By: Holly Vanderhaar
It’s true: I took my 3rd-grade daughters to see The Hunger Games yesterday (I’d already seen it twice). I had read all three books about a year ago, and was eagerly looking forward to the movie. It wasn’t really my plan to take the kids until recently. I knew the books were a couple of years beyond them, not in reading ability but in terms of real comprehension of the political machinations and implications in the plot. And I’m not generally a big fan of violent movies or TV; we’re one of those “no toy guns, no combat video games, no gratuitously violent media” households.
I was surprised by how many of their friends have seen the movie and/or read the books–including one girl whose parents strike me as generally quite conservative. (She has an older sister, though, so that might have been a family outing.) Anyway, I saw it first, and I went back and forth with them several times on whether I thought they should see it, and always discussed my reasoning with them. I told them I thought it was too violent for them and that they might be scared. Their commitment to wanting to see it changed with the weather. Sometimes they reeeeally wanted to; other times they were content to wait until it came out on DVD, which I thought was probably the best option. More manageable on a small screen, plus the option to walk away and go do something else if it got too intense.
But for some reason that I still haven’t fully figured out, I couldn’t put the issue down. So Saturday night, over dinner, I told them in some detail the plot of the first book, not caring if there were spoilers, and I explained my concerns about what I thought their reaction would be. After hearing the story and realizing that when I said “scary and violent” that I didn’t mean monsters or things of the kind that they saw when they accidentally caught five minutes of Supernatural in a hotel room (oops), they both were firm in wanting to go. And I’ve tended to be of the mindset that I would prefer to watch something with them and use it as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than forbid it outright.
There were a couple of occasions where they hid their eyes and/or plugged their ears, but really they were more freaked out by some of the previews we saw. (Like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Nothing in their 3rd grade history lessons prepared them for THAT. And I made them cover eyes AND ears when The House at the End of the Street trailer came on). But by and large, they loved the movie. Sat enthralled for all two and a half hours. To be honest, I think they were a bit young to grasp the real horror of the story–oppressive government demands child sacrifice for its entertainment–and just saw it as a gripping and suspenseful story. I don’t say that everyone should take their 9-year-olds to see it. It’s heavily dependent on your kid and her tolerance for this kind of thing. It’s actually kind of hard to predict what will upset my daughters when it comes to movies; they’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies more times than I can count and have never batted an eye at them, but they could hardly sit through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because it was too suspenseful and scary.
I’m sure not everyone will agree with my decision to take 9-year-olds to see it, and I’m still very sensitive about exposing them to gratuitous violence, weapons, and so on. Maybe this is Monday morning quarterbacking, but in hindsight, I have no regrets. First, there were the economic considerations: I wanted to vote with my wallet. It’s not easy to find a female protagonist in movies that aren’t easily dismissable as “chick flicks” and that are marketed to young males as well as young females (the fact that the heroine actually saves the male lead is even better). I’m happy to boost the box office receipts of this movie by three matinee tickets.
But on a more philosophical level, I think it’s good for my daughters to see strong, brave, and resourceful young heroines who fight for the right to be self-determining. I think it’s okay for them to see that people in violent circumstances are deeply affected by it—whether they’re committing the violence or victims of it—and that it changes them. And I also think it’s important for them to see that you can feel scared and sad, and show it, and it doesn’t make you any less strong at the end of the day. I weighed the character of Katniss, and what I thought she might be able to teach my daughters, against the violence, and the scary moments, and the disapproval of many of my parenting peers. Katniss won.