But there is one flaw that I believe has become more and more anti-family, particularly over the last decade: T-shirt shops.
Yes, I said, “T-shirt shops.”
When I was a teenager, I enjoyed browsing through t-shirt shops at the beach. It used to be that the relatively few shirts that might been of any concern for parents featured beer ads or ambiguous sexual inuendoes. Instead, many shirts advertised the town, depicted movie or television characters, or offered innocent jokes. My personal favorite purchases in the early ’80s reflected my enjoyment of Ocean City, my appreciation of the art (?!) that was The Dukes of Hazzard, and my support for Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins (along with a corresponding hatred of the Cowboys). But the world has changed.
Shirts hanging outside of these same shops now brag about illegal drug use–in words and images. Some make explicit proclamations about casual sex; they celebrate treating others–especially women–as objects, marginalizing the importance of emotional attachment. Others joke about violence and/or racism. For perspective, there is no doubt that such shirts violate typical public school dress codes for content.
So since my kids have been old enough to read, we have avoided going near these shops. We have even abandoned what used to be annual trips to the boardwalk. Am I just getting old and uptight? I don’t think so–at least not when it comes to this. I recognize that a reasonable counter-argument might be that people wear those shirts, so kids may see them anyway. But for me there are two critical differences between what I would consider a tasteless shirt on an individual and dozens of them hanging outside of a shop:
First, my kids are well aware that not everyone lives according to a single set of values. So we can have a conversation if they notice someone wearing something I would expect them to view as inappropriate.
Second, there are other shirts hanging alongside the “adult”–How’s that for an ironic euphemism?–ones. And those other shirts draw children’s attention with images of pop singers, Sesame Street characters, and sports. Some of the inappropriate shirts even satirize characters children love. Familiar images serve as attention magnets for kids, who are then exposed to offensive content.
So, assuming anyone agrees with me on this, WHAT COULD BE DONE? Assuming laws are not already on the books, waiting to be enforced, it seems to me that a simple ordinance prohibiting PG-13 and beyond content from being displayed outside of shops or in shop windows would be reasonable and effective. I am not an attorney, but I have to believe the same types of community standards that allow the sale of pornographic magazines–but restrict their display–could be invoked.
In the end, there is probably more money to be made by making the boardwalk and shopping centers more welcoming to families. Family-friendly is good business. It’s also usually right.
Not everyone plans to visit the Maryland shore. But we all take our kids out into the world to places where standards that I–as a dad–consider appropriate to protect children have been relaxed, or even abandoned. If you have encountered something similar–or if you disagree with my concern–please take a moment to leave a comment sharing your perspective.