It had to be made. Hillary Clinton’s new ad featuring children watching television as clips of Donald Trump saying inappropriate things was inevitable.
From the video of Trump talking about blood pouring out of Megyn Kelly’s wherever to his reference to people coming from Mexico as rapists to his claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still be president, it’s easy pickin’s.
Mommies online have been sharing Clinton’s ad with its tagline: “Our children are watching. What example do we want to set for them?”
The truth is that neither one of the individuals running for president is someone I want my children to emulate, though Hillary is right that with her I’d at least feel like I didn’t have to watch the State of the Union on a five-second delay.
But seeing these kids sitting slack-jawed, alone, in front of cable news should remind us of how little of what comes on to our TV is truly appropriate.
The other day, I took my 4- and 7-year-olds to the local pizza place for an early dinner. As we sat down with our slices, I looked up to find CNN broadcasting bodies strewn everywhere on the streets of Nice.
It wasn’t graphic, in the sense that there were sheets over them, though the network did keep playing footage of the truck moving through the streets earlier. But it also wasn’t something they should’ve been watching. I tried to position us away from the TV. But as with adults, in the competition for attention, the screen always wins.
From pizza places to hair salons to doctor’s offices, the TV’s always on. Maybe it seems to receptionists and business owners like “The News” is a harmless choice. But this is not Walter Cronkite reading headlines, folks. These are loops of cellphone videos showing violence and destruction.
It’s not that I want to shield my children from the idea that there are bad things that happen in the world. I recently talked to a mother about her concerns with her son reading Harry Potter. Though she didn’t mind her second-grader reading the books, she worried that in the later ones he would be exposed to the idea that the government can actually do bad things to us.
I don’t mind kids being exposed to this idea — in part, perhaps, because I don’t think the “government is here to help” nearly as often as it claims to be. But I also think a novel is the perfect way for them to understand this concept. Kids aren’t simply shorter adults who need to be exposed to as much reality as possible as early as possible.
Through fiction, kids can begin to understand (as much as their imaginations will allow) what is possible in the world. When it comes to big topics like sex or death, psychologists often advise parents to answer only the questions a child asks. We are always tempted to offer more, believing that our children should be prepared, that they should be armed with as much information as possible. But children often have a better idea of what they can handle than we do.
Which brings us back to cable news. Most of the children in the Clinton ad look to be between the ages of, say, 5 and 10, and are probably aware that there are evil people in the world, that they kill other people — even that once people are dead their families don’t get to see them anymore.
What kids have more trouble with, though, is context. Who are these people? Where are they? How far away are they? Are they coming for my family next? Why does it seem like there is always something violent going on? People are being hurt right now. Why are we just sitting here eating pizza?
In his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Neil Postman writes that we live in a “peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense, a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.”
Which is not the effect we want the news to have on our kids. The question is this: How do we preserve at once the sense that there is violence and injustice in the world, as well as the sense that each of us, in our own small way, may try to do something about it?
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.