As a parent of two young kids, I watch what my children eat without a second thought (mostly just looking for opportunities to expand their diet beyond variations of mac and cheese). I also limit their digital media consumption, while at times guiltily relying on such to get personal time for myself.

I recently witnessed something that underlines the importance of paying more attention to the media they consume.

While roughhousing, my daughter Tetris (4.5) told her brother Coda (2.5) “you are so awkward”. I was surprised because I’ve never heard her use that word before, let alone a judgement of that magnitude. It sounded like something she heard from someone or somewhere else. I don’t think judgement is healthy for young minds, so I paused the game and asked her with curiosity what she meant.

She was clearly surprised by my question, so I asked where she heard the word “awkward”. She then asked me what it means, but I struggled with the definition! As I contemplated, she innocently asked “does I mean like when you are not pretty?”

This was another shock, because as a parent I try to shield my kids from our disordered societal norms about beauty so that they may develop a better sense of it for themselves as they grow.

Awhile back the kids and I were talking about witches, and I was amazed at how well versed they were with their “evil” deeds and “ugly” appearance. When I told them that witches can be good and beautiful too, they were baffled. Disney has methodically perpetuated this corrosive patriarchal propaganda onto generations of young children, and I had been going along because it’s what I was raised with.

Kids are sponges that effortlessly absorb everything they hear and see. None of us are born with the ability to think critically. In a world of ever more pervasive and persuasive media, it’s becoming even more challenging for today’s parents to consciously choose what our children are exposed to.

As a dad who takes an active interest in my kid’s emotional development, I want to do better.

I’ve recently been on the hunt for better audio stories for the car and bedtime books to read that go beyond the stories of my youth. I’ve found a few conscious children’s book series that are wonderful (check out books by Adir Levy and Becky Cummings for a few), and some video programs that likewise have good messages for children (Daniel Tiger comes to mind).

If you have children, how have your children been affected by the media they consume? If you were once a child, what messages from the media you consumed as a child have you had to unwind as an adult?

This next generation of children will face many unique challenges in a changing world. I would love your suggestions on which contemporary media builds upon their innate creativity, resiliency and universal love to build a more just, peaceful, and verdant world.

And what messages are still waiting to be told that we could help bring into the world?