A teachable moment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 31, 2003

I managed to get myself into trouble on Thursday night.

I had been in Minnesota all week on business, arriving home at about 5 and wanted to spend some quality time with the kids.

My 10-year-old daughter, Catherine, is a big Britney Spears fan so I yelled for her to come downstairs when, while channel surfing, I saw her opening the MTV Video Awards show.

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My wife also came in and we all gathered to watch the performance.

Catherine had no idea who Madonna was – talk about feeling old – and just as I was attempting to figure out how to delicately explain to a 10-year-old what a slut is, you-know-what happened. My wife and I stood there with our jaws dropped while Catherine laughed and squealed wildly when Madonna reached over and planted an open-mouthed kiss on Spears, and then did the same to Christina Aguilera.

In my wife’s mind, outside of personally having choreographed the number, I could not have been more at fault for allowing Catherine to witness such a thing.

My wife, apparently seeing this as one of those &uot;teachable moments,&uot; said I should have known better than to call our 10-year-old down to watch MTV, that it is always racy. I pled ignorance – not having watched the channel since Beavis and Butthead went off the air – but knew deep down there was no way I could rationalize this one. I meekly mumbled an apology as she escorted Catherine to her bedroom for a little talk about what she had just witnessed.

This was a toughie as parenting things go. We consider ourselves to be reasonably open-minded about such things, though we are not in the habit of discussing them or watching them with our children. But we dealt with it as we always do – Cathy talked to the kid while I went to the kitchen, got a beer and stayed away until she finished.

We’ve found this to be an effective system for dealing with the myriad little problems that parents encounter in raising their children. Cathy is adept at such things and I get some quiet time to reflect on what kind of emotional trauma I had just likely induced on my child.

When you come down to it, though, parents have little control over what their children see and hear. They are going to learn about sex. A parent’s job is pay close attention to what they are hearing and discussing and to spin the information in such a way that you hope will prevent a little girl from growing up to be like Madonna.

I sure wasn’t like that when I was kid. I can’t recall ever discussing anything even remotely sexual with my parents. Most of my instruction in things sexual came from my cousin Len, who was four years my senior. Things he told me beginning when I was about Catherine’s age probably scarred me for life, but I’m nonetheless grateful to him because the television I watched then – Gilligan’s Island, the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family – was sure no help.

Had it not been for him, I would have entered adulthood completely ignorant of how the sexes relate to one another, instead of being merely moderately ignorant and confused as I remain today.

Deep down, I doubt Catherine was damaged by the antics of Madonna, Britney and Christina. Kids today are worldlier, more resilient than we were three decades ago. In fact, what she saw was probably pretty tame when compared to much of what passes for televised family entertainment today.

Nonetheless I intend to be more vigilant in my TV viewing with the kids. I will likely confine it to The Disney Channel and TV Land. And if they grow up ignorant of sex, I’ll just pack them off for a visit to cousin Len.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9601, or via e-mail at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.