I’ve stumbled my way into many, many heated discussions surrounding divisive parenting issues since becoming a parent. There are certain topics that just seem to bring the worst out in moms and dads, issues where parties on both sides feel defensive, attacked, and vastly self-righteous all at the same time. The topics range from breast-feeding to TV-watching habits to the question of “If your child has a late birthday, should you send them to kindergarten earlier or later?” (That last one is a particular party-ruiner.)
But, while I’ve battled my way through debates on all of those issues and more, possibly THE most contentious parenting issue I’ve encountered so far was one I wasn’t really expecting. If you really want to see a group of modern parents tear each other from limb to limb, just take a deep breath and ask, “So, when do you think it’s appropriate to show your kids the Star Wars movies?”
Ask that seemingly simple question in the wrong company and watch out – you’ll get torn apart like a nerf-herder in a Sarlaac pit. It’s just a very oddly charged issue with parents today. We are a generation that was raised on the Star Wars movies and so it’s natural that, as parents, we have the urge to share those films with our children.
Plus the interest level in Star Wars among modern kids is EXTREMELY high. I have a daughter in elementary school right now and Star Wars is, without a doubt, the most popular commercial property for that age range. Her classmates all have Star Wars clothes and toys, they play Star Wars video games, they’re having Star Wars birthday parties – they can’t get enough. And, now add to that, Disney’s recent acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, which pretty much guarantees that, more than ever before, kids are on the verge of being completely inundated with new Star Wars movies, toys, comics, and theme park attractions. Think about it – Princess Leia is now OFFICIALLY a Disney Princess. So I understand that it must seem really natural for many parents to introduce their kids to Star Wars as early as possible.
However, just because kindergarteners are interested in Star Wars, does that mean they’re actually ready to see the movies yet? Even though Star Wars has become a fairly family-friendly property over the past few decades (a trend that the Disney purchase confirms), the motion pictures themselves do have appreciable levels of terror and violence. Princess Leia and Han Solo both get tortured, hands are cut off left and right (pun intended), major characters (both cute and sinister) die frequently, a woman is turned into a bikini-clad slave girl to a giant gangster slug, guns are fired almost constantly (and occasionally they hit their targets), and whole planets are wiped out with one shot of the Death Star. Yes, there are countless kid-friendly mini-figures of the Star Wars characters, safe for children 3 and up, but can you really say the same thing about the movies?
Almost every parent I know has a different opinion of when it’s appropriate to show their kids the Star Wars movies. And I agree with that approach – a parent should know their kid better than anyone else and a parent should be able to make the judgment call regarding when they think their child will be able to handle and enjoy watching movies like the Star Wars trilogies. But, just a heads up to new parents, talking about that decision can be a very hot button issue with other parents. If you comment publically that your four-year-old kid is way too young to watch Star Wars, you might just be standing next to a parent who let their kid see Star Wars when they were three. (That’s happened to me.)
And, even if you can manage to be civil about it, trust me, those conflicting parenting decisions can bring an awkward and charged tension to the room. I’ve seen way too many parents angrily freak out when their ability to “gauge the age-appropriateness of Star Wars” appeared to be challenged. (Such a weird thing to get mad about.)
At this point, let me just out myself as a parent who HASN’T let their kid watch Star Wars yet. My daughter is five and a half and she’s OBSESSED with Star Wars – it’s all over her social world – but, in my opinion, I don’t want her to see the films yet. Do I think they’re too dark and violent? Yes. Is that decision based on my personal perception of my daughter’s capacity to handle darkness and violence? Hell yes. Do I look down on other parents who have shown their kids the Star Wars films at much younger ages? No…unless they start judging my decision and then I can totally get all catty and bitchy about it.
It’s a personal decision that I’ve made and I’m fine with it, but I do recognize the need to address the issue diplomatically around other parents. I think the key is to just be sensitive to the parents around you and treat Star Wars-talk in the same way that you’d treat religion or politics in mixed company.
This, of course, will seem ridiculous to many of you. They’re just MOVIES. And they’re movies with space slugs, robots, and 1970s haircuts. Why should talking about some dated sci-fi flicks be such a contentious parenting issue? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it all stems from the fact that people don’t like to feel judged, particularly when they’re sharing their beloved childhood icons with their kids.
Regardless, I’m sticking to my guns and not showing my daughter the Star Wars movies until I feel she’s ready. That’s just part of being a parent. My house, my rules, and all that.
But, like I mentioned, Star Wars is the biggest thing EVER with kids her age, so it raises the question – am I going to willfully keep her in the dark while kids all around her play Empire vs. Rebels? Of course not. But there are ways to let your child experience Star Wars without having to let them sit down and watch – what you regards as – an inappropriate movie.
So, come back next week to read the second half of my treatise on introducing Star Wars to your child – “How to Let Your Kid Experience Star Wars If They’re Not Ready for The Movies Yet”.