Saturday, May 26, 2007

Musings on parental guidance

Last night, on the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, we finally let our sons (ages 6 & 8) watch Episode III (Revenge of the Sith), which they'd been bugging us about for a while. We'd held off before because it's so dark & violent, & most reviews said kids shouldn't see it before 10 or 12 years old. But they are soooo familiar with the whole saga now, since they've been playing the two Lego Star Wars video games constantly, and reading Star Wars novels, blah blah blah. They did fine with it. I'm sure it was very different seeing it on just a TV screen, knowing some of the scariest things in advance (we'd warned them), than if they'd seen it on the big screen without being recently immersed in the characters & their worlds so much. As for myself, I didn't watch most of it (had seen it in the theater), but when I was watching, we had the closed captioning on to help the kids follow it, and most of the dialogue and line readings were so wooden, it sounded like an early cast read-through, or even a bad audition. I also found it amusing that the Darth Vader suit Anakin/Vader got at the end not only lowers his voice, but greatly improves his inflection. ;-) (I think if they can go back & insert Jabba the Hutt into the original Star Wars movie later, they should be able to go back & insert a different actor in Hayden Christiansen's place.)

That, plus a discussion I just saw on a writers' board about the appropriateness of certain books for young readers, has made me think about how differently I view the topic of appropriateness as a writer, as a reader, and as a mother! Actually, as a writer I always err on the side of clean & broadly "appropriate" material, because that's what I prefer. I can't imagine myself ever writing an R-rated book, and even as a reader and moviegoer, I'd rather not be bombarded with explicit language, sex, violence, or whatever. Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn didn't need to spout f-words for their movies to appeal to adults. But because I want to encounter good stories, I put up with that stuff, to a degree, as a reader and a movie watcher. If it's not too in-your-face, I look beyond it. (And I'm afraid that if it's really funny or clever, I may look beyond it even if it is in-your-face... though I would like it even better if it was really funny without all that.) But I only just realized now that I have no idea how to balance my own ability to filter out what I don't like with my maternal tendency to want to protect my children.

I mean... as a YA reader & writer, and as a former child reader myself, I tend to think that while some books may not be exactly beneficial for kids, or praiseworthy in their subject matter, kids are smart enough to read critically and make their own decisions. I don't think they mindlessly accept everything they read as being the norm or the way things should be. And frankly, I assume that they hear things in their lives every day that are worse than a lot of things they may read on the page. I sure did, and no one is filtering or editing what teens really say and experience. But I always think of these things in the abstract--about teenagers in general, or about me as a teen. I had never until today thought to extend it to my own children as teenagers! It hadn't seemed relevant yet. Of course, my kids are only 6, 8, and 4 months old. They still need a lot of parental guidance. They do seem to believe everything they hear for the most part--even that Bounty is the "best" paper towel and we must buy it now! They even believe the TV ads for Floam even though we already bought Floam and they were already horribly disappointed in it! They keep thinking next time it might be different... And naturally I don't want them exposed to things before they are ready.

But looking back on my own childhood & teen years, my parents had no idea what I knew, and no idea what I was reading, either. They looked down on YA fiction in general, but only because they thought it was brain candy & not substantial enough. They suggested other books I could read (which I never took them up on...), but I chose all my own books and no one ever bothered glancing at them, as far as I recall. But even as a fairly young kid, I knew what I liked and what I thought about stuff. My mother would have passed out if she'd known I read Forever at age 11 (had she known what it was about), but even at 11, with Judy Blume being my favorite author, I thought the girl made a stupid choice and I didn't want to emulate it. When I read books with lots of swear words, I often tossed them aside on my own if they started annoying me too much--but I would have been patently offended if my parents had presumed to tell me not to read them! So I wonder how often I underestimate my own children, or if I'm not now (and I haven't had much cause to worry about this stuff yet), how much I will. I can't imagine being quite as uninvolved in my own kids' reading choices as my family was--but it's not like I've been reading all the mystery and fantasy adventure books my 8-year-old brings home, either. I trust him to choose what he likes. I'd love to be able to discuss things like this with them in the future and help them to analyze things critically, but I also have to remember I would never have wanted to discuss some of this stuff with my parents & can't imagine I would ever have told them everything! (I recently read in a magazine that if your 12-year-old daughter tells you she's in love with a boy, you shouldn't scoff that she's too young, but ask what she likes about him. I thought, wow, when I was 12, I never would have told my parents I was in love with a boy!! And I did think I was.)

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