I have heard many parents defend letting their very young children watch PG-13 movies. They believe the children have fun and understand it is just pretend. Interestingly, the subject often comes up because the child, who supposedly loved the movie, is still talking about it days later. Not in a joyful way, but in such a manner it is obvious the child was very upset by the images she saw. I have even seen parents puzzled why their child is having nightmares or acting out violent scenes from the movie.
After having several conversations on the pros and cons of allowing children to watch violent PG-13 (and worse) movies, I decided to consult some therapist friends of mine. They had some very interesting observations.
Did you know children under the age of eight years old (and as old as ten years old with some children) see movie and television images as real? Even when you explain to him that what he witnessed was make believe, his mind has recorded it as an actual event. Would you take your child to witness a real murder or mugging? By allowing your young child to witness a violent event on the screen, that is what her mind has experienced.
While watching violent media does not necessarily cause children to become violent, it can increase violent behaviors in children who have issues with anger. Remember acting out scenes from Batman or Superman when you were little? Imagine your child acting out scenes from the latest violent movie. I especially worry about children who already have boundary issues and are not aware of safety limits. The news regularly has stories of even teens getting hurt by imitating what they have seen on television.
I thought one point a therapist friend made was very interesting. She said if children are watching media with violence, it is better if it is in a historical context. A movie about WWII, watched by a teen with her parent, gives the child some context for what is happening. The parent is also there to answer the questions viewing these disturbing images can bring up for a child.
For me, I think it all goes back to the original scripture in Philippians 4:8. Life is so short. There is already so much evil and sadness in the world that I can’t avoid. Why would I want to spend my free time (and money) watching disturbing images? Wouldn’t I be happier filling my mind with images of things that are pure, good and lovely?
I know a lot of people around me have struggled recently keeping up their spirits. It seems that between the news, events in our town and illnesses of people we love, each day is filled with negativity. Children are very sensitive to our moods and discussions. Yesterday, our daughter asked if we could please stop talking about people who were sick, dead or dying for awhile (it has been a bad few weeks).
Let’s take the time this week to fill our lives and the lives of our children with things that are pure, lovely and happy. It doesn’t have to cost any money and you may just find the joy returning to your life. The next time your child wants to see a PG-13 movie (or any movie for that matter) take a few minutes and check out the website Plugged In. Does this movie really contain the images you want your child to have in his head as he falls asleep tonight?