, I don’t agree with what she says next about resolving the problem:
“And talking early is critical. About sex, about feelings, about everything. Bring up all of the tough stuff when your kids will still talk to you–and you will ensure they will always talk to you. If they have a sex question at age 5 or 6 or 7–answer it. Make your family a safe place for those conversations.”
This is precisely the answer that Pat Gentile, the president for the Alliance for Family Entertainment gave when she was asked why programs such as Roommates and The Secret Life of the American Teenager were being produced as family fare. She was quoted exactly a year ago in the L.A. Times:
“I’d love for these shows to be ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ but that isn’t going to happen. Family programming is all about bringing families together to watch shows so that they can dialogue about these sensitive topics.”
Wrong, Pat. Dead wrong. The idea that we need to be open with our children about adult passions and attractions seems ludicrous when we remember that children, who are largely blank slates, actually deserve a childhood. They will have plenty of time to be adults and to deal with all the confusions and difficulties life throws at them. They do not to be shouldered with mysteries of adult life at the age of six or seven, no matter what they are told at school or see on the Internet. The fact that even people like Shipman, who was appalled by the content of the documentary she previewed, would feel the need to invoke ” the parent as family therapist” model is unsettling to say the least.