Katy Perry, Elmo, and the Tough Decisions Parents Face with Media

One of the most talked about things in last week’s entertainment news was the Katy Perry and Elmo spot that was ultimately pulled from Sesame Street’s 41st season’s line up.  The biggest reason given for pulling the spot was the fact that Katy Perry’s outfit was deemed “inappropriate” for the young viewers of Sesame Street by many parents who caught a leaked version of the skit on You Tube.

Before I ever saw the video, I had my own opinions, based mostly on just the type of music Ms. Perry sings and the image she portrays.  While she is immensely talented, her choice of lyrics combined with her rather shocking music videos make me very uncomfortable, as a parent, seeing her guest spot on any pre-school show.

Would a different wardrobe selection have pre-empted the controversy?  I’m not sure.

Let’s face it: in the entertainment industry, image is something that is masterfully created to sell an individual within certain market and then, like it or not, that image (even in all its fakeness) follows that entertainer throughout their career.  Sometimes that means an entertainer can’t jump as easily from one end of the audience spectrum to the other.  Ms. Perry, in my opinion, happens to fall into that category.  Talented, yes.  But probably never appropriate, even fully clothed, for the tots.  Goodness, not even appropriate for tweens or young teens, in my opinion!!

Coming from the background of Christian media, you might think that I surround my children with only Dove-approved, Christian-based children shows.  Perhaps only shows that are written and produced with a worldview common to my own. At the very least, shows with a redemptive message, right?

Well, in all honesty, I let my kids watch some cartoons and listen to some music that would be considered totally secular.  Some things on Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel are downright cute. For example, I really like The Fairly Odd Parents, Phineas and Ferb, The Penguins of Madagascar and SpongeBob.   Other shows, like Nickelodeon’s  Degrassi and ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, definitely cross our line of appropriateness, and my kids aren’t allowed to view those shows.

One of the areas that I feel necessary to expand on in my own tween’s viewing experience is that of using critical thinking.  He’s been spoon-fed what my husband and I want him to know about ethics, morality, virtues and our faith.  I like to challenge him a little, nowadays.  While allowing him to watch movies and TV shows that are geared to a more mature tween audience, I enjoy engaging him in conversations like, “Why isn’t that the way YOU would choose to behave?”  Because in my opinion, if kids know WHY they believe what they have been taught, those lessons become fruitful in their own lives.

On the other end of the entertainment viewing spectrum, I have really good friends who choose not to have cable, at all, because they feel there is so little value to be found in most TV shows. They use their DVD player to show their kids a very limited amount of pre-approved programming.  That’s great, and it works for them.  I’m one who respects each parent’s personal decision on things like this.  It’s really difficult to be a good parent in the 21st century!

The challenge for us is to figure out what we will allow our kids to experience on TV, the internet, or even as downloaded music and videos.

Gone are the days of only 13 channels and limited access to entertainment.  It’s a big business, and it surrounds us in a multi-media, 24/7 schedule.  It’s overt and overwhelming, and it can easily take over a child’s life.  The messages out there can effectively blur the boundaries which we have so diligently tried to set.

How do you choose what media is appropriate for your kids, tweens and teens?  It’s a very personal decision and one where we should show respect to each other.  But, given the plethora of children’s entertainment options, I’d love to hear what you consider to be ok, moderately questionable, or absolutely forbidden, and why.

Let’s talk about it…

Comment on a post
17 comments
Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Haha... I meant to say we recently found a box of VIDEOS, not DVD's. This age denial thing keeps getting worse...yikes!

Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Katie, your comment about letting the baby watch TTubbies, made me crack up! Yep, been there!! Hey-- we mommy's know the importance of showering at least 3 times a week, right? :) As for Blue's Clues, we just recently found some of the old DVD's...way back from when Steve was still on the show. When he left (even though he was, what, like 40?) my son stopped watching. He's 12, and ! think it's still a sore subject... shhh.

Katie
Katie

I think we all agree with Lisa on many points, or else, why would we be here? Our kids are (almost) 17, 12 1/2, 7 1/2 and 21 months. (insert comment here). We have struggled with what is right, appropriate, moral and ethical to watch since 1994. Sesame Street has changed it's curriculum many times in the past 20 years, but the goal is still the same. I think pulling the Katy Perry spot was right, but someone also mentioned that the wardrobe department had the final say in what she was wearing. It was their responsibility to pick what was right. I am glad it was caught and pulled before it aired. Our society is too over seductive as it is, my toddler doesn't need to think it's alright. My 12 year-old doesn't need to know it either! We struggle every day with what our kids should and should not watch, and why. With teenagers and school aged kids in the same home, it's a battle. Both of Phil's series are highly regarded in our home. The baby's phrase is "Watch Bob?" which now applies to both series. As for the other shows on TV, I think the live-action shows on Nick and Disney are either mind numbingly dumb or inappropriate for anyone to watch (and I have a friend who guested on Suite Life") I also try not to let my kids watch anything I don't want to. That means TTbies, Boobas, the big, purple thing, and Caillou do not get watched in this house. (I do have to admit, when TTbies were first on, I couldn't get a shower in my daughter's first 6 weeks of life without letting her watch the baby in the sun). The Fairly Odd Parents, Phineas and Ferb, The Penguins of Madagascar, Max and Ruby are shows that get watched here because they are smart and funny. Shows that had a very short run, like Jack's Big Music Show and The Upside Down show also were on our watching list at their time. Dora and Diego didn't last long. Blue's Clues was great, but after 13 years, if I never see an other episode, I will not have missed anything.

Sena Andrade
Sena Andrade

Lisa, thank you for this entry. I think that when we only expose our children to what is in line with our beliefs, we miss HUGE opportunities to discuss and help grow our children's faith. I have a nine-year-old son, and both my husband and I are very active and involved with the youth at our church (from pre-school all the way up to teenagers.) One of the things I see in the older kids is an acceptance of WHAT the Bible says (a good thing) without the critical thinking of WHY we believe and act upon what it teaches (a bad thing.) I don't let my son sit unsupervised in front of the computer or television, but if we happen to see or hear something that doesn't fall in line with what the Bible teaches, we talk about it, and discuss why a behavior is Biblically wrong. Our children are heavily influenced by their parents and their peers, and as they get older, it becomes harder and harder to shield them from not only what pop culture tells them is "cool", but also what most of their friends tell them. I think if I shield my son from what the majority of his friends are interested in (within reason), not only do I cripple him socially (it's a sad fact, but children can be cruel), but also make it harder for him to discern between what is pleasing to the Lord and what is not. I think, especially as our children get older, we need to encourage whatever "teachable moments" we can.

Ori Pomerantz
Ori Pomerantz

Barbara: Teach your child WHY you believe a certain way. And since we are on the WITB site, it’s one of my favorite features of these DVDs. They open up so many opportunities to talk about why our church believes what we do about the Bible. And opportunities to talk about why other churches may believe differently. Ori: Exactly. For this reason, BTW, I hope the current draws the jellyfish into more of this type of educational DVD. The bible may be the most important part, but it isn't everything. I'd love to see a follow-up series hosted by Captain Pete that teaches history from the death of the apostles until modern day.

Barbara Graves
Barbara Graves

I went back to Lisa's original question: how do you decide what is ok/ questionable, etc. and wanted to share my comments from there. Was Katy Perry appropriate for preschoolers? I would say, sure! (gasp) Only because preschoolers don't have a clue as to what she has done off Sesame Street, so there isn't any questionable association with her singing. And preschoolers don't really care about cleavage, I doubt many of them can remember midnight feedings! So if the only question here is can my preschooler watch this talented girl sing a song about playing dress up, I'd say that is fine. But that isn't all that was involved. You have parents, older siblings, etc who may be aware of Katy's "image"who are also in the home when Sesame Street is on. And you have to consider them part of the audience as well. I don't think she was dressed appropriately considering the entire audience. It is hard to filter through every show and every option to decide what kids and teens should be allowed to watch. And, as several have mentioned before, there are many opportunities they will have away from home, to watch shows that may not be approved by parents. That's why I think what Lisa said about kids knowing WHY they believe what they have been taught, is probably the single best piece of parenting advice that I could ever offer to anyone. It applies to television shows, music, junk food, clothing, every part of life. The sooner you can help your child understand WHY you set the boundaries that you have as a parent, the sooner they can reason through, not only the specific choices you have made for them, but also apply that same reasoning to other choices they have to make when parents aren't around to be the guide. Great advice, Lisa. I have a soap box and I will try to stay off of it here, but it is an area parents miss so often. Teach your child WHY you believe a certain way. And since we are on the WITB site, it's one of my favorite features of these DVDs. They open up so many opportunities to talk about why our church believes what we do about the Bible. And opportunities to talk about why other churches may believe differently. I love them.

Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Thank you Beth for your loving perspective on this. Speaking for myself only, I have seen myself make decisions as a parent which I would have never thought about making before I became a parent. This is a bad example, but I'm trying not to put a morality spin on it, so everyone may get a laugh. Before I became a parent, the one thing that used to really gross me out was when people fed their babies off the high chair trays--no plates, just straight off the tray. Being "above that", I vowed to NEVER feed my child in such a "barbaric" manner! God has an amazing sense of humor, and I know this because He gave me a child who is not only a picky eater, but who, as a baby, would not eat anything off a plate! Seriously. He loved--and would ONLY eat off the tray portion of his high chair! I was so busted!! Did my idea of "wrong" change? You betcha! My poor child HAD to eat, so my idea had to change. As parents we make different decisons than we ever thought we might make BEFORE becoming parents.

Tara
Tara

I have heard alot about the Katy Perry Video. I have one comment to make that everyone seems to be overlooking. Sesame Street has to approve of the wardrobe that she was wearig when filming the episode. I am not saying that this is right or wrong . What i am saying that all who were involved need to be resposible for the descions they made . And remember the audience for which it was intended

Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Ori- Yes, we used to love Dora and Blue's Clues. Good memories!! Thematically, these shows were all above board-- and fun to watch. I have to draw the line at Teletubbies though. Oh wow---were those the freakiest little creatures or what?! Yes, I DID watch them with my oldest when he was a baby-- And no, I never got caught up in the whole "homosexual" controversy with Tinki-winki. I mean-- he was what?-A baby alien, anyway?!:)

Ori Pomerantz
Ori Pomerantz

Did anybody else here notice Dora loving(1) her enemies (specifically, Swiper when he gets stuck in a bottle)? (1) I think "being useful to..." is a better translation of the older term "charity", BTW.

Denise M
Denise M

I gave up on Sesame Street several years ago, so my children wouldn't have seen Katy Perry singing. Although, I do think the choice of clothing was a total gaff on the part of Sesame Street. Why did they even think it would be appropriate for young children? We have cable. My kids love Phineas and Ferb. We let them watch Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, iCarly. We watch football as a family. We watch Dancing with the Stars. I do have to censor the commercials. Like Lisa, we do ask questions of the kids about when a character gets snarky to a friend, or disrespectful to a parent or teacher. Our 16 year old isn't allowed to listen to whatever she wants, or watch whatever she wants. Although, since she is wanting to go into animal science in college, she is drawn to mostly animal shows, which aren't too bad. We do have to watch for comments that will put animals on equal par with humans, or statements about evolution, global warming and stuff like that. We want her to hear balanced talk about those things because she is going to be bombarded with stuff like that in college. With radio, in the car I usually have Air1 on. There are things that I don't necessarily want my kids under the age of ten, and my 16 year old, to hear on pop, rock or country channels-as much as I enjoy all those genres of music. So, long story short, we pretty much handle tv, movies and music the same way that Lisa is doing.

Beth Stone
Beth Stone

Speaking as one who does not have children, I think it was right of PBS, to pull the segment from "Sesame Street" if parents objected. However, although her lyrics are questionable in a lot of her songs. I like Katy Perry. She grew up wit...h nothing, and worked really hard to get where she is. Other than when she is singing these questionable lyrics, I find her to be a very intelligent, caring, young woman. I think she has a beautiful voice. I saw the video, and we were absolutely shocked when we heard the segment would be pulled. We couldn't for the life of us figure out why. Then we heard about the dress. To be honest, I didn't even notice it till all these stories came up about it, and I did see the video. We thought it was very cute and showed a different side of Katy, that she was trying to do something good. As a parent, I realize you have to do what you think is best. But, I would have rather watched this WITH my child (if I had one) and focused on the positive aspects of the segment and not her cleavage. I think it was much ado about nothing. But, as I said, I'm not a parent, and I'm sure a lot who are parents think I don't think I know what I'm talking about, and it's probably a good thing I'm not one. Our church has people of many different races, backgrounds, and economic levels. I know if Katy walked in our church with that dress on, we would love and accept her, just the way she is. That is what I would try to teach my children. Its who people are that is important, not what they wear.

Lisa S.
Lisa S.

Thanks for the input so far! Let me clarify a point that I must have not made clear in my writing. We don't watch questionable stuff to just prompt discussions. We allow our pre-teen an opportunity to watch age-appropriate, secular TV (obviously with some exceptions) and then use some of the themes that are being addressed through a secular worldview, ad re-address them using a Christian worldview. I find that often times, even the most secular of shows will routinely use "The Golden Rule" as the standard of how people should deal with each other or opposing view points. The real "issue" that prompts discussion is that since that worldview is secular, they can't take it any farther than..."...because it's the nice, right, kind thing to do." As Christians we have a direction because we follow God's Word. We do things because we have been told by our Creator to do it THAT WAY. When the secular world can't answer the WHY questions, it allows a subjectivity to grow. "Maybe what's right for me, isn't right for you..." When you have no basis to establish what is right and what is wrong, then your foundation is truly on shaky ground.

Stephanie
Stephanie

My children are 5, 6, and 7. We live in an area with only 1 channel that we receive via antenna. We've chosen not to do satellite tv for a plethora of reasons: The first is that we know, no matter how attentive we are, our kids are going to wind up seeing things we're not prepared to discuss with them yet, (heck it happens during the commercials when my husband finds time to watch the occasional football game on the channel we do get). The second is the advertising, and why I prefer DVDs. Even given our remote location, we battle our kids wanting more stuff. Just during the aforementioned sporadic football games, my 6 year old has already come to me telling me I need to go to various websites to buy things. And that doesn't even get to the content of the commercials. I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it offensive when things like adultery are heavily promoted. The third, is that, no matter how strict we are with ourselves, we are going to find excuses to spend more time in front of the tv. And at the end of my earthly life, I really don't want to regret having spent so much time there. Fourth, our money is definitely better spent elsewhere. For the basic price of satellite tv where we live, we can sponsor one child through an organization like WorldVision, and for the price of a premium package, well, so much more. All of that being said, I totally agree with watching and reading material that might be considered questionable to prompt discussions with our children. They can't be sheltered from the world forever, and they have to be taught about the things they are going to face when they are not in our immediate presence. I just think we can achieve that through DVDs and books more easily than through tv. However, I have absolutely no idea who Katy Perry is!

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Little-known fact: Katy Perry is the child of pastors, and even had a brief recording career in the Christian music industry back 7-8 years ago or so, as "Katy Hudson." That doesn't make her music (and CD cover art... WHEW!) any more appropriate for children (or anyone), but it's certainly an interesting factlet. I can't imagine how, knowing the way Katy Perry's lyrics seem to go, anyone could watch the clip of her with Elmo and not be totally creeped out by it. Sesame Street has a long tradition of having celebrities on, but really! Every line she sings seems like a double entendre!

Vicki Toppses
Vicki Toppses

I really appreciated Lisa's honesty when she said she uses some of the questionable shows as a tool and asks her children “Why isn’t that the way YOU would choose to behave?” Even though I am appalled by what is available for our today's youth and society, I take it upon myself to see what is out there that is directly influencing our children's peers and in turn our children. That way I have the tools to use when my children either ask to see the shows or if they happen to see it at a friends house. I am also amazed that the commercials during these so called kid friendly shows. They are inappropriate at best. But again, these are all "teachable moments" and we should have the awareness and the tools to use.

Tracie
Tracie

I'll admit it. We watch Phineas and Ferb, and partly because I like it just as much as my daughter does. Our television viewing with my daughter pretty much mirrors what you described. A mix of shows and movies that mirror our beliefs, some fun stuff that is also secular, and some things that are (not bad!) helpful for starting critical thinking conversations.