SALT LAKE CITY — Ross Benedict, his wife, Teresa, and their two children attended Salt Lake Comic Con’s FanXperience in March, each decked out in full costume as The Engineer from the video game “Team Fortress 2.” Ross Benedict said it’s one way their family bonds.
“We’re close,” he said. “This is what we do.”
Benedict, who lives in Salt Lake City with his family, said being heavily involved with his children’s favorite forms of entertainment started out as merely a type of media check for him.
“In the early days, it was just to be involved with what they’re watching and doing to make sure it’s quality and decent and something we want in our house,” he said.
He said it has transitioned into mutual sharing, where the Benedict children share their interests, or “fandoms,” and in turn “get pulled into our fandoms.”
This process of mutual sharing in media consumption was the topic of a panel during FanXperience, and several experts shared perspectives on how such practices can protect children and encourage sharing and learning in the home.
Jonathan Decker, a marriage and family therapist and father of five, said during the panel that it’s important for parents to set a media standard in the home.
“It’s important for us to establish guidelines, especially when they’re younger, and to teach and instruct,” he said.
No matter how that standard may vary from house to house, Decker said, parents should take the time to discuss with their children what is being watched.
He said through asking questions about media, parents can take a more active role in pointing out the positive messages displayed and encourage children to think critically about media themes.
Jacob Dietz, blogger for The Geeky Mormon blog and father of five, agreed, saying he wants his children to learn from what they watch but finds this is difficult in a saturated market.
“There’s so much of it out there, it is just trying to find the good stuff,” Dietz said.
Dietz said it’s important to him to steer his kids toward consuming material that is positive and smart and that will “help them grow as a person.”
This can be difficult, Decker said, since media themes have changed in recent years.
“We have a climate right now where edgy heroes are cool,” Decker said. “Our heroes aren’t as heroic anymore.”
Decker said he recently watched Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman and was impressed with Superman’s nobility and integrity. Decker then compared “Superman” to the R-rated film “Deadpool,” which was released in February.
Even though adults “might appreciate the layers” in a film such as “Deadpool,” Decker said, children often miss the complexity of motive and instead only see the characters engaging in less than honorable activities.
Parents also need to make the distinction between content that is inappropriate for their children and content they just don’t like, Decker said.
Sandra Tayler, an author of children’s books and mother of four, said she found merit in seeing her daughter enjoy a book series she herself viewed as “problematic.”
Tayler said her personal views conflicted with some of the themes in a popular book series she read. But when her 13-year-old daughter brought home the first book of the series, Tayler said, she realized she needed to take a step back.
“I had to just say, ‘OK, there’s something about this book that drew her into it,’” she said. “‘There’s something here and I need to figure out what it is.’”
Tayler said she talked to her daughter about the book and was surprised by her daughter’s response.
Tayler said that when she explained her concerns, her daughter replied that while she saw those things, she also saw value in the book. Through their discussion, they were able to come to a mutual understanding.
“I’ve revised my opinion,” Tayler said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily as dangerous as I used to. It was by listening to my daughter.”
Tayler said that although it is the responsibility of parents to alert their children to potential problems they see in their children’s media consumption, it is also good to keep an open mind.
“I think we have to be careful not to try and create our kids in our own image,” Decker said. “Not just with fandoms but with anything they take interest in: the life paths they choose, with the things they want to learn, about their careers, the people they date.”
When sharing media interests, Dietz said, it’s not necessarily important that parents automatically understand why their children like something, but rather that they take the time to be interested in it by spending time with their kids.
“My little girls love ‘My Little Pony.’ I know nothing about ‘My Little Pony,’ and I don’t understand why they like it, but they do,” Dietz said. “So, for me to sit down and watch an episode with them and see what it’s about is important for them and matters to them.”