Our grandparents had a saying for an event or occurrence that stopped them in their tracks or left them stunned and in shock: “What is the world coming to?” All too often, such sentiments rush to mind when we are assailed by story after story reminding us that childhood is repeatedly under attack and is disappearing from existence.
Last week in Oakland, California, a second grade school teacher was placed on leave after it was discovered that children in his class were reportedly engaged in sexual activity. Yes, we’re talking about 7-year-olds. According to Bay Area media reports, the school district is investigating two alleged incidents: one involving two students engaging in oral sex, and the other involving some students who were taking their clothes off.
A few weeks earlier, a man was attacked in a Washington, D.C., Metro station. According to Washington media reports, at least three attackers blindsided and pummeled him — all of them appearing to be 11 or 12 years old. Others stood around and filmed the incident on their cell phones. The attack happened at L’Enfant Plaza, one of the largest and most highly trafficked stations in the D.C. Metro system, and it happened shortly after 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening, with plenty of people around.
MTV’s parent company, Viacom, has a history of promoting the “edgiest” content to our kids. Just this past week, the controversy over the MTV television show, “Skins,” erupted, as both Concerned Women for America and the Parents Television Council called for investigations by both the Department of Justice and the appropriate congressional committees to see if child pornography laws had been broken. Those words, “child pornography,” were enough to chase even overly progressive Taco Bell away from sponsoring the show. General Motors, Wrigley Gum, Subway, and Schick also pulled their ads.
Concerned Women for America has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder laying out the specific legal case against MTV. The applicable law is clear, and the Department of Justice’s own website makes it plain.
What we as parents — and certainly as grandparents — all knew as “childhood,” and the innocence that comes with it, is vanishing before our very eyes. In a continuous suspension of disbelief, the entertainment industry consistently rejects any and all culpability for this, even though the links are undeniable, unmistakable, and irrefutable. Even the liberal American Psychological Association has done studies to sound the alarm.
Network executives at MTV actually say with a straight face that “Skins” is a show for adults, when it’s obviously being promoted and marketed to pre-teens and teens — even to the extent that underage actors are being used in the show.
Parents are becoming more and more powerless to protect their children’s innocence. A friend of mine was stunned to learn that her 13-year-old son got to see his first pornographic pictures — not on television, which she has blocked, and not on the computer, which also has a block, but on another kid’s iTouch. The kid was showing the pictures to other children on the school bus.
And one has to wonder if 7-year-olds acting out sexually in a public school classroom in broad daylight — in front of a teacher who was oblivious, incompetent, or indifferent — means the battle to save innocence isn’t already lost. No parent can police their child’s life 24 hours a day.
Effective pressure on advertisers is a good start. Legal action and meaningful penalties will help. But the only way we’re going to reclaim childhood and its innocence is if, somehow, the public is convinced to reject the consumption of “entertainment” that debases childhood. Maybe it is time to look to a power higher than press releases or lawsuits.
Penny Nance is the CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.