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‘Cuties’ uproar stirs broader concerns

When the #CancelNetflix trend hit social media a few weeks ago, I was … curious. 

The Netflix film “Cuties” set off a firestorm of criticism as viewers shamed the provider, claiming the film exploits and sexualizes young girls. 

I didn’t watch “Cuties.” In fact, my family doesn’t have Netflix. We don’t even have cable. It’s a choice my husband and I made years ago. 

Jimmy Hinton

Jimmy Hinton

However, I care deeply about the issues that many brought up as a result of the film. I was glad to see a friend of The Christian Chronicle, Jimmy Hinton, quickly address the controversy.

“It’s bad. It’s gross,” Hinton wrote. “But if I’m being completely honest, it’s no worse than a host of videos of young girls the same age (and even much younger) doing the same kinds of dances on YouTube.

“If your kids have access to YouTube, a web browser, TikTok, Instagram or any social media app, rest assured they have way more access to things far worse than ‘Cuties,’” he added. 

Related: Netflix’s controversial ‘Cuties’ is only a symptom of a much larger problem

I agree. This one show seems to reflect a larger issue. What are we allowing into our homes and minds? How do we keep our children safe?

With those questions in my mind, I invited a panel of experts to help our Chronicle audience sort through the broader issue of protecting our children when they are online (which includes Netflix, video games, social media, YouTube and other streaming services). 

 The panel included:

Hinton, an advocate for victims of church sex abuse and minister for the Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania.

• Jennifer Shewmaker, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Abilene Christian University in Texas.

• And Andre’a Davis, owner of the mental health practice Healing Courageously and a member of the Glass City Church of Christ in Toledo, Ohio.

We covered multiple topics, starting with “Cuties.”

Shewmaker pointed out that while the film is disturbing, parents could use it to engage older teens in a healthy conversation.

“It may open some parents’ eyes to the realities of what their kids are watching online,” Shewmaker said. 

Children and teens with access to the internet have likely seen more than parents realize. The average age of exposure to porn is 11 years old. 

Getting kids to open up and talk about these things can be uncomfortable. As the parent of a preteen, I know that. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

The panelists’ advice: Normalize these types of conversations. Take away the fear your child may have. 

Andre'a Davis

Andre’a Davis

“Let them know, ‘I want to hear what you have to say,’” Davis urged. 

When they talk, listen.

Davis encourages parents to ask questions and stress: “There’s no consequence related to this. I just want to know what’s going on, what you’ve seen, how you feel about it.”

“Create a space,” she said, “where they can talk openly and ask questions.” A space where they won’t feel shame. And if you have young children, Hinton suggests that you go ahead and start these conversations. 

In his family, they’ve worked to keep the lines of communication open with their children. Hinton and his wife don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics. They use anatomically correct names when talking about their children’s bodies.

“Our kids have come to us, and they’re not ashamed. They’re not embarrassed to have those conversations,” Hinton said. “We’ve never made it awkward.”

Chellie Ison and Bobby Ross Jr. lead a panel discussion featuring Andre’a Davis, Jimmy Hinton and Jennifer Shewmaker.

Chellie Ison and Bobby Ross Jr. lead a panel discussion featuring Andre’a Davis, Jimmy Hinton and Jennifer Shewmaker.

Shewmaker and Davis agree that talking to your children from an early age can help empower them as they get older. It can help them not feel shame when they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable.

Jennifer Shewmaker

Jennifer Shewmaker

Shewmaker said to remind them, “I’m here to help you, and sometimes I’ll need to step in. I’m not going to be mad at you. I’m here to help you figure this out.”

All parents need to monitor what their children are doing online. 

“I know this is going to be so hard to some parents,” Shewmaker said. “If you give your child a smart device, say a phone, that is your phone. Give it to them, clearly communicating that you will monitor it at any time.” 

And then don’t be afraid to do just that. There are great apps available to help families monitor their kids. The Bark app and Circle by Disney are two highly rated monitoring options. Davis also recommends findmykids.org. 

As parents, we can ultimately decide what’s in our home.

“You can be in charge of this stuff,” Hinton said. “It doesn’t have to drive the car. We can drive the car.” 

I fully agree with that idea. 

“You can be in charge of this stuff. It doesn’t have to drive the car. We can drive the car.”

My kids don’t have smart devices of their own (because of COVID-19, they do have school-issued devices, but that’s only temporary). 

My oldest often remarks that he’s the only kid without one. I’m OK with that. I want to do everything I can to protect my kids from online dangers. I want to mentor them in how to use social media and the internet in healthy ways. 

I don’t always model it well, which is why I believe conversations like the one we had with this panel are helpful. 

I hope you find it helpful, too. 

CHELLIE ISON is the digital news editor for The Christian Chronicle. Reach her at [email protected].

Filed under: Cuties keeping kids safe online kids online online safety Opinion protecting your children online protecting your kids online Top Stories

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