The Acceptability of What We Watch

I grew up watching a lot of movies that I know many parents would be horrified to show their young children.  I saw the Shining at age 6 along with the Exorcist.  I saw Blue Velvet at 12 and we watched Basic Instinct as a family movie when I was around the same age.  I realize that these are extremes and that the vast majority of parents are probably very right to not let their kids watch these (though I admit I turned out aye-okay thanks to the fact that I never watched these movies alone, but rather had parents there talking me through it and stopping when needed).  However, there are a lot of movies that my friends and I all saw that I know by today’s standards would be unacceptable for many kids to see because they’re scary or violent or contain even a hint of sex.

I remember sitting in my neighbour’s TV room with all us neighbourhood kids watching The Return of the Living Dead, parts 1 and 2, over and over.  We loved it.  We laughed, we cringed, we even screamed sometimes.  Our parents saw nothing wrong with us watching these things as a group (with kids that ranged in age from 7 to 13) and in fact seemed quite happy we were all enjoying ourselves.  I also remember watching Goonies time and time again.  And Stand By Me.  And Dirty Dancing.  And Gremlins.  And Terminator.  And Indiana Jones.

Think of the classic 1980s and 90s movies and if you’re in my generation, you will remember so many of them with absolute glee.  I dare you to look at a list of your favourite movies as a kid and not smile just at the thought of them.  For many of us, these were moments that have turned into some of our best memories; moments we look back on and smile about; moments that make us go back and watch these movies over and over again as adults; moments that we memorized and still quote to this day.  For many of us, these movies were watched with our friends be it after school, at sleepovers, birthday parties, or just hanging out on a weekend.  As such, our friends are central to the memories as well.

Heaven forbid our children are given the same opportunity though!  I ask: What’s so different about our children that makes them incapable of watching the movies we hold dear to our hearts?  What makes us so fearful that we refuse to allow them to even try to watch the movies that brought us so much happiness?

In short, what’s happened?

One problem, as I see it, is that as we are older we now approach the movie with adult eyes and ears.  We go back and watch it as an adult and see all the things that we now “get”, forgetting we didn’t get it at all as a child, or at least didn’t get it in the same way.  We have a curse of knowledge that we can no longer erase.  It’s like the very famous theory of mind test they give to children in which a child has to say where another kid will look for a toy that’s been moved.  Kids don’t pass this until around ages 4-5 and yet we know they are capable of taking another’s perspective well before that.  The problem?  They can’t ignore their own knowledge when it’s salient.  I believe it’s the same for us with these movies and we really have to let it go.  Let our kids experience the movie as they see it and hopefully love it like we did.

I think the other problem is that the act of TV and movie watching has largely become independent.  In an era where people want to get away from the TV, parents rarely allow their kids to spend hours watching movies when their friends are over.  They want them out doing stuff.  This is laudable, and yet perhaps misguided at times.  I know I had a near-perfect neighbourhood situation in which we were often out and about playing as we had a tight-knit group of friends and a safe neighbourhood to play.  We were out a lot, but no one batted an eye when we decided we wanted to be in watching movies.  This too was part of our childhood.  Rarely did I watch TV by myself.  Yet that seems to be the common time in which the TV is on for kids these days.  When they are lonely and bored, the TV is flipped on, when instead it should be done with friends and family to allow discussion, shared enjoyment, and a buffer for those moments on screen that may be a bit too much.

Our kids aren’t different than us, but I do realize they have a very different environment and relationship to TV.  I would challenge parents to avoid the pitfall of sheltering your children too much and instead take the time to watch these movies with them, answer their questions, and hopefully create memories that your child will take into adulthood.  Or even let them watch away when they have a friend over while limiting TV when they are alone.  Who knows, you may instill the same love so that one day you’re sitting down watching the same movie with your child and your grandchild, and wouldn’t that be awesome?

By Tracy Cassels

February 17, 2014