In the wake of controversy over a same-sex kiss in Netflix’s animated series “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous,” a media expert is sounding the alarm on increasingly sexualized content in kids’ shows.
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Melissa Henson, program director at the Parents Television and Media Council, a media monitoring organization devoted to protecting kids and families, told CBN’s Faithwire she believes two converging trends are at the heart of this troubling phenomenon.
“One is the infantilization of adults, and the other is the sexualization of children, and those have sort of met in an uncomfortable place,” Henson said. “At the same time, we’re seeing networks producing animated programs that they claim are for adult audiences. They’re mature-rated, but the themes and the characters involved are often minors.”
She continued, “We’re looking at programs like ‘Big Mouth’ on Netflix or ‘Human Resources’ on Netflix, which sexualize children in some very troubling ways.”
Henson said some of these series are rated TV-MA, indicating the content is for “mature audiences,” yet invoke younger characters or themes.
“Either they’re lying about who the target audience is for these programs, or they’re encouraging adult viewers to sexualize and view children — you know, 12, 13 years old — as sexual objects. Either way, it’s pretty disturbing.”
These issues, Henson said, have become increasingly concerning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as families and individuals increasingly turned to streaming platforms to consume entertainment.
“The difficulty is … this is an unregulated industry,” she said. “Broadcast television was subject to FCC indecency regulations. Even original cable programming, while not subject to FCC regulations, was held in check by advertisers.”
With streaming services overwhelmingly supported by subscriber revenue, Henson said “anything goes” when it comes to content, lamenting the sexual and adult themes emerging on a scale “you would never have seen on broadcast or cable television.”
But it’s the aforementioned inclusion of younger characters in these stories that is elevating these concerns.
“We’re seeing, for example, ‘Euphoria’ on HBO Max, which is supposed to be set in high school, and so they’re showing these high school-aged characters nude,” she said. “They’re showing these high school-age characters engaged in sex acts. This is, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented.”
The “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” scenario is the latest to emerge surrounding adult themes played out among minor characters.
“Netflix’s ‘Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous’ is the latest TV series geared towards children that include sexual content,” Movieguide recently wrote. “After five seasons, the animated series culminates in a passionate kiss between two young girls.”
The scene in question is also creating controversy in places like Hungary, where the nation’s National Media and Communications Authority is looking into whether the episode violated a 2021 law precluding the showing of transgender and homosexual content to children, Politico reported.
Controversies over content geared toward kids aren’t new, though the issues seem to be intensifying. Henson said one longstanding complaint was the inclusion of themes about kids dating in Disney Channel content and other children’s shows.
“I think this is just an extension, where they’re showing these kids, very young kids, who, you know, in the real world would probably not even be interested in dating,” she said. “All of a sudden, they’re getting engaged in relationships and engaging in sexual behavior that is way beyond the experience of the average child.”
Henson warned parents to be aware of these issues and not to assume formerly kid-friendly outlets are still as appropriate as they once were.
“We have to do away with the assumption that I think a lot of us clung to for a long time that, ‘Oh, it’s Disney. It’s safe’ or, ‘Oh, it’s this brand. It’s safe,'” she said. “I think we have to assume that we are operating in a hostile environment and that most media that’s being targeted to our kids is hostile to our values, and we have to operate on that assumption.”
Henson encouraged parents to pre-screen content and to watch shows and movies with children. In an era in which kids and parents are all on individualized devices in separate rooms, this is a convicting calling for some parents and families — but a necessary one.
“Know what your kids are watching and what kind of messages they’re absorbing from the media they’re consuming,” she said.
Find more help and guidance on the Parents Television and Media Council website.
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