As I was getting ready for work, I heard a small-ish voice singing, “Don’t you forget about me… Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t… don’t you forget about me.” Of course, she was trying to make her voice a little deeper, and that made me smile.
Born two decades after that song by Simple Minds was used in “The Breakfast Club”, my seven-year old was singing it like it was from her time.
Sure, she learned it from “Pitch Perfect” before I showed her the John Bender clip, but the fact that she even has it in her consciousness is, for me, quite an accomplishment for movies. It made the song once again relevant to her in a way that would not have been as instantaneous as if it were just heard in passing on the radio.
I believe that it’s important to expose children not only to movies that come up as they grow, but to ones that came before them. Movies are vehicles for music, history, art, culture, religion, lessons in morality, and whatever else – and present these themes to us in ways easier to understand, to appreciate, and to remember.
Whether the children learn from it or not depends greatly on the timing it enters their life, but that’s a whole other story.
When my daughter was three, we watched Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline”. After the way her already big eyes widened at the site of the doll being sewn together, her obvious fascination with how Coraline travelled between the parallel worlds, and her insistent, “Again! I want to watch again, Mommy!” – I knew we were on to something.
Discussing the movie with her between the gazillions of replays of “Coraline” to this day made it clear to me that she was learning about the difference between fantasy and reality, about discontent, and about Neil Gaiman (hooray for me, I can transition to introducing his novels from here). Now I can sit down with her and discuss these things, these concepts and emotions, without them being completely alien.
But like anything we introduce to our kids at this impressionable age, how do we figure out what they’re ready for? I don’t have the answers myself, but having a precious precocious around has taught me a few things.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to curate their viewing repertoire until such time they are able to access and discern on their own, yes. Does that mean I only let her watch what the regulatory board says is age-appropriate, or what other parents think children her age should be watching? Not always. The truth is, you know your child best – and assuming that you pay close attention to them, you’re in the best position to judge if they’re ready for a particular movie or not.
Does she act her age? Maybe she’s developmentally ahead of her chronological age and will be able to handle certain elements better. Does she scare easily? If something may cause nightmares based on her waking fears, there’s no real harm in waiting – or at least, preparing her well before watching something darker.
Here’s the deal though – and this one’s often the one that I linger more on. Once you decide that a movie is suitable for your child to watch, you have to be ready, too.
Be ready to answer questions that you’ve never thought about before, because kids have a way of looking at things that our adult minds have automatically processed but are actually questionable. “Mom, are they supposed to put that thing in their mouth?” – referring to the dildo scene in “White Chicks”.
They can confound you with a different view – “Mom, Loki is not scary. He’s sad.” They can trigger a different set of emotions with innocent questions – “Mom, why does she have to let her kids go with the other Mom? Why can’t she just take care of her kids?” (Stepmom).
Our kids may be more than half our age, but they make up for it with openness. They absorb. They trust. They surprise.
So choose your next movie, and be ready for the questions, the surprises, and the fun.
Because that’s what being a PG-7 Mom is all about.