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The Hunger Games: What’s a Parent to Do?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

I believe that folks who comment on books or movies they haven’t read or seen are intellectually dishonest. Since I haven’t seen The Hunger Games, or read the books, I am not going to comment on whether or not they are good or bad for kids. I do know that themes: good vs. evil and heroes or heroines fighting to save town folk are noble and worthy. The catch with these, however, is that the wars  involve kids fighting kids. Many of you parents are familiar with the books and since you should always make the decisions about what your children see and read, I want to give you some important things to think about before you make that decision.

First, whether your child is four or fourteen, you be the one to make the decision about what books she reads and what movies she sees. I realize that teens can be unbearably naggy, persuasive and they throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, but remember, they don’t process visual imagery and complex behaviors the way you do. And- the problem is, they don’t know this. Their minds capture and filter themes (especially graphic ones) from a very different perspective than adult minds. In short, what they see and read makes a different impression on them than the same would on you.

Second, don’t be duped by the lame arguments like: the world is violent and real so my son’s simply reading about/or seeing a slice of reality. Nonsense. Here’s the gaping hole in that argument. First, there is a difference between reading about violence and seeing it. Kids process images they construct in their minds from written words differently than they process large, hyper-real images on a screen. During the preteen and teen years, children’s minds are mentally pliable. They are being hard-wired. Our adult brains are already wired. So, when an image comes into a teen’s brain it melds into that wiring and sticks. It becomes part of his interior mental fabric.

A simple question to ask yourself is, if watching kids kill each other is a healthy form of entertainment and one which won’t have a negative impact on your child, why not take him into the hood and find some street gang fights? Would you do that? Of course not. So why bring it into your home?

Third, scads of medical data clearly tell us that watching violence changes teens’ behaviors. Period. You need to know that even your sensitive, kind, straight A student will be a slightly changed person after watching kids kill each other.

The final dumb argument I hear is: my child’s going to see violence (or sex) anyway, I want to go with him to talk about it later. In a child’s mind, he has two sets of rules. Yours and his. This is a good thing. There are things that he knows you approve of and things you don’t. When you bring him to a movie that you don’t think is good for him, he gets very confused. Once you take him, in his mind, you’ve sanctioned it and now he believes it’s not bad for him. He watches, becomes disturbed and now feels that something is wrong with him because he was disturbed.  Since you brought him, he thinks he should be able to handle it. He doesn’t allow himself to feel what he does because in his thinking, you believe it won’t bother him. See how messy this gets to kids? Bottom line is, once you buy the book or ticket, you’ve given it your blessing and now he has to handle it.

As I said, I haven’t seen or read The Hunger Games. I am sure they are entertaining, even fun for some folks to watch. Before you indulge your teens or preteens (I don’t even want to know if your 8 year olds are seeing it) think about these things. Ask yourself a few questions. In a world where kids are shooting each other for real, do you want to add more of this to your child’s growing psyche? Are you ready to accept that your kid may be disturbed by violence? Actually- if your child reads or sees them and isn’t disturbed, you’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands. What about doing something radical like finding books and movies with themes that are fun and actually good for kids and pulling more of those into your child’s world?

It’s your decision, not mine. So if you think I’m all wet, that’s OK. But remember, one day your 14 year old will be 25 and she will pass judgment on what you did and didn’t allow her to do. For your sake, never her look back over her life and say, “Mom, what we’re you thinking?”

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