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May 23, 2021

Innocence Lost

"Don't say anything."

My husband placed his hand on my arm as the trio sat down right in front of us in the movie theater at our local mall: a couple and a little girl, about 6, who seemed focused on her popcorn. But the R-rated movie we were watching soon grabbed her full attention.

I bit my tongue, but my insides squirmed as she flinched at scenes that were tough even for adults to watch: a whacked-out teenage girl in a filthy motel room, selling her body for drugs. A man digging his own grave, at gunpoint, before being shot in the head.

When the girl finally fell asleep, I thought of my own son, who still calls out to me in the night when he’s awakened by bad dreams.

What hideous dreams will that little girl be having? And after this night, what could possibly be “too much” for her? Why trouble yourself with holding the line on innocence at all, when your 6-year-old has just been shown how to freebase cocaine?

And these days, it starts much younger than 6. In fact, the sex-and-violence train starts steaming down the track as early as 3 or 4. When my son, Matthew, was in preschool, a 4-year-old boy in his class liked to sing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” (“I like big butts and I can not lie...”), declaring it his “favorite MTV video.” In kindergarten, several of Matthew’s classmates talked of playing blood-and-guts video games. And in a recent report, ACNielsen listed “Desperate Housewives” as the most-watched television show for 9- to 12-year-olds.

When exposure to sexually explicit material starts so young, what does it take to entertain a teenager? Singer Naomi Judd found out the hard way. A few years ago, Judd was accused of assaulting a male stripper at a Brentwood, Tennessee restaurant, the local paper, The Tennessean, reported. She was upset at seeing the man straddling a teenage girl, police said. Judd reportedly said she placed her hand on the man’s shoulder to tell him to stop, and he lost his balance and fell.

Silly Naomi. Turns out the stripper had been hired by the girl’s parents as a present for her 18th birthday.

While experts certainly fret about youngsters’ exposure to sex, the disturbing increase in school shootings has focused their attention on violence. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with three other prestigious medical groups, has declared that “viewing violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors, particularly in children” and can cause “emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.”

Less than a week after seeing that R-rated movie, I witnessed this desensitization myself. A murder had taken place in the parking lot of that same upscale mall. A young man allegedly stabbed a 66-year-old woman during a robbery, at lunchtime, in front of several stunned shoppers. The T.V. news showed the woman’s sunglasses and one high-heeled shoe lying on the ground, surrounded by blood and yellow police tape.

A few days later, I spoke to a teenager who works at the mall.

“You must be pretty upset by that woman’s murder,” I said.

“Well, I know this will sound bad,” she replied. “But it’s not like I knew her personally or anything.”

How have our children become so numb to violence that the blood of a fellow human being, staining the asphalt just steps from where she works, can leave so little impression on a 16-year-old girl?

True, most kids don’t wind up in jail. Don’t shoot their classmates. Don’t become pregnant at 12 because of something they saw at the local megaplex back when they still believed in the tooth fairy. But when parents allow a preschooler to memorize lines such as “Watchin’ these bimbos walkin’ like ho’s,” there’s something wrong. When parents care more about catching a popular new movie than about protecting their first-grader from graphic violence, we’ve lost our way. When a 16-year-old is so jaded that the new shipment of Prada handbags gets her heart pumping more than the news of a woman’s stabbing ever could, we’ve reached an all-time low.

Maybe I should have risked embarrassment and stood up for that little girl in the theater before she had to watch a man get shot in the head at point-blank range. Maybe every parent in that room should have said something or done something. But we didn’t.

After all, it’s not like we knew her personally or anything.


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You are so on target with this post. Not stepping up and protecting that child in the theatre goes beyond butting in or doing what we think is right. Our society, like the movie or the woman murdered at the mall, has become so violent that interfering in any situation can be dangerous. I have no solution, but on a personal level, I don't wave my hand at annoying drivers anymore or make a suggestion to quiet a child whose parents I don't know well.

I was a kinergarten teacher a few years back. As an end of the year activity the kids were writing about what they like to do with their dads. I was conferencing with one little boy and I couldn't quite read what he had written and so I asked him, "Gary, what do you like to do with your dad?" He said "Make money." I thought, "Oh maybe the have a paper route together." And then I asked, "What do you and your dad do to make money?" Gary replied, "Well, my dad puts the green liquid in the machine and then he tapes the paper down and he runs it through and it comes out money!" I said, "oh...What do you do next?" He said, "My dad cuts some off and we go to Toys R Us and get me a toy!"

Isn't that sweet? Making those family memories together! No more memories now. The dad is in jail.

Some of the things teachers know about and have no controlover is such a shame. It rips at our hearts and makes us want to snatch some of these kids away and keep them ourselves.

Oh, that just breaks my heart!! And we wonder why our children end up on antidepressants when they grow up? Is there is no such thing as "common sense" in parents anymore?

Thanks for sharing.

I came across your blog from bloggyaward.com. I myself am into parenting and thus your blog caught my attention immediately.

This post is so heart-breaking. To see how these days many parents are ignorant about bringing up their children and yet complain about the violent and problematical society in which they live.

If I were in that cinema, I think I won't be able to NOT say something to the parents.

And oh btw, I'm based in Singapore, a mom of two and here's my blog :

Take care.


Perhaps the teenage girl working at the mall is the older sister of the 6 year old at the R rated movie. No such luck. Unfortunately this indifference is runs in more that one family.
A very powerful blog Kathy.

Thanks so much for this post - I am with you %100! I teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex and my clients are so worried about loss of innocence - HA! This is the real deal. Amy

Susan, you're right. It's tough to know when to step in. People can become violent over just about anything these days, it seems... Very sad.

Oh, my gosh, Laurie! That is so sad about the little boy whose dad is now in jail. I'm sure most teachers can tell some pretty sad stories about things their kids say.

Leonny, it's great to hear from a parent in Singapore! Very cool. I'll definitely check out your blog.

Amy, I know what you mean. I think some parents don't realize how much their kids do know. It may not be 100% correct information, but they are too worldly for their years, in many cases.

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