This is the first year my son is really “into” Halloween. He carefully considered his costume for months. He changed his mind about 31 times after finally settling on Batman. When his costume arrived, he immediately tried it on, running around the house yelling, “I’m Baaaatmaaaan” and spent the rest of the day saving the world. This is also the first time he’s intrigued by Halloween’s “scary things”. He saw someone dressed in a monster costume on TV and my first reaction was to cover his eyes and change the channel (the guy was really scary!). But it was too late. He saw it and was amazed. He asked me to rewind it so he could see it again. I did. Again and again and again. I kept assuring him “it’s only a costume, it’s not real” but he didn’t want to hear it. He was too busy gaping at the crazy werewolf man hulking around on the screen. I could tell he was a little nervous, but utterly fascinated at the same time.
Did I make the wrong decision? Should I have let him see the monster? Was it too scary for a 3 year old? Is he going to have nightmares? Will he ever sleep again? Did I scar him for life? Those were all thoughts that went through my head the rest of that day. When do I say when?
I find myself struggling with that question a lot lately. Here’s another situation: The most recent movie he’s obsessed with is rated PG and a character in it says “shut up.” He (of course) picks up on it every time and says “Mom! She said ‘shut up!’ That’s not nice!” It also contains what is referred to as “Mild Violence”. What is that? And is it mild enough for a 3 year old?
Should I be allowing him to watch a movie that suggests “Parental Guidance?” Am I, as the parent in this situation, guiding him incorrectly? Is he going to start telling people to “shut up”? Is he going to become a trash-talking, violent child? Did I (yet again) scar him for life? Again, when do I say when?
There are certain things that he asks me that have clear answers. Can he play outside alone? No. Can he sit in the front seat of the car? Of course not. Can he ride on a “real” motorcycle? Hell no.
But what about all the grey areas? Where do I draw the line? I don’t want to shelter him and keep him confined to a little bubble (ok, I do, but I know it’s neither plausible nor healthy). I want him to have the opportunity to explore things he’s curious about, like a scary monster, and watch a super hero movie that he adores, despite the fact it has words I don’t want him to repeat. At the same time, I want to shield him from things that are not age appropriate.
How do I know what “age appropriate” is? I’ve never had a three year old before! This is all new to me.
My mommy-instinct tells me to wrap him up in my arms and keep him safe, forever holding his hand, never letting him out of my sight. The reality is though, I won’t always be there to cover his eyes from something scary or plug his ears when someone says something that isn’t nice. He is going to be exposed to, and influenced by the world whether I like it or not. And it’s my job to protect him from inappropriate situations as much as possible without stifling his growth and development.
Ok….so how do I do that? I don’t know. I have more questions than answers; however I think what it comes down to is smart parental judgment. As his mother, I think I know what he can handle and what he can’t, but there’s no way to know 100%. I don’t think I’m scaring him for life by letting him watch ‘The Incredibles’, but again, I don’t know what goes on in a three year old little boy’s brain. Something I feel is completely benign may actually be disturbing to him, and vice versa. I just have to use my best judgment and reasoning (wait, tell me again why I can’t put him in a bubble?). Above all, I must recognize that this, like everything else, is a learning process. And, oh man do I have a lot to learn! Wish me luck.