When I was little, computers were about the size of an average American home’s first floor, and video games existed primarily in arcades. The world of fantasy, for me, was limited to nighttime stories, a few children’s cartoons and my own imagination. The only place I would have encountered sexual content might have been through MTV, which was just getting its sea legs, or through discovering a misplaced magazine at a friend’s home.
Fortunately, for most kids that grew up during my generation (or any previous generation), the fantasy world we encountered was, for the most part, developmentally appropriate. Our children today, however, are exposed to an immersive world of computer and video games, interactive social realities and other computer-generated content that even adults struggle to identify as “fantasy”.
Many studies have suggested that young kids (up to about age seven) have an extremely difficult time discerning reality from fantasy, notwithstanding clarification from adults. A study out of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology found, for example, that when 3-5 year olds were asked to distinguish real people and characters, such as sports stars and knights, from fictional characters, such as monsters and dragons, they did so correctly less than 40% of the time. So when parents allow their kids to be exposed to the fantasy world around them at a young age, you can imagine the impact on their young, developing brains.
Even more so, when kids are exposed to violent and sexual content at a young age, content that adults will often dismiss as “fantasy”, it can have a very profound effect on children’s understanding of what is and what isn’t “real” and “appropriate” sexual behavior. As parents, it’s important to recognize that even content that could appear “innocent enough” to us, could create dilemmas for younger minds that are developmentally unable to discern reality from fantasy. When we tell ourselves that it’s OK for our kids to watch certain movies or shows, or even watch their older siblings play violent video games, because the characters “aren’t real”, we’re doing our kids a disservice and even opening the door to tech-related addictions. When we allow them to be exposed to content that we claim is “over their heads”, we’re often leaving them with confusing and even damaging content that very much remains in their heads. We need to set the bar higher and diligently seek to avoid exposing our young kids to potentially damaging, violent, sexual and even fantasy content that could impact their innocence.