Friday, 21 January 2011

Star Wars violence okay for kids

I've been asked whether it's okay to let little kids watch movies such as Star Wars, because they're quite scary and violent.

Bambam played Lego Star Wars on the Xbox before we watched the Star Wars movies with him. We felt it would give him some more background to the levels he was playing. The good part about that is that he felt fairly 'empowered' watching the scary bits, because he had already 'done' those levels in the game. The violence also seems less when you associate it with cartoon Lego violence. We've done the same with Lego Harry Potter and are now watching the Harry Potter movies. They're quite scary too, actually!

He was surprisingly good at understanding the emotional journey of Anikin into Darth Vader. We, as parents, welcomed the depth of this development compared to kids' shows actually aimed at this age bracket where 'baddies' are just bad for no reason. At least Darth Vader/Anikin is a complex person. (As a movie critic, I'd describe all this differently, but I'm talking child-rearing here). I think it actually helps him deal with the real world, in which nobody thinks or believes that they are the 'baddy'. People do things for complex reasons, including bad things, and Star Wars helped make Bambam aware of that. He often tries to discover what might drive other children to do 'naughty' things, and has also become more critical of his own motives at times.

Watching Star Wars with children has a bunch of other advantages as well. There is a lot of merchandise you can buy which can help in getting kids interested in games or activities they might not otherwise do. For example: we have Star Wars Guess Who and Star Wars Battleships game. I'm pretty sure Bambam wouldn't touch such sedate strategy board games if they weren't so excitingly branded.

Star Wars also has some pretty strong female characters. Padme Amidala can fall a bit flat at times. They tried to write her as a strong independent woman, but she seems overly reliant on the men around her, both politically and emotionally. Now Leia, with her great blaster aim, her snappy comebacks at the amourous Han Solo and the threatening Darth Vader: that's a real strong woman. She's in charge! I've seen Pebbles' princess role play turn a lot more active and empowered since watching Star Wars. Instead of dressing up and waiting in the tower to be rescued, her 'princesses' now run around shooting blasters and ordering robots about. And then there's Ahsoka, who's a female Jedi/Padawan.

Another aspect of Star Wars that is fairly interesting from a parenting point of view are the robot characters. Kirk Jr may have inherited Asperger traits from Kirk, my hubby. He tends to identify with objects more than people. For example, watching Harry Potter, he imagined being the Golden Snitch and allowing Harry to catch him so Griffindor could win. By contrast, Bambam wished to be one of the Quidditch team members who carry a cudgel to hit the ball (and perhaps other players) with. In Star Wars, Kirk Jr identifies with R2D2, which still allows for quite broad imaginative play and interaction with other children. All of which is good.

So, yes, I think watching Star Wars, and playing Star Wars games is a good thing to do with kids. Like anything, you should do it with them and then, if there is any issue with scariness or anything else, you'll be there to spot it, guide and explain.

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