How to Get Kids Off Anime and Other Sexualized Media
By Lacy Bentley
As parents, it is normal to worry about what our children watch, and how it might be impacting their developing sexuality and understanding of life. As with any important step in raising kids, changing things up requires a few key components.
- Be on the same page with the other parent. When there is ambiguity, kids pick up on it. They usually are not trying to cause trouble; they just want what they want, and are creative at finding ways to get it. When both parents are not in agreement about a particular type of entertainment, like anime, it sends a message of inconsistency and confusion to the kids involved. Have conver-sations and do your research in private, then present a united front to the kids. They may not like the decision, but it will be easier to accept if they know they cannot push one parent into giving in.
The two of you (as parents) might need to work with a therapist to determine the best way to move forward. I’ve talked to moms who fell on both sides of this debate and know that it often comes down to a “good-cop/bad-cop” scenario. One parent is considered too rigid and controlling, while the other is considered permissive, and to the kids, the cool parent. The biggest issue then becomes a parent-parent and parent-child trust issue, putting the more conservative parent in the hot seat. This kind of triangulation will eventually destroy relationships. Don’t do it.
- Get curious before making decisions, especially decision that will have a big impact on current habits. By gathering as much information you can early on, the need for later adjustments can be avoided. This saves confusion and stress for everyone involved. Find out why your kids like this particular game or program. Spend some time checking it out for yourself. Can you employ safeguards within the game that make your concerns a non-issue? The decision is yours, but you need to make it wisely. Once a boundary is in place, kids will push back, argue, even ignore it. You need to know where you stand and why, so that you can stand firm.
Parents do not owe kids an explanation, but when an explanation makes sense and is well thought out, you and the kids can trust that decision. If you aren’t sure why, and make snap decisions, it will come back to haunt you. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it informed him so he could protect his kittens!
- Set clear and reasonable boundaries. Discuss the rules with the kids and anyone who tends them. Have clear conversations and do so with the other parent fully involved. (Remember rule #1, be on the same page!) This sets a tone of unity, which will be to your benefit if the arguments and negotiations escalate. You do not need to engage the argument. Hear what the kids have to say if you feel it may be helpful, take notes if there are things to talk about with your partner, and reassure the kids that this decision is for their protection and emotional health. If there are considerations for the parents to discuss, let the kids know when you will all revisit the conversation.
The kids need to know they will have their day in court, and when. Otherwise, they will drive you batty with questions as they try to manage the lack of resolution. Remember though, parents are the guardians of what comes into the home. If you don’t teach them to install internal filters and set boundaries for themselves, no one else will.
- Acknowledge the discomfort involved for all. Kids, especially teens, like what they like. They do not enjoy being told a particular movie or whole genre (anime) is no longer considered appropriate. If you are asking them to stop watching anime at home and away from home, there may be social repercussions for them to manage. Remember what it was like to be their age, and how you wanted to fit in? Help them navigate the family rules while also acknowledging their concerns. Validate the loss, the frustration, and their need to fill the void left by removal of a favorite past-time. Just because it is good for them, does not mean it is easy to swallow.
As you feel questioned, even harassed, talk to another parent with similar values, or who can at least respect yours. Change is hard for everyone involved. Adjustments take time, so be patient with yourself and your kids as you get used to the new normal. Resistance is not always rebellion. In fact, resistance is rarely more than open communication of discomfort. See it, validate it, and hold your boundaries.
- Be consistent regardless of location. Talk about the temptation to “just go watch it at Jennie’s house” while reiterating that the rules apply wherever they are. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to tell friends about a new family rule (or an existing one that has been resurrected). It’s no fun to be the odd man out. If your kids know you expect and trust them to make good decisions that honor family standards, they will be more likely to hold themselves accountable. This may mean consequences for not upholding family standards. Sharing your wishes with the adult on duty at Jennie’s house can be helpful.
Ultimately, we are trying to teach our kids to do what is right for the sake of doing right, not because moms talk. If your kids know you are aware of the temptations they face, it provides a sense of understanding and safety. Keep the lines of communication open. They might get grumpy because you “want to know everything!” Let them get grumpy, then reassure them that you will always be curious about how they are doing with their duty to protect themselves from harmful messages. It probably won’t be tomorrow, but someday they will understand.
- Be ready with replacement strategies. Removing a beloved game, TV series, or social media channel can create a vacuum. This is especially true if the kids spent a good deal of time on it. You will need to help fill that time with something more constructive. Times of natural transition are helpful, like when school starts, at the start of soccer season, or at other times when natural distractions are available to fill their days in more constructive ways. Ultimately, they are looking for connection and entertainment. They might need to relax. Know what purpose the program serves in order to help provide a comparable replacement.
- Pick your battles and be specific in your message. You might need to make concessions, too. The miniskirts and fantasy life may need to be separate battles from the eyeshadow and child-like voices. It is a fine line between self-expression and self-exploitation when dealing with anime and a sexualized culture. The hope is, your kids will know you love them and are concerned for their safety and sexual, emotional, and social wellbeing. When parents are able to convey this message, even if boundaries are being set, more changes naturally occur over time.
The chances your daughter will still talk like a 6-year-old and wear pigtails into adulthood are pretty slim. As she feels cared about, loved, and held to a high standard, it will make things easier on both of you. Conversations where she has a say, and you are curious about why she does certain things, encourage trust. Heavy handed orders barked from another room about her clothes will not help her see herself as the valuable, powerful force she can be for good. Is your line of questioning curious or condemning? Is the message one of loving concern or manipulative parent? She will feel the motive, no matter how you try to hide it, so come from a place that conveys what you truly mean.
- Trust your gut. Ultimately, it is your call what does and does not take root in your home. If something feels off, gather more information and pay close attention to what is happening. A parent’s gut feeling is usually right, even if we don’t always know why right off. You know your kids best, and the decision to protect them is a serious one. If you worry about being too protective, too controlling, too demanding, check it out with the co-parent, a therapist, or a trusted friend with similar standards. What might be okay for one family may not be for another. If red flags are going up for you, take those feelings seriously. Your gut feeling just might save your kid from unnecessary pain later. Trust it.
Raising kids has never been easy. Doing the job well takes intentional effort and insane levels of patience. You can do this, though. Focus on what you do want and stay curious about why they do what they do. Along the way, you just might learn a thing or two that will help the relationship blossom into one of reciprocal love and trust.
Want a fun, easy way to talk to kids about all types of media, including anime? Check out our new children’s books: Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure and Messages About Me: A Journey to Healthy Body Image available on Amazon.
**If you are willing to do your part, you can have the relationships you want, with the connection you and your kids need. I have written a book that includes many of these skills, and would like to give you a copy. It focuses on personal responsibility and new, healthier relationship dynamics. While it is written for my audience of women in recovery for relationship or sex-based compulsions and addiction, I think you will also find it helpful. It is available free for a short time. Visit www.HerRecoveryRoadmap.com and input your information in the pink box at the bottom of the page. You will receive a link to a free PDF download and a free kindle version on or around May 8. You can take me up on one or both! Additionally, you can email me directly with questions at Lacy@HerRecoveryRoadmap.com.
Lacy Bentley is a concerned mother, a Women’s Recovery Coach, and an author. She has helped women overcome compulsive behaviors since 2000. She now does one-on-one coaching and runs groups for women ready to overcome fantasy, relationship, or love addiction. If you would like a free copy of her book, “Overcoming Love Addiction” you can request one by visiting: www.HerRecoveryRoadmap.com and scrolling down to the yellow box, or emailing her directly at Lacy@HerRecoveryRoadmap.com.
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