My wife and I have been very careful about the type of media our son consumes. Especially when he was a toddler, we committed ourselves to avoiding any form of commercial consumption by our son. We also made sure he wasn’t exposed to violence prematurely. That made for a very PBS-oriented upbringing. Blues Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, Dinosaur Train, Curious George, and an occasional Barney episode filled our screen whenever our son was allowed TV time. Then we graduated to movies and watched most of the Pixars, a lot of Miyazaki, and some Disneys.
Then came that critical question.
In Kindergarten, several of the boys were obsessed with Star Wars. Midway through the school year, my son knew the names Yoda, Darth Vader, and Han Solo, without having seen even a snippet of Star Wars. Soon he started to ask for it. By March of that year, he was asking for it a lot, and so my wife and I put Episode I on our Netflix queue. We re-watched, but this time from a 5-year-old’s perspective. We tried to figure out if it was okay for his little brain, but there was no simple answer. It’s hard to put aside your love for a movie to truly glean whether it’s actually “good” for your Kindergartener. Up until then, our 5-year-old hadn’t seen a single movie or television show with a gun in it. He hadn’t watched people physically fight or die in anything. On the continuum of media violence, this was certainly many steps up from PBS.
But this is the bind: when you love Star Wars and other childhood favorites as much my wife and I, it’s hard to make an objective decision about taking that next Star Wars step. “It’s not that bad,” we rationalized. “It’s not as though they’re shooting guns. It’s only blasters and lightsabers.” “Plus,” I added, “it’s an epic battle of good versus evil. It’s like a greek tragedy. We’re actually educating him about myth, archetypes, and human nature!”
Sounds good, right? We thought so too. We let him watch it. We also let him watch Episode II (like the next day). And then, the big question of Episode III arose. It’s a terribly slippery slope. Do you let a 5-year-old watch a PG-13 movie? I mean, he’d seen the first two. How could we deprive him of the 3rd? Plus, as children of the 70s, my wife and I were dying to show him Episodes IV, V, and VI. I mean, that’s the heart of the story! I hang my head and admit that we let him watch it. I’m both proud of it (my son has since seen every Star Wars), and ashamed (my 5-year-old watched a guy get his limbs cut off and then burst into flames).
This whole debate is being conjured up again as The Hobbit hits theaters with its damned PG-13 rating. While my son hasn’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings, we’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to show him. However, because of the sheer brutality in many of the scenes (somehow death by sword of steel seems worse than by saber of light), we’ve saved these movies for later. But as The Hobbit hits theaters, we relive the same debate: “Wouldn’t it be cool to watch it with him?” versus “But it’s just too much.”
And so, geeky parents across the country are probably embroiled in the same debate. When we as parents have no emotional connection to a film, we’re more likely to gain a clear picture of that movie’s violence and, therefore, better able to assess whether we should expose our children to it. But, if we’re fans of the movie, or if it resonates with the child within us, we’re more prone to jump the gun and sit down with our kids to watch.
So, what’s a good age for The Hobbit’s PG-13 rating? 8-years-old? Please tell me it is; I couldn’t hold off much longer than that.