When we were little, whenever a sex scene came on in a movie, my dad would holler "INAPPROPRIATE!" and my brother and I would run out of the room screaming:
What impact this had on our sex lives I don't know, but I do know that as adults my brother and I obviously have to scream this at random intervals whenever we're together. These things make an impression. A piece on MSNBC talks about the dynamics of watching TV together. And forget Where the Wild Things Are. New findings suggest that watching TV with parents can freak kids out.
While it seems logical to protect a child from something scary by watching together, in fact a lot of kids take their cues from parents, and a skittish mom can only add to anxiety. (Like, even flinching; you don't need to be terrified by Dumbo, although some of us are.) "The researchers suggest that well-intentioned parents might be inadvertently turning up the volume on fear. That can happen simply because children are watching their parents' reactions." This logic applies to many facets of childrens' fears, and a lot of it's pretty intuitive: we've all seen a small child "decide" how bad a fall or scrape is - what might have been a small incident if dealt with matter-of-factly can become a screaming tantrum if an adult reacts with excessive concern or panic.
The piece details the various ways coddling can reinforce fears, the way a parent can communicate his own neuroses - and makes the point that the opposite "tough-it-out" extreme's not great, either. Common-sense stuff, for the most part. The TV findings are really interesting though because it's fascinating to think how much of fear is natural and intuitive, how much it's influenced by circumstance. I've seen young children in the same family react completely differently to The Wizard of Oz, and for that matter I have strong memories of being so terrified in a theatre showing of The Black Cauldron that my aunt had to take me out of the theatre; to this day I think of it as the scariest movie in the world.
The article doesn't get into it, but it's hard not to think about that other scary parent-movie scenario, sex scenes. I wonder how much of that squirming discomfort is natural, and how much is communicated by our parents. A friend tells me that sitting between her parents through Don't Look Now remains one of the more traumatic memories of her early-teen years. "But that wasn't even just the normal squirm," she writes, "because my parents kind of looked like Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, so it was doubly awful." Scary indeed.