My son had a sleepover last weekend with a friend and I got into a conversation with the parents whose son was eager to watch Star Wars Episode III. Because my son is obsessed with Harry Potter and I’m not a big fan of the first three episodes of Star Wars my son hadn’t seen it yet. The other parents are very conscientious about making sure that the media they show their young guests is appropriate and so they talked to me with great concern about my thoughts on this choice of movies.
While my son has dealt with PG-13 movies in the past there are some, and particular kinds, of content that just aren’t right for him. Being a less conscientious host to my daughter’s sleepovers – on an evening when Merran wasn’t around I showed our daughter and her little friends Mama Mia (at their request). When Merran found out she was Displeased considering that Mama Mia is pretty much all about sex, promiscuity, irresponsible pre-marital relations, the wacky consequences of irresponsible pre-marital relations, Pierce Brosnan singing the world’s most painful version of “SOS”, and sex. Fortunately for me she acknowledged that all of the sexual innuendo went over their little heads and they just enjoyed the dance numbers. The girls agreed with me though about Pierce Brosnan.
My son has seen Mama Mia and that’s the kind of movie his overactive imagination can watch before bed. He’s not concerned with them laying all their love on each other so much as the fact that there are a bunch of guys dancing wearing swim fins!
Star Wars Episode III is another matter however because its PG-13 comes from the violence, and one scene in particular. A friend of mine had the best explanation I’ve heard for the scene by recasting Obi-wan Kenobi’s dialogue.
“Luke, you know when I said Darth Vader betrayed and murdered your father? What I meant to say was that I cut off his arms and legs and left his burning ass on the side of a volcano to die.”
This is the type of scene my son and his overactive imagination would have trouble processing before bed and might potentially lead to some serious nightmares.
This is our benchmark for gauging appropriate content and each parent needs to track their children and see what kind of content appeals to them and what effect it might ultimately have. I remember vividly the time I went to see Blair Which Project and found the hipster family behind me with their four year old. This is not appropriate content for a four year old. No human four year old would choose The Blair Which Project over, say, Cinderella or Sponge Bob Square Pants. So, obviously, common sense has to enter into the equation as well.
This same idea goes for books, television, and to a lesser extent music. Our aforementioned Harry Potter fanatics have listened to the audio books of the first six books and in most cases more than once. But they haven’t listened to the last book yet and they won’t for a while to come. Their friends at school have already spilled the beans about who dies, so that’s no longer a secret but reading the details of what happens is another matter entirely. Especially when our guys are so attached to certain characters like Fred and George and have such active imaginations.
I’m not interested in losing any more sleep in the middle of the night. Or rather, I should say Merran is not interested in losing any more sleep to nightmare-wracked kids who feel the need to bring their elbows into our bed. This is the real reason why you’re careful with the content you expose your children to – bony little elbows at 3:00am.
Our daughter, who recently turned eleven, embarked on a plan to read each Harry Potter book at the same age as Harry. This was fine for a time but more and more she was encountering spoilers about the last book and I was concerned that by the time she was reading it for the first time at 18 all the fun would have gone. I encouraged her to go ahead and read the last book, which she did, and it was perfect. There were still plenty of surprises, and she’s at an age where she’s invested very emotionally in the story and so got a lot of enjoyment from the very rich reading experience it provided. And like Merran, once she finished the last page of the last book the first thing she did was go back and immediately start reading the first book again. Reading the series in parallel with Harry’s age is an interesting thought experiment but there is another consideration for when it’s appropriate to engage with the material – when your youthful sense of wonder is most receptive to the magic of the text.