Perhaps you can remember the frenetic reaction to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction?” That 9/16th of a second glimpse of her booby, its nipple covered by a pasty, created such a furor that Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court all got involved.

Complaints about the incident emphasized “Children were watching!” But consider this: the Source Book for Teaching Science reports that the average US child watches 8,000 murders on TV by the time they finish elementary school. Yet that generates very little public protest.

One glimpse of a boob with nipple covered is more damaging to children than watching thousands upon thousands of simulated murders? What is one to make of this? How can murder as entertainment be tolerable for kids, while an exceedingly brief glimpse of a knocker is not?

The counter argument is that kids know these TV murders aren’t real. (One suspects Jackson’s boobies aren’t real either, for that matter.) Nevertheless, what do children learn by living in a culture that accepts simulated murder, and an abundance of other violent and sadistic acts as entertainment? And what do kids learn about sexuality when the mere glimpse of an almost bare breast creates a national furor? 

I regularly watch the neighborhood kids play at killing. I have even drawn pretend fire from a three year old as I walked to my car. And these kid’s parents have bought them camouflage clothing, fake hand grenades, realistic assault rifles, and other assorted instruments of make-believe killing.

That got me thinking, suppose these kids were playing at sex instead. Would their parents buy them fake sexual gimmicks and a couple of air mattresses, then smile benignly as their progeny pretend to screw, instead of “kill,” others? What kind of culture accepts kids simulating the killing of other human beings, but would have a conniption over kids humping each other? A peculiar one, I dare say.

Preaching at kids does little to shape their values. It is living in our culture and absorbing what they see and hear that chiefly forms their sense of right and wrong. And what they presently are absorbing by regularly seeing death dealing “entertainment” is neither wise, nor worthy of their promise. We probably don’t want kids playing at sex; but let’s rethink their playing at killing.