Watching What We Watch With Our Kids

As parents, we have watched just about every kids show and movie on Baby First TV,  Disney and Nick Junior, Hulu, Netflix…We know which shows are educational and just for fun. But, after almost 5 years of watching these shows and being very careful and mindful of what we are watching with our kids, we slipped up a bit recently. When the kids took naps, or were distracted by playing with their toys in their room, or playing on their tablets, we’d try to watch our shows or a movie with REAL PEOPLE! Sometimes, to keep them from hearing what we were listening to, we would get them their headphones so they couldn’t hear what we were watching. This didn’t last long. If they did not have our undivided attention, they would stop what they were doing and crawl all over us until they got it. This was ok because they were so stinking cute when they did it. So, we tried to compromise and watch shows with real kids, not just cartoons. And this worked for a while. My daughters LOVE Matilda.
Recently, however, attempting to watch our grownup shows while the kids are awake has come to a complete stop. Even if they are not in the same room, and for good reason. Friday night at our house is “Friday Family Movie Night”. the girls take turns picking a movie or a TV show as our son doesn’t really care what we watch for now, as long as he can fall asleep. About a month ago, our oldest daughter started to ask more questions than usual.
“Why is this happeneing?
“Why is that happening?”
“That kid is not being very nice?”
“Do you think that’s ok”
At the time, we just thought she was asking lots of questions, as kids do, and didn’t realize that this was the early stages of a developmental milestone. We would answer her questions, and when her younger sister would shush her because she couldn’t hear the movie over her sister asking questions and us answering them, we would tell her “Baby, it’s okay, just watch the movie and let’s see”.
About two weeks ago, things took an interesting turn. We would all be cuddled up on the couch watching a kid friendly movie that one of the girls chose, and my daughter said out of nowhere, “I don’t want to watch it, it’s too scary!” and covered her face. My husband and I were confused. It wasn’t even scary, and yet, there my daughter sat frightened. My husband and I looked over at our younger daughter who was fully engaged, and we were baffled. We couldn’t understand what was going on.
‘What do you mean? I’s not scary at all.” We tried to tell her.
But she just jumped up and ran into her room shouting “It’s scary. I don’t want to watch it.”
She seemed to be genuinely frightened and refused to come back and join us on the couch until we changed it, so we did. We continued to flip through many shows, starting and stopping them until we found something she was comfortable with. This continued for two weeks until one day while watching a show on Netflix which was like the human version of the animated series Spirit and rated G, and the same thing happened. We were about 10 minutes into the 1st episode when the main characters sister went missing and she went to find her and came across a wild black stallion on the beach. My daughter jumped up, rant to another room, and hid screaming that it was scary and in tears. It made no sense to me. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t scary because her sister really wanted to watch it, but she coudn’t hear me. This happened just after we’d finished watching a cartoon that also scared her, but her sister was fine. So, I paused the movie, went to my oldest, and held her hand as I led her outside onto the front porch.
‘Whats going on baby girl?” I asked. “Do you not want to watch it because it is scary? Or, is it scary because you don’t want to watch it?” There is a difference.
“It is Scary because I don’t want to watch it” is how she responded.
I told her that I’ve seen her watch many things that were scarier than that with no issue and  explained that this was not okay to say it’s scary and throw a fit because she doesn’t want to watch what her sister watches. I thought this solved the issue and was ready to move on. However, she refused to come back inside until I turned the movie off. I could see that she was still frightened, but my husband advised that it was best to not push the subject further at that time so I didn’t.
1 week later, we decided to have an impromptu movie night in the backyard following my sons 1st birthday. All the kids were excited to watch Black Panther, down to our 2 year old niece. The movie started and not even 5 minutes in, my oldest jumped up and ran into the house to watch Shark Boy and Lava Girl with her older cousin instead. We were ok with this. My mother-in-law ( Children and Family Behavioral consultant) mentioned how Audrey had no desire to watch the movie and I explained what was going on in a somewhat aloof fashion. She explained that what she was feeling was very real because she is at an age where she is old enough to start to associate fiction with reality. I thought this makes sense, but why isn’t her sister affected by it?
The next day I had a conversation with my daughter about it and she asked “Mommy, why was I scared to watch the movie, but sissy and [her little cousin] were not?” I tried to explain to her what my mother-in-law explained to me, but she said she didn’t think that was the case. So my husband and I asked her what about the movie scared her, and she said the fighting in the begining. She was right, for us, it was exciting, but for her we could see how it could be scary. I talked to my dad (a doctor who also does family consulting) about this in greater detail this past Monday, because my daughter raised a very valid question. Why was she so afraid, but her sister and younger cousin weren’t? This is the question we had been struggling with for weeks. Talking about this in greater length with my dad, made what my mother-in-law said make sense. My daughters were watching the same shows, but having two completely different experiences.
My oldest daughter was scared when my youngest wasn’t because she was able to understand what was being said in addition to what she was seeing, so she was able to truly understand the gravity of what she was seeing, and rather she understood that it was real or not, it was serious situations that frightened her. The fighting in the opening scene of Black Panther was frightening because people were getting hurt, even if it was pretend. The girls sister going missing in the show we watched two weeks prior was frightening because she could imagine losing her sister who often runs off and requires us to chase her. But, my 2 year old daughter and niece on the other hand were just watching the people moving on TV and not really understanding what they were saying or why they were doing what they were doing. It was just people doing stuff and they were just watching them.
The moral of this long winded story, is that we may not always understand why our kids are doing what they do, but there is almost always a good reason behind it, and if we take the time to figure it out, the whole family can be better for it. Tonight, we will take our time to find a movie that our oldest is comfortable watching, and we will make sure she knows that her being comfortable and enjoying family time is very important to us.
family movie night
I’m more than happy to watch cartoons for a while again. I’ll wait until the kids are snoring before I put on adult shows.
The P.I. Mom

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  1. Update: After reading this post, a good friend reached out and told me about a similar situation her daughter had while visiting Medieval Times two years ago, when she was around the same age my daughter is now. My friend also has two daughters and while the older one was emotionally impacted by the fighting (even though she knew it wasn’t real, her younger sister was just fine. My friend noted that she participates in many parenting groups for gifted children, and explained that hightened sensitivity and emotions can be signs of a gifted child. I’ll keep you posted.


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