Monday, June 6, 2011

Anders on Kids and Dark Classics

Charlie Jane Anders, editor of io9, considers when it's appropriate to allow children to watch classic dark movies. Excerpt:
How do you tell if your kid is ready for the hand-chopping Empire Strikes Back?

Not to mention a bunch of other genre classics that are for almost all ages, like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Or some recent superhero films. There are a bunch of movies, TV shows and graphic novels that are maybe just a little too scary, violent or sexy for little kids. And there's no exact rule of thumb for how old a kid needs to be before they're ready to watch some dark, scary material.

So we asked some experts, and here's what they told us.
Read the whole thing. The experts' advice falls all over the proverbial map, from being practical ("When in doubt, it's better to wait" and "watch it with your kid") to suspect ("One general rule: eight is the turning point") to entirely unhelpful ("Tons of shows and movies aimed at kids are dark and violent anyway"). It surprises me, though, that none of the experts advocated sitting children down for some careful analysis of what they've watched. During my college days, one English professor loved to fling around Wordsworth's flammable phrase "we murder to dissect" as a rebuke to those more given to explicating literature than experiencing it. And perhaps analysis sometimes does destroy the pathos of a work. But it can also provide both understanding and emotional insulation for sensitive little minds.

(Picture: CC 2008 by sean dreilinger)


pattinase (abbott) said...

I am constantly surprised at what our four-year old grandson finds scary--and what he does not.
He is prepared to watch Cheetah eat gazelles. But not to watch an evil bird swoop in in Rio.

Unknown said...

When I was little, I laughed all the way through "Gremlins" and then had nightmares for two weeks. Also, I saw a three-second clip of a Superman
TV show in which he is tearing apart a big metal sheet and it scared the living daylights out of me for years. I have no idea why.

Basically, there isn't any one answer. Anyone who says something along the lines of "watch it with them" and "decide based on what's scared them in the past" gets my vote.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

C.S. Lewis, of course, argued that he was allowed to read many books that sane Englishmen would never let their children read, and it seemed to do him no harm. He also referenced kids who were afraid of the most innocuous objects to say that kids are going to be scared anyway, so why not of dragons that can be defeated.

I am all for dissecting art in all its forms for the moral/social motives behind it. Strangely enough, this means I enjoy art more, not less. I may not like that particular rap song that is blaring from your speakers, but I can appreciate its strange use of rythm, its narrative flexibility, and its complicated (if sometimes immoral) reflection of the society that created it.

My wife warns me that my kids may not share this enthusiasm. I disagree. Isn't constantly thinking on multiple layers, often at cross purposes, that which makes us human and separates us from the apes? Isn't the TARDIS right to say that humans are, by definition, "so much bigger on the inside than on the outside?"

dolorah said...

As a mother of 5, all I can say is a parent needs to know their children individually, and not be afraid to monitor each accordingly.

Sometimes stuff slips away, but mostly, conscientious parents are keeping track. Talking with their kids, processing, making informed decisions.

And then the kids make their own decisions once they're old enough.


Loren Eaton said...


That's so true. I remember being terrified as a child of an animated version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" (not the Disney version). I don't know why, but it gave me the heebies for years.

Loren Eaton said...


Sharks. They freaked me out as child. After watching some animated shark on some Saturday-morning program, I was afraid of swimming in pools when it was overcast because I thought it might be lurking in the deep end.

Yeah, I think its wise for parents to exercise a little bit of oversight. Not that they should be heavy-handed (because that causes its own set of problems), but that they should help the little ones be a bit discerning.

Loren Eaton said...


Yes, but Lewis was uber-brilliant from an egg, so he doesn't really count.

I also find that I enjoy artistic expression the more I pull it apart and discover how it works. I'm consistently surprised that others don't want to do the same.

Loren Eaton said...


I absolutely hope parents are staying on top of their kids' media consumption. I mean, stories are great, but there's a lot of stuff out there that requires an age-appropriate mindset. I'm glad you've done the hard work.