Violent movies: How young is too young?

When it comes to taking kids to see summer action flicks, how young is too young?

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My husband and I went to the movies a couple of weeks ago—Edge of Tomorrow, the new action flick starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Because of timing, we had to go see the IMAX 3D version, so everything was going to be larger than life. I was looking forward to it. (We don’t get out much.)

Just before the movie began, four young boys came in with two moms. I thought it was odd that the boys sat right beside me and Sean, and the moms went and sat elsewhere, but thought maybe the boys were old enough to not want to be seen with their moms. But I looked closer, and the one sitting right beside me seemed so little, almost dwarfed by his big popcorn. My two kids are tall for their ages, so I have a hard time pinpointing how old other kids are, but I’d guess he was about six. A small six. His legs didn’t even bend at the knees at the edge of the seat.

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I didn’t know anything about the movie going in, but it was really violent, with lots of explosions, and also a situation where a character was killed repeatedly, often by being shot in the head. There was no blood (you’ll have to see the movie to understand) but, still.

I felt like I should be putting my hand over my little neighbour’s eyes so many times. He just munched away on his popcorn and seemed completely unaffected. When we came out, I checked the rating and it was PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), so anyone can get in to see it on his or her own—after some thorough consultation with their parent, of course. I couldn’t imagine taking my two daughters—they’re eight and five—to a movie like this, or even showing it at home, but then, they’ve never shown an interest in watching an action movie. It’s never crossed my mind to show them one, since they still sometimes hide their eyes during extra-terrifying episodes of Scooby Doo.

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Is it a boy thing? I don’t know. Most boys I know my kids’ ages have seen plenty of action movies, from Transformers to The Fast and the Furious, to all the superhero movies and, of course, Star Wars. Why the difference? Is it something boys are instinctively drawn to, or something parents tend to introduce to their male children at a young age? Or do plenty of young girls watch action movies, too? What impact does it have on them? I’m pretty sure that the first action movie I saw was Raiders of the Lost Ark, on VHS at home. I might have been 10 or 11 (I developed a big crush on Harrison Ford, but was totally freaked out by that guy’s face melting).

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I sometimes feel lucky that my kids aren’t interested, because I don’t have to make these decisions. But I will someday (and violence isn’t the only concern, of course). I’m pretty careful about what they watch, and we all know that on top of desensitizing kids to violence, action movies tend to portray women as decorative objects on the sideline (I was happy Emily Blunt had a big, bold role in this movie), and I’m trying not to fill their heads with complete crap in the name of entertainment. But it’s an ongoing challenge; there’s a whole lot of crap out there.

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What are your thoughts on young children watching violent movies? How young is too young?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.

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