Hunger Games? Parents: Do Your Job!

FamgamesOn Friday night, the fam headed to St Anthony Main Theatre to take in the much awaited Hunger Games movie.  This theatre is a great find for those who live in Minneapolis, by the way.  I work a few blocks away, and it turned out to be one of the few theatres with tickets available in the Twin Cities on Friday.  We all headed there a few hours before the show started. The huz and the girl started the line while the boy and I ate at Tuggs Tavern and then got food to go for the huz and the girl.  I have to say that the theatre staff is by far the best movie theatre staff I have ever encountered.  They let us eat food from a different location while in line, and a staff member actually brought us glasses of water.  This is good customer service!

A few months ago, one of my favorite bands (The Civil Wars) mentioned that they had written a song of their own and had co-written a song (Safe and Sound) with Taylor Swift for a companion album for The Hunger Games soundtrack. The boy had read The Hunger Games triology a few years ago as they had come out, and several friends – near and far – had read the books as well.  The huz started to read the books in anticipation of the movie (we tend to want to do that), and I followed suit. The girl finished the first book just in time for a family viewing of the movie.  There was some kind of unwritten rule that we all had to read the book before we could see it.  I do think that the boy  and the huz had threatened to go without us if we had not finished the book in time…

We all devoured these books.  The genre of the books is young adult/teen literature – a genre that currently pulls in children, teens, and adults alike.  Think Twilight and Harry Potter.  Books in this genre tend to push the envelope with themes in terms of whether or not children and young teens should read them.  They appeal to adults (often women) because there tend to be a strong female protagonist who reminds us of ourselves.  I would argue that Bella does not fit this description entirely – except that most of us have felt the draw to a “bad boy” at some point in our lives, but that was several blog posts previously.  And the reading level is not very stretching.  Even though they tend to be long, they do not tend to be difficult.

As I have mentioned in several blog posts, I am not good at summarizing.  Please refer to the Wikipedia summary as it does a decent job with it.  There may be spoiler moments in the summary and in the rest of this post, but I am guessing that you do not mind if you are reading this as a concerned parent.  What do people expect, right?  This is a book/movie about a bunch of kids killing each other.  I cannot share my thoughts with you and worry that I am going to spoil your viewing.  Sorry…

One thing that, as a former English teacher, I must point out is that books with similar themes have been around for years.  Whether we liked them or not, most of us had to read Brave New World and 1984.  My son said that more people would enjoy these if there were some action scenes in them like there is in The Hunger Games.   By the way – he has read both of them in the past year, so he knows what he is talking about.

In recent years, The Giver – another young adult lit book – explored similar themes.  Additionally, The Lottery is an excellent short story very similar to The Hunger Games.  All of these works have similarities in the sense that they attempt to warn us about handing too much control over to the government or about becoming a society so concerned about individual pleasure that we lose our way.  These themes are important for us to consider when reading The Hunger Games, but honestly most of the themes get lost on those who focus on the tensions of a love story or on the “excitement” (no matter how twisted) of the games themselves.

To answer most people’s first question – I thought the movie was excellent and would see it again.  I had my disappointments, but the huz and the boy have convinced me that most of my concerns were necessary in the condensing of a book with time to develop great characters into a movie.  What I appreciated most was being able to experience interactions between people outside of Katniss’s limited perspective in the books. In addition, the use of imagery hearkening back to German concentration camps (District 12), the costumes showing the stark contrast between the district people and those in the Capital, and the Capital bravado reminding me of scenes of Hitler or Stalin truly enhanced my understanding of The Hunger Games.

That being said…

My concerns are numerous when considering the age of children who are attending the movie.  I actually Googled this, and it is a hot topic!  As we sat in the theatre on Friday night, I observed several children between the ages of 7 and 10.  This is just too young, and I will not apologize for saying that.  If the children have read the books already, the parents are not doing a good job of being a discussion with their children about their reading lists.  Almost every website, reading list site, and the author’s own site recommend readers be 12 or older (and many stress that “older if child is sensitive”).

Schools should not be putting this on recommended reading lists for anyone under 6th grade.  If your child has a teacher in grades K-5 who has recommended the book, perhaps you should refer him or her to Suzanne Collins’ own website.  If the author is recommending her own book for an older crowd, perhaps we should listen.

The movie is rated PG-13.  We have ratings for a reason, and – as parents – we should consider this before taking children under the age of 13 to any movie with that rating.  The concepts in the books/movie are very complicated, the “love scenes” – though not explicit in any way – are confusing, and the violence is very real.

The violence is very real.  Overall, I thought that the violence was done tastefully. On most occasions, the “killing” scenes show blood spattering and weapons flying in the air. This takes the focus off of the act and action of the kills and instead on the fact that they happen. I appreciated that.

However, the entire concept of the games requires that children kill children.  This is unlike just about any other movie that has violent scenes in it.  In movies like Transformers, most children are able to distinguish between reality and fiction.  I doubt that most children believe that transformers are real.  They do not have that option with characters in the The Hunger Games.  Prim and Rue remind me of the local middle school girls who played nuns in The Sound of Music, the girls who live across the street, or some of my friends who have girls that age.  Peeta and Gayle remind me of my son.

To pit my son against the middle school girl who waits for the bus at the corner of my street in a televised “kill to death” match seems barbaric to me. I did not know the children personally in the movie or the book, but I was highly disturbed by their deaths.  The images now after seeing the movie could haunt me.  And I’m an adult…what about those 7 year old children who were in the theatre last night?

I would not have my friend’s third grade daughter or fifth grade son over to watch an episode of Survivor – in which no one kills someone else off, why would I take them to The Hunger Games?

Please do not argue with me that “kids see this stuff all the time.”  If they do, that is irresponsible parenting.  I spoke to a child psychologist on Saturday while at the kids’ speech meet about this very issue.  Our children are being exposed to far too much violence in media.  Although these books/this movie have many persuading reasons for allowing children to read them/see the movie, we need to have them wait.  I cried through the entire movie!  And I was not the only one.  My child psychologist friend works with kids every day who are impacted in some way by the poor choices they and their parents are making in terms of what they are viewing.

Please do not argue with me that you cannot control what your kids read or watch.  That is a cop out. Although I know that kids can get away with things from time to time, for the most part that is because parents are not paying attention.  We need to talk to our kids, talk to our kids, talk to our kids….and then talk some more!  We need to ask what they are reading, what they are watching, and find out why those things entice them.  We need to start at a very young age to gauge and intercede when our kids read books or watch shows/movies that we would not agree with.

How do we do this?  Well, one way is to saturate your kids with “approved” reading material.  Another is to be a parent – be nosy!  In my opinion, kids should not have an expectation of privacy except when they are changing clothes.  What they read, who they talk to, and when or if they are online are all things in our control!  Take them to the library weekly, know what they are checking out from there, dig through their backpacks, talk to their teachers, check the history on the computers…and the list goes on…

I realize that we all get busy from time to time, but our children are our most important resources.  Before we just assume that a movie made from a young adult literature book is going to appropriate for them to see, we need to do our homework.  You may have very different standards for your kids than I have for mine, but all of us care about our kids.  I feel strongly that children under 12 should not be seeing this movie, but I am not a parent of an 11 year old right now.  I have the luxury of having high school kids!

However, I faced this when the Harry Potter books and movies came out. One thing that I will never regret doing is putting off their reading of the books.  And even then, we read them as a family, and we saw the movies together as a family.  This is possibly the most important thing we can do as parents.  Read what they are reading (get it on CD for the car) and watch what they are watching.

Bottom line: we need to parent.

Parent well.

15 Comments

Filed under Education, Parenting

15 responses to “Hunger Games? Parents: Do Your Job!

  1. Kim Horgan

    Thanks for this, Stacy. My twelve year old has been asking to read the books, and I’ve said no. Not because I’ve read them myself (I read enough passages to get a feel of the violence and decided that it wasn’t a book I wanted to read). My husband read them though and loved them as well. With all the attention the books have been getting in school and with all of her friends having read them, I was beginning to think that I am horribly overprotective. Your blog gives me some validation that I’m doing the right thing, and I needed that!

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  2. Amen. I am linking this to my facebook today because I know lots of parents who need to read this and be reaffirmed in their commitment to their children. Thank you for this post!
    PS I am working on the bullying in Japan post!

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  3. Kimberly Wegleitner

    Great post, Stacy! I hope you don’t mind if I share on my FB page. I loved these books because they were so thought-provoking and would especially encourage parents to read them with their youth because it could yield so many great discussions (e.g. What would you do if the government required you to do something that was against your personal and spiritual beliefs? Which character in the book do you think your most like?, etc.)

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  4. refreshinghearts

    Well said my friend. We told our kids that as long as they were in our house everything they did, talked to, hung out with were our business. It worked for us – keep on preaching it!

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  5. Great post – I haven’t seen the movie, can’t wait too. But loved the books and your post is a thoughtful reaction to seeing the book portrayed visually. And I might add that you were disturbed because we are supposed to be disturbed. Suzanne Collins wanted to make a point, and she did it well. It sounds like the movie is accurate in that it made it so real. That’s partially the issue – if kids are too young to understand the concepts then it’s not appropriate to show them. A last thought – I’ve never liked reality TV and we have never watched it (our tv watching is limited anyway, probably because of so many years overseas) but the books push reality TV to a whole new level that, given human nature, may not be that far off.

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  6. Pingback: Hunger Games–Disturbing? Indeed… | slowingtheracingmind

  7. Pingback: Hunger Games–Disturbing? Indeed… | slowingtheracingmind

  8. Pingback: The Hunger Games–Others’ Thoughts | slowingtheracingmind

  9. Well said. Thank you for this post. It’s nice to read a post that makes me feel like a normal parent for parenting.

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  10. Stacie Brumley

    I saw this on Shan’s page and really appreciated it on so many levels! One mentioned above was validation as a parent. God bless and write on!

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  11. Pingback: A Trip of Contrasts | slowingtheracingmind

  12. Asking questions are truly pleasant thing if you
    are not understanding something fully, however this post gives fastidious understanding
    yet.

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  13. · Katie, Niki, JessieV & TJ: Thank you all so much, especially those of you who took the time to go over and vote. I know it’s a little hassle, and you are so kind to do it!Elizabeth, I am so, so sorry to hear that! Here I’ve been checking in on you the last few months, hoping to see some suburban photos, totally unaware of what you all were going through. How hetiebraakrng. I remember how hard it was when my grandma died. Sending a big hug to you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

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