When my daughter Lucy was three, she jumped in front of me, waved a pretend light saber and proclaimed, “I’m going to kill you!”
Her eyes were sparkling and she was laughing.
I know she was playing but those words were certainly ill-fitted for her mouth. I wondered where she got that expression. I think she was imitating her older brother Ethan when he does battle with his Star Wars mini figures. We don’t even watch Star Wars movies or television shows, yet here was little Lucy saying “I’m going to kill you!”
I did not scold Lucy because I believed she didn’t know better.
But neither did I let it slide.
I told her it wasn’t right to say “I’m going to kill you” and that instead she should try, “I’m going to get you!” or “Watch out, here I come!” Thankfully, she hasn’t used the word “kill” since that encounter. When we correct our young children about their language, teaching them what words are appropriate and which ones aren’t, they listen.
Our children are profoundly influenced by what they watch. They pick up words, phrases and values from television shows, YouTube videos, and virtual worlds. If we leave our children unattended with their screens, we must be prepared to accept the consequences. They may be using language that’s coarse or too mature. They may be developing a stronger affection for their devices rather than people. After all, devices bend to your every whim and people don’t.
Researchers are concerned that when screen time goes up, empathy goes down. Kids are exposed to more violence in video games which can desensitize them to pain in others, bullying, and acts of violence. The ease of online friendships – you can just move on to another friend if someone is bugging you – can make real life relationships too frustrating.
A University of Michigan study found that college students don’t have as much empathy as they used to. College kids are about forty percent lower in empathy than college students were twenty or thirty years ago.
Not only are our kids at risk of being desensitized to violence or the feelings of others, they are also bombarded with sexual content from an early age. More than 75 percent of prime-time television programs contain inappropriate sexual content for kids (and actually for adults too!). Smart phones have enabled teens to view sexual information and porn with alarming ease.
As parents, we’ve got to guard what our children see, hear and say with great care. We too can become desensitized to the violence, sexuality, and coarse language of the culture. Against the electronic background of ever-present screens, we may become used to the suggestive commercials and foul language of movies.
Perhaps it all begins with a revival in our hearts as parents to think on what is pure, lovely, noble and of good report. That’s what we want our kids to pick up on instead of “I’m going to kill you!”
How have you responded when your child said something inappropriate or insensitive?