Judith Eiseman: Help kids be kids a little longer

Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
I think Andrew Grant-Thomas has the situation just about right in the Friday guest column (“My adventures with ‘Tintin’ ”). I have been following the story about the controversy over these old books, but seeing the illustration and its caption made it clear: Protecting children is not censorship. A picture is worth a thousand words and the more I think about it, the more I think these books belong in the history section rather than the children’s room. The case Grant-Thomas makes about the placement of books in the library and the decisions already being made about age-appropriateness at the Jones is convincing. No one is asking for a ban or censorship. What is being sought is reclassification and action by parents and other adults to behave like grown ups and take proper care of children.

To me, the controversy over “Tintin” points to a much larger problem. We are overwhelmed by availability. The belief that because something is available it must be made easily accessible to everyone is nonsense. Society cannot function when everything is permissible and there are no rules, no enforcement or even acknowledgment of standards of propriety. We have become slovenly, scatological and insensate in our dress and in our manners, in our speech and thinking. The placement of “Tintin” books has nothing at all to do with attempting to deprive people of actual rights.

Most adults wouldn’t allow their kids to play with matches. But thoughtful parents who on the one hand insist that every item in their child’s diet be whole grain and organic and produced in a fair-trade economy, on the other hand allow small children to taste far too much ugliness, sadness and controversy at far too young an age. Life will provide plenty of that without putting matches in their hands. Think of all the stimuli ingested casually today (mental, physical, musical, visual) that weren’t available a generation or two ago.

Some adults seem to think that children can take it all in unscathed, but children, teens and young adults have been exposed to things with which their parents and grandparents never had to cope while so young.

When I was 11, I saw my first picture in a Playboy magazine. I was stunned, embarrassed and fascinated that anyone would have a picture taken of themselves naked in a bubble bath — of course I showed all my friends and we never told our parents. Seeing it caused some inappropriate acting out in our group that might never have occurred otherwise or at least as early. Now Victoria’s secret is out — and I’m uncomfortable and embarrassed if kids are in the room. When I was 14 my mother and my best friend’s mom had a serious discussion about whether we were old enough to see “Gone With the Wind” (my mom thought we could handle it). Laugh if you like, but that movie did have an impact on me and they were right to discuss rather than assume — although I never found out which aspect of the movie worried them. Probably it was the romance and implied sex rather than the social, political and racial issues so glossily managed. I wish they had talked to us about it afterward — it would have been a valuable, teachable moment in 1961.

Now kids have “The Hunger Games” and the Internet to swallow whole and largely without comment from adults. I recently was told of a 14-year-old boy who asked his mom innocently, “Why do girls like to be strangled when they have sex?” Porno sites were controlled in his home, but not elsewhere, it seems.

Help kids be kids a little longer — even if that means keeping some books and experiences in reserve awhile rather than leaving matches in easy reach to start fires that might scar their minds.

A final note: The only, albeit very small, quibble I have with Mr. Grant-Thomas is his assumption that every decision-making group has to include all possible interest-group representation. You don’t have to be white to understand the issues involved in presenting stereotypical images, but this group seems to have easily dismissed it. He put his finger on the actual issue in play when he spoke of “a doctrinaire ‘freedom to read.’” As in so many areas, the problem is rigidity, ignorance and/or lack of pertinent experience in some combination — not skin color.

Judith Eiseman lives in Pelham.