Gender, Horror, and Sex, Oh My! How to Talk to Kids About Media

Posted by | April 05, 2014 | Tips for Parents | No Comments
panel talks

Last weekend, three members of the Pixelkin staff had the joyous opportunity to spark some excellent discussions at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon. We participated in two panels, “Growing Up Geek: When Are Kids Ready For Your Favorite Stuff?” and “Why Isn’t Bilbo A Girl? Talking To Kids About Media Representation.” Here’s what you missed.

Aina Braxton

Aina Braxton is the Program Coordinator at the University of Washington: Bothell’s Digital Future Lab.

Growing Up Geek Panel

“Growing Up Geek,” which featured Pixelkin’s Linda Breneman, Simone de Rochefort, and Keezy Young, and the University of Washington’s Aina Braxton, was all about age-appropriateness. If you’re a parent, you already know that this topic is much more complex than it sounds. Deciding when your kids are ready for a piece of content is not an easy process. As Aina Braxton said, though, there are certain signposts you can look for along the way. For example, when her son began showing an interest in underdog stories, she decided that he was ready to watch “Star Wars.”

But it’s not always so simple, and the process involves a bit of trial and error. Keezy Young explained how she began playing Diablo at a very young age, and yet it never scared her. Instead, it was a caring-for-sheep handbook that gave her nightmares as a child. And Linda Breneman recounted the horrifying story of when she took her young son to see “Scary Movie,” an R-rated comedy with explicit and exaggerated sexual scenes. On the bright side, Linda learned a lot about the importance of research.

More than anything, the panel addressed the importance of paying attention to each individual child’s needs, temperaments, and developmental levels. The panel also stressed helping kids learn to monitor themselves by making sure they are aware of the reasons behind your decision. Open, clear communication is a huge boon, and you want to encourage your kids to feel comfortable coming to you whenever they’re frightened or overwhelmed.

That said, it’s not always easy to explain your adult decisions to children. Don’t be afraid of using delay tactics. Take the time you need to come up with an explanation they will understand, and bring it to them on your own terms. And do your research! Luckily, it’s the fun kind of research. Curating a collection of media suited for your child can be a ton of fun if you approach it with the right attitude.

From left to right: Keezy Young, Cora Walker, Emmett Scout

From left to right: Keezy Young, Cora Walker, Emmett Scout

Media Representation Panel

Panel number two, “Why Isn’t Bilbo a Girl,” focused on the ways media can unfairly represent people. Simone de Rochefort, Keezy Young, and Aina Braxton were joined by The Next’s Cora Walker and Emmett Scout in a discussion about the pervasiveness of racism, sexism, ablism, and homophobia in our favorite media.

Fiction, be it a fantasy YA novel, a sci-fi movie, or an apocalyptic video game, is often dismissed as unimportant when compared with nonfiction. However, it is within these media that we find our heroes and heroines. The cultural impact of movies like “Lord of the Rings,” books like “Harry Potter,” and games like Halo can change lives in both obvious and subtle ways. It’s not a big deal if you watch one movie that has a 90% white male cast; however, if every movie you watch has a 90% white male cast, those movies can begin to change the way you see the world.

One great takeaway from this panel was the importance of asking questions. When you’re consuming a piece of media with your child, ask them about the things that strike chords with you. Why is that woman wearing high heels in a fight scene? Why do you think the only Black character is always carrying a gun? These questions inspire your child to think about the media they’re absorbing, and soon they’ll begin pointing things out to you that you may not have noticed the first time around.

It’s important to remember that even our favorite games or movies can be problematic. That’s okay. It’s easy to get defensive when someone critiques a piece of content that you love with your whole heart. Keep in mind that it’s always a good time to be an analytic consumer, and that those critiques may be coming from a place of deep pain. The hurt caused by underrepresentation and misrepresentation is real, and until we can address it without fear, it won’t go away.

Let’s Keep Talking

Both ECCC panels had wonderful audiences who asked great questions, and we could not have been more pleased about how they played out. If you want to catch us next time we speak, sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know about all of our events!

Courtney Holmes

About Courtney Holmes

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.