Sons Allowed to Watch Wrestling

Telling kids that TV wrestling is "fake" doesn't get you off the hook. Take a look at what they're watching and then decide if it's okay.
My boys, 9 and 12, are wrestling fanatics. Although I think it's crazy, I let them watch it. I have gone out of my way, though, to make sure that they know it's all fake and that the action is all preprogrammed -- like a show on a stage.

Now, one of them gets killed right before an audience. How do I handle this? I thought I'd done the right thing by letting them know it was all fake, but this makes it seem terribly real. I guess I won't let them watch anymore, but I feel I need to do more than that. How do I explain that I said it was fake and now it seems that it isn't? I want to do the right thing, can you help?

Wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death as he was being lowered into the ring on a steel cable from the top of Kansas City's Kemper Auditorium. This stunt, which Hart had performed successfully several times before, was part of a live World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWF) pay-per-view event. No one observed his deadly fall on TV, as his stunt was not filmed. Most of the 16,000 fans in the arena believed the fall was yet another scripted wrestling drama.

You certainly may continue to tell your kids that professional wrestling is preprogrammed and that the wrestlers are acting out a script. Mr. Hart's death did not occur while he was wrestling. He died accidentally while performing a stunt outside the ring.

May I ask you why you allow your sons to watch wrestling? Watching any one of the wrestling shows that dominate cable TV programming might persuade you to question the influence that these programs have on your boys. Educators, child development experts, and parents are concerned about the numbers of children imitating the violence, vulgarity, and profanity celebrated in the increasingly deviant world of wrestling. I have personally witnessed (as have many of our nation's teachers) school-age boys pointing to their crotches as they yell, "Suck it!" to a classmate. This grotesque gesture is an anthem of many TV wrestlers and their fans, and is emblazoned on the mass-marketed clothing worn by kids of all ages.

As we attempt to recover from the recent spate of horrific school shootings, we should consider the consequences of allowing our kids to immerse themselves in a two-dimensional world where verbal taunts, denigration, "pay-back" violent behavior, and derogatory racial, ethnic, and sex stereotypes are the norm. A recent Indiana University study of 50 WWF broadcasts revealed that approximately 36 minutes out of every two-hour show is devoted to actual wrestling in the ring. The bulk of the programming was devoted to story lines laden with simulated sex and drug use, profanity, and assorted vulgar behavior.

Saying, "It's fake" to our kids doesn't get us off the hook. Take a look at what they're watching with them. Decide if WWF-style wrestling reaffirms your family values. Then ask yourself if these are the influences you want your child to absorb.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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