I really have no excuse.
I’ve been parenting too long for this kind of mistake.
But there we were.
2:30ish. In the ante meridiem.
My nine-year-old son, hovering over my side of the bed, whispering in a full quaver, that he was scared. Really scared. That he was having bad dreams.
And it was my fault.
Because I made a newbie mistake.
It was an intense video game that I let him play, buying in to his assurance that he wasn’t scared, that he knew it was just silly and pretend. And, to be fair, it really isn’t some terrifying, over-the-top game.
He’s my imaginative guy. He’s my relational kid. He’s the one who has tremendous compassion and a whole pretend world populated with good guys and bad guys and quests and creatures.
And he’s not crazy about closing the door when he showers because he can’t see us. And he’s not at all that keen on being alone. Heck, he didn’t even do the womb solo, seeing as how he’s a twin.
So, after bedtime, in the dark of night, with the house quiet and the roof creaking, his assurances that he could handle a little bit of gaming intensity earlier in the evening fell short.
And he came rumbling down the stairs in a panicky pant, collided with my REM phase, and tossed and turned on a pallet next to my side of the bed.
For a long time.
Which then made me toss and turn.
So how do we know? How do we evaluate when a game or a book or a documentary or a movie might be a little much for a munchkin, even as that munchkin is careening toward a double digit birthday and thinks he’s ready for bigger kid fare?
I went speeding past my own approaches and paid the price. So here are a few thoughts that might preserve some sleep for you, next time you have to make the call on scary/intense/emotional bit of media offering:
1. What’s your kid’s fear factor?
I’ve got some kids who are pretty fearless. And I’ve got some who get spooked by thunderstorms and lions at the zoo.
Now, I’m all for facing fears and learning to be fierce. But while it’s sometimes most effective to just take the plunge, I don’t think it serves well to simply be paralyzed with fear, particularly with my kids who are part ‘fraidy cats. The goal is not to have them avoid anything scary. It’s to help teach them what they can manage and what they can’t. And to not be apologetic for that. I have a friend who knew she didn’t handle scary movies well. But in her early adult years, she allowed herself to be pressured into watching a series of scary movies. Months later, she was still wrestling with an unnecessary fear factor, which could have been avoided had she stuck to what she already knew about herself. There are some things that are scary that we can’t avoid. But there are some things, particularly when it comes to an ‘entertainment’ factor, that aren’t required, particularly for someone who has a quick fear button.
2. What’s your kid’s compassion factor?
A couple of my more bold kids also have tremendous compassion triggers. So they can watch a bit of spooky fiction with no problem. But a documentary unpacking a human challenge or difficult historical era can send them reeling. While I don’t try keep this kind of information or story away from them, I do factor in that they will need some more time to process with me.
3. What’s your kid’s imagination factor?
The bigger the imagination, the bigger the projection in the middle of the night. That’s how it seems to go at my house. My kids who always have a story and a soundtrack running through their heads can also be the ones who find their creative minds are expanding and morphing more intense stories or experiences until that intensity bumps out peace and play. My uber-creatives over time have matured to a place that they can channel that creativity onto paper or into video and can then segment better intense media. But it’s a maturation process, and I have to keep in mind where my story tellers are in that progression.
4. What’s your kid’s spiritual sensitivity?
A couple of my kiddos have experienced from really young ages a true sensitivity to spirituality and faith. And that gift, that ability to tune in to the cloud of witnesses around us that the writer of Hebrews speaks of, and the darker nuances of the enemy of our souls, has meant that certain kinds of books and movies are not wise choices for them. They have been given a gift of a fine-tuned antennae when it comes to light and dark. And that gift needs to be exercised with wisdom.
I don’t think it serves our kids well to try to shelter them from every sad story, every intense drama, every creepy clown, every darker tale. Those experiences, legends, and histories are part of the narrative of our world. And I’d rather help them process along the way, manage the fear or the empathy or the running imagination or the perceptive spirituality.
But I’ve got to be engaged in the processing. And the serving size.
Which I blew through last night.
But won’t do again.
Because Mama needs some sleep.
And so does that cute nine-year-old boy of mine.