A few weeks ago we found ourselves eating breakfast at Universal Studios in Florida, when SpongeBob walked in and put a hand on my shoulder. I’ve written a little about SpongeBob before, so you might already know that SpongeBob is perhaps my least favorite television character of all-time. So, when he walked up to me that day, you can see that the camera, albeit blurry, caught the precise moment in time when my wife’s eyes wondered just exactly what my reaction would be.
What you don’t see in the picture is the look on my children’s faces that mirrored my wife’s expression. You see, because I’ve conducted research that involved showing SpongeBob to children, in part to measure their reactions, my kids have heard me express my disdain for the show in no uncertain terms. And mine isn’t the only research that has looked at the show. Other research points to the negative effect of watching SpongeBob on preschoolers’ executive function. So, when SpongeBob approached me I was presented with an on-the-spot opportunity to put research into practice.
I’m happy to report that I did not punch SpongeBob in the face. Neither did I ignore the character. And besides smiling (sort of) for the camera, I didn’t have to do anything. Why? Because I had already had discussions about the show with my children. They already knew my position. More importantly, they know why I don’t like the show. So, instead of making this encounter a completely awkward situation, I tucked my research brain back into my hat for awhile and let my wife enjoy watching me squirm and my kids enjoy the novelty of a meeting a “real-life” TV character.
The point of this story? Our children will encounter media messages that we don’t like. No matter how strict we are as parents, no matter how many rules we set about media use, our kids will be exposed to raunchy, violent, and debasing media content. It is our job as parents to equip them with the tools they need to deal with it when they do. And that means talking to them about media content.
The bigger question on my mind, though, is why couldn’t it have been Walker Texas Ranger who walked in that day?