Parental Guidance – Are You Watching?
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Parental Guidance – Are You Watching?

Movies are a big part of our family time spent together. It is easy when we are not watching with our son. It is open season for our entertainment needs and the biggest decision is what kind of wine to pair with the movie. When it is family night however, the waters are a little trickier to navigate.

It is no secret that the studios marketing films to the younger audiences are casting a wider net to bolster the bottom line - at any cost. If it is at the cost of traumatizing or desensitizing my child, then count me out as the cool parent who lets their child watch the hottest new release. I will live with the stink-eye and pouting from my son.

If you have a child, you have, no doubt been party to the conversation that ends with “But So-and-so’s mom lets him watch Violent Movie of the Month!” There was about five minutes in my life when I thought I might relent and reassess. After all, if So-and-so’s mom let their kid watch Violent Movie of the Month, how bad could it be? Let me tell you. It would make your head spin how much violence, sexual content and profanity passes for “OK” in other households. I am not judging. But in our house, I know that my son’s brain is not yet fully developed and despite his stellar debating skills, he is not fully cognitive of the lasting effects watching human beings getting destroyed by other human beings in graphic and disturbing ways.

Preteens are proud. They want to be thought of as brave and grown up when neither quality is necessary or impressive at the tender age range that precedes the teen years. Kids talk at school about the latest movie they have seen at the theatre or more likely their home under the watchful eye of their parents. Watching a movie that is inappropriate for your child’s age, with your child is no consolation. If anything, it ratifies that it is OK by virtue of the fact you are watching it with them. Some kids will share the fact that something is scaring or disturbing them. Others may not and will soldier through something and allow damage to their developing psyches without comprehension. I am sad for those kids because it is not their jobs to make decisions that will affect their developing minds in the long run.

Case in point, I have put off The Hunger Games for over a year. When I heard the plot when it was originally released in 2012, I was horrified. My son was also a year younger and it was not even on the table as an option despite him reporting that some of his friends had seen it. We recently settled in for movie night and came across it. We discussed it as a family and my son, bless him, even said that if I decided that it was inappropriate while we were watching, he would understand if we pulled the plug. And that is exactly what happened. Because we knew what the premise was, the set up was predictable. What I was not prepared for was the severity of the brutality and graphic violence that was being executed by kids, on kids. Some were teens but there were a great many that were twelve years old. The very little sister that the lead character replaced in the deadly game was twelve.

The scene that killed the evening was when a meek twelve year old is speared in the torso then and dies in the lead character’s arms after they had forged a friendship, despite the rules that they were to kill each other. Don’t these words sound wrong just reading them? My son recoiled and snuggled in closer to me and I was so shocked at what I had seen I put up my hand and exercised my parental right to end the movie right there. He understood and I honestly do not think it was disappointing to him. My son is definitely the kind of personality to argue a point and the fact that he did not when this movie was kiboshed tells me that he was sickened by what he saw.

The Hunger Games was so offensive that in the UK some kids left the theatre early they were so distressed by the content. I have to wonder if this happened in the US? Motion picture ratings vary from country to country. In Australia, official government censorship decides rating but in the US, industry committees have this important task, with little or no government involvement. In France and Germany they are more lenient when it comes to exposing minors to sexual content, and when it comes to violence, Germany and Finland can resort to censorship. It comes as no surprise that the US has a rather broad interpretation of what is suitable to show our kids when it comes to violence, the element of a movie that can be linked to profitability.

Ultimately, like everything else, the buck stops with the parents and I feel we need to take this job seriously. Just because a movie got a PG rating and seems innocuous, does not mean it is going to work for your kid. Do the due diligence and decide if it is OK for your child in particular. Kids vary in every way. Some are more mature at the same age as their peers, others, less. Some may flinch at the slightest violence, while others are desensitized. You know your kid best. Do not let the big studios decide what is appropriate. That is your job.

Because our son is at an age where his bravado is often known to enter the room before he does, I have been pretty diligent about talking to parents of our son’s guests before we screen something in our house and we ask the same if our son is a guest in their home. I have said no to some films and have also been on the receiving end of a no from another parent, so there is clearly a continuum of judgement from house to house, and that is OK. It is cool to be the bad guy sometimes. Your child may not thank you now and may even get angry, but give their brains a chance to mature so they can process violence in a more realistic light and do not perpetuate the desensitization that the movie industry has mastered.

I am personally proud that my son was OK with policing himself and allowing us to police his programming access. I love that he is still a little boy and knows it. We changed tack and watched a Christmas classic. We cuddled and enjoyed the closeness that comes when you understand each other. It was beautiful.


Street Talk

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