Welcome to another Media Moment! This month, Mary Shertenlieb, a former TV and film content screener and mother of two, shares how she and her husband prepared for and planned their young son’s viewing of the latest Star Wars movie. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
May the force be with me…I just showed my baby his first PG-13 film.
Hank was 7, actually – not a baby anymore – when he saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Even though he was 7, he will always be my baby and I’ll always want to shield him from all of the evilness in the world. As I type, I try to hold back a few tears upon realizing what a big milestone he has reached.
Before I had my babies, I had very clear and defined ideas of what movies I would show my kids and at what ages they would see them. It all seemed very clear; don’t show them PG-13 movies until they are at least 13. Pretty easy, right?
No. Not in the least!
Enter Star Wars and all of the media hype that surrounded it. My then 7-year-old son, Hank, expressed interest months before it came out about wanting to see it. Of course, all of his classmates were discussing it. Hank wanted Star Wars toys for Christmas and a Star Wars themed party for his upcoming 8-year-old birthday.
Back in the summer, before the MPAA rating was chosen, I wrote a piece about how I was desperately hoping that The Force Awakens would be rated PG and not PG-13. When I found out that PG-13 was the final rating I knew I had a decision to make – to let Hank see it, or not?
I decided to go see it myself first – I know, twist my arm. Personally, I was very excited about this movie and was looking forward to possibly having this experience with my son. When I was a little girl I loved Star Wars! On opening night, I was there with my husband. Both of us are huge movie fans. It was interesting watching from the standpoint of being a mom who was technically watching it as if I was my 7-year-old son. I came out of the theatre loving the movie, but I was concerned about several scenes. I felt that one scene in particular, was super dark and could be a deal breaker over whether my son should see it.
So here was my quandary: tell Hank he can’t see the movie, possibly making him the only boy in his class to miss a big pop culture moment, or bring him to see it and potentially expose him to scenes of evil and darkness that would frighten him and challenge his worldview! I wasn’t ready for that yet – I was truly very torn.
After doing a lot of thinking and reading, I finally came up with a solution. Hank was invited to see the movie with a group of boys from his class after school. I decided not to go that route. I wanted Hank to go alone with my husband, Rich. If Hank saw something scary, he could bury his head in dad’s lap and not be afraid of how this might look to his buddies. I also wanted him to know he could ask his dad anything about the movie afterwards. With a group of kids that wouldn’t be an option, as they would all be chattering away afterwards.
The biggest reason of all behind why I wanted Hank to go with Rich was this: there was one scene I didn’t want Hank to see. I felt that this particular scene was the one that pushed the movie into PG-13 territory, and would be too dark for scary for my son.
Enter the “dad needs to go pee plan”. I thought the best way to avoid this scene was for Rich to leave right before it. What better way to duck out then to use the old bathroom excuse? You can’t argue with that one. Rich couldn’t leave Hank alone in the theatre. So out they both went, and Hank missed the scary and dark scene. Problem solved!
On top of that, we planned the timing of the movie outing at the start of Hank’s winter break – he wouldn’t be back in school for another two weeks and by then, with all the holidays, vacations and other happenings, we reasoned that all of his friends would have long forgotten about Star Wars. We were in the clear.
Or so we thought.
As I picked Hank up from school on the day after the break, the first words out of his mouth were (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!) “Did Han Solo really die? Because I didn’t see him die. My friends told me I didn’t really see the movie because I didn’t see Han Solo die!” Whoa. Ok, I had to think quickly and as always, decided honesty here was probably the best policy. I decided to come clean on the “bathroom plan”. I told Hank that yes, Han Solo did die. I told him that yes, the scene happened when he went to the bathroom with daddy. And yes, daddy actually didn’t need to go the bathroom. One more thing – I told Hank that daddy and I talked a lot about that scene and decided that we thought it was so sad that we didn’t want him to see it. We weren’t ready for him to feel that kind of sadness yet.
Hank was a bit upset at first that he had missed the scene. I explained it to him in detail, so that he could go back to school and not miss out on the conversation. And I also told him that his daddy and I acted out of love with our “bathroom edit”.
Would I go back and change our “bathroom edit”? No – not at all. I would much rather explain the scene to Hank in broad daylight on my terms than for him to see it with the swelling orchestra music in the darkness of a theatre. At the end of the day, I was trying to protect my son.
Knowing your child well and being able to decipher what he or she can handle is crucial for their healthy development. Just looking at ratings isn’t enough. There are themes that pop up even in G and PG films that can scare and disturb kids young and older. If you are showing your child new material that pushes the boundaries of what they are used to seeing, make sure that you can be there to answer questions that might come up. It was never even an option for my husband and I to bring our 5-year-old son to Star Wars. That little guy is terrified of even the slightest scary moment on the big screen, so I knew immediately that it wouldn’t be good for him to go. I know his boundaries. I’m his mom, and that’s my job when it comes to media!
We watched Mary Poppins the other night and it was super cozy and brought me back to being a little girl. Hank loved it. Suddenly, out of the blue a few days ago, Hank asked if he could see Deadpool. In part because we were in New York City and ads for it were everywhere. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve read a lot about how it is a strong R. I told him no right away and when he asked why, I told him that it was not for kids and that it showed a lot of folks being hurt. That’s it. I didn’t go into it and I changed the subject quickly and that worked…for now.
Whew. Fingers crossed we have a few more years of Mary Poppins!
May the force be with you as you navigate through the tricky waters of the media out there!
~ Mary Shertenlieb