I am a pretty lenient parent when it comes to what I allow The Daughter With One F to see, as folks here who have read about our mutual obsession with Doctor Who will already know. I can't help it. I saw Jaws: The Revenge in theaters when I was six. My dad told me to read Harlan Ellison when I was 12. I really kind of don't know any better.
That said, I know that the real danger of exposing a kid to certain things, no matter how artistic, is not because images of blood or sex are some kind of powerful Satanic talisman that transforms the mind of a young viewer into some pole-dancing serial killer. It's that these images can be very confusing to someone whose current entertainment staples not only are thoroughly G-rated, they don't even have bad guys.
Seriously, does it bother everyone else that whenever they have sports episodes on Bubble Guppies everyone is on the same team essentially winning and losing at the same time? That just seems so un-American.
This last week some wonderful happenstance led to me getting my subscription box cleared out at 8th Dimension Comics, and the wife and I spent an evening after the kid went to bed catching up on our favorite books like Red Hood and the Outlaws and Saga, not to mention her personal favorite, Angel & Faith. We geeked hard until midnight then went to bed.
The child has long since decided that sleeping past 7:30 a.m. is a sucker's game. A typical morning involves her getting up and climbing into bed with us just long enough to inform me that I need to rouse myself to prepare cereal and cartoons. This I do, then slink back to bed while she watches Little Bear.
After gaining the strength to face the day proper, I came out of the bedroom and found her reading all my comics that we had left out on the table when we retired.
"Look daddy!" she said pointing to a panel where Angela and Faith slowly decapitate a reptilian monster in #10. "A dinosaur man!" Not far from her I also saw an open copy of Saga where the ghost of a young girl floats around with her intestines dangling out of her severed torso. Other books lay all over the floor.
Now, it's very important to not freak out in moments like this. You don't really damage the resale value too much by leaving comics on the floor.
Seriously, you don't need to suddenly throw your hands up in the air and start screaming to Jesus to banish the images from the pure mind of this poor child. That's a very big no-no. First of all, any time you slip out and get angry kids think that it's their fault. They are, essentially, very self-centered beings by nature of their development. There is almost no picture in the world that is scarier than a parent having a meltdown, so don't do that.
I walked over to my daughter and I told her that I was very sorry I had left my books all over her table, and that she should not read books that don't belong to her. She balked some, and wanted to know more about the dinosaur man, but I told her that just like soda and driving cars there are things adults get to do that she doesn't. Then she went back to Little Bear because most kids are more interested in stuff at their level than stuff at yours. At least when they're four.
Meanwhile, I gathered up all the comics, and cursed myself as a horrible parent. How could you let a child see sexy vampires, and murder, and who knows what else? What kind of damage had been done?
I did remember a story I read about Shigesato Itoi, the man who came up with one of the best and most child-friendly RPGs of all time, Earthbound. He said in an interview once, that the creation of the game's main antagonist, Giygas, was the result of something traumatic that had happened to him as a kid.
While going to the movies, he accidentally stumbled into a film called The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty, witnessing a rape and murder scene when he did so. The whole thing, dimly remembered years later, inspired a monster in his game that to him represented a mixture of sexuality and horror.
Yet, even with this event and memory of it, Earthbound is a work of whimsy and wonder. It's an inspiring game that follows an ordinary kid on a quintessential American adventure. That's what came out of a horrific exposure to adult themes way too mature for a young mind to comprehend.
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Watching my daughter munch her Chocolate Koala Crisp, I don't think some cartoon vampire murder or alien gore did much to alter her essentially sunny nature, though I did move the longbox into the bedroom closet to be on the safe side.
On the other hand, maybe in 20 years she'll be responsible for an award-winning child-friendly RPG, and in an interview she'll tell a reporter it's all because I left out a couple of inappropriate vampire comics when she was four.
If so, you're welcome future gamers.