Avatar Movie Review by an Overprotective Parent, ChildGrower A. Woz.

Our children may have just graduated from  sheltered status.

Last night we took our three children (ages 6, 10 and 11) to see the blockbuster movie Avatar. We intended to see the movie in 3D and on the Imax screen where it is larger and louder than life and and worried some about the kids getting motion sickness and spending more than sixty dollars on tickets. Another twenty dollars later for popcorn and giant corn syrup filled drinks added to some concern about disturbing other viewers while leaving multiple time to relieve little bladders.

Primarily though, we were worried about content.

Friends had warned us of the military might used to secure resources without respect for life or land.  We assumed this would lead to a good discussion of history repeating itself and felt our kids could benefit from that awareness.

Friends had warned us about some sexual content but we found the one scene about the lifelong unification of two consenting adults to be artful and honest.

The attire of the creatures, which in movies is something which seems to be more a part of sexual expression than a need to protect a body from the elements,  is more colorful than an issue of National Geographic- providing cultural perspective on how clothing is a necessity reflecting a clan’s geography and climate.

There was one scene where the good guys were released after a heroine exposed a little too much cleavage to gain access beyond security and we covered that topic in an after-movie discussion over pizza.

While standing in line there were a few families with children around age 10 and older and one father took a minute to comment that he was happy to see us there with our brood. He asked his daughter if she could handle the action in the show and she replied, “Yes!” and added an eye roll for good measure. We don’t usually take the word of other parents on movie appropriateness unless we know they have the same standards we have.

I am not new to being hesitant.  Ours haven’t seen much of the following shows.

  • Transformers 2 was absolutely inappropriate even though we knew several young boys who had seen it at home on video. The language was foul, plenty of inappropriate references to private parts, and the movie was thirty minutes too long in shooting and repetitive bombing and explosions.
  • Children with older siblings have been incrementally exposed to more and more violence, inappropriate language, nudity and not so subtle sexual overtones in movies like the latest Indiana Jones sequel. When you see the lubed up lips and legs of the lead female you might imagine you are in the pages of Penthouse.
  • Taking mine to see Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeaquel, makes me groan because it is about boys chasing girls. We haven’t decided on that one yet.
  • The Harry Potter series, filmed with such grey colors and dark buildings,  did not have enough fantasy to let my kids separate a movie character from a real creature.  At this age, movies full of common creatures and insects, like giant man-eating spiders and growling wolves invokes nightmares rather than leading to discussions of good vs. evil.
  • Twilight, full of enough sexual tension to enthrall already angst ridden teens,  lends itself well to a discussion of life after death and does have a fair amount of special powers interest, but it is best left as a great read for daughters who are thinking about boy/girl situations.  Mine aren’t even interested in the opposite sex other than to fill a soccer team roster, so I see no reason to take them to see it or to encourage them to read it, until they ask.

Sigh.

Here I am standing in line with about 100 other people, one hour before the show, ticket stubs in hand so as not to be accused of sneaking in the line. Filing past the added security hired to keep the lines moving and the patrons in line, we remark to the kids that this movie is something they should remember as not just a movie, but as an event.  We know the animation, the colors, the story is worth seeing and hearing. And we prepare the kids for the story by sharing the reviews and planning to de-brief after the show.

My husband is the science fiction fan who loves action and mind-bending situation in books, movies and music.   I love science fiction because it allows me to explore current social issues in a fantastical manner making learning more of a discussion of opinion than a matter of right vs. wrong.

My husband really encouraged me to say yes to taking all the kids and I was reluctant knowing it had an abundance of war scenes. To me, fight scenes are fight scenes. War is violent.  I don’t find war scenes entertaining, but neither are they entirely truthful. And thank goodness. Defending people or property with physical force, right or wrong, is still a violent action. Killing someone in 3-D is likely as bad or worse than seeing it in cartoon format.  At 2 hours and 40 minutes, I worried the prolonged exposure to any of the elements – sexual innuendo, violence, foul language or war scenes – seemed like risky business.  And given the price we pay for theatre tix, we hoped we wouldn’t have to pull them out of it if it crossed one of these lines into unredeemability.

As parents we know our kids and we know we are the ultimate decision makers in what they see.  That is the beauty of parenting and of knowing our children. We also believe we can help them understand what they see and hear through discussion.  Left alone, without some guidance, I’m thinking most Disney movies would not even be appropriate given that most begin with the mother dying or some evil person who is going to control the world! Am I right?

We do use a couple of tools whenever our kids are using media (and that includes music videos, seeing billboards and posters, consuming television, radio or electronic games, viewing movies, plays or live bands, etc.) ProjectGirl.org is a wonderful organization that teaches teens and parents to critically view what they are seeing in the media and deconstruct it so that they can decipher the mixed messages of advertising and media content.

As parents we have cobbled together a similar strategy:

  • We interject comments all through the movie about how make up was used to create an injured body part or how computer animation is used to morph two different animals into a fantasy creature.
  • We prepared them by talking about the premise and they had already seen commercials and advertisements to the point where they knew quite a few details without the benefit of talking with a parent.
  • We cover their eyes if it goes too far (if they haven’t already done that)
  • We listen to them if they want to leave or are not enjoying the story.
  • We turn it off or leave if the content is beyond redemption
  • We discuss what they saw, heard and thought during and after the movie.
  • We control the remote/choice at all times, sometimes we preview movies alone before we ok a family viewing.
  • We admit to making mistakes in appropriateness sometimes and chalk it up to an opportunity for our kids to be part of the real world, not sheltered to the point where they can not branch out of our overprotective methods to learn a little something about how this kooky world works.
  • We don’t just let them see whatever their friends are seeing. After they are 18, they can go and see whatever they want, hoping they don’t develop a curiosity for examining the horror genre. (SAW I, II, or III and the like, is not fit for human consumption besides we get enough of that on the evening news.)

Avatar was a terrific movie. My husband said he didn’t enjoy it as much as he thought but that wasn’t because it was a bad story. It was fantastic, especially in 3D.   For him, the enjoyment factor had been reduced because he put protecting his children before his desire to see the movie that has been earning billions at the box office.  With his kids he was half-entertained and half-scared out of his mind for his three youngsters’ mental safety and emotional development.

Sometimes responsible parenting does this to us.

#### by A. Woz. For Childgrower Blog.

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8 Responses

  1. Nice to see parents that really THINK about what movies their children can see. We too often had to deal with our 10 yr old twins arguing that their friends have seen R rated movies, but I’m proud to say that now when we explain it has inappropriate content and we don’t think they are old enough to see it they say “ok we understand.” and that’s the end of it. I think they have come to appreciate that as their parents we care enough to be involved in what they are exposed to. I’ve even had them tell me they were uncomfortable at a friends sleepover party when they had to watch an R rated movie. (Another issue) It just goes to show if you’re consistent and explain reasonably your kids will get it.
    Thanks,

  2. Like yours, it is surprising how standing firm on this usually makes my kids feel more comfortable. I also believe that if we are actively involved in the the viewing (talking thru it or pointing out things, etc) it is better than sending them to the basement with the dvd player to “entertain” themselves. Without guidance, letting them take in Avatar would have only been entertaining them with violence. Instead, it became an learning experience and a memorable family experience, an Event they will not forget that included so much more than the military actions.

  3. My fifth grade boys have just informed me that at least 11 kids in their grade have seen “The Hangover” and came home telling me about various parts in it. I am so disgusted-I’ve seen the movie and laughed a lot but 10 and 11 year olds?

  4. Karen! Isn’t that crazy! the hangover! what does an 11 year old know about a hangover– ? or is this just a result of Wisconsin drinking culture?

  5. Hello miss,
    I was going to forget about this page and move on, but I have to say I was quite shocked at what I read here. I believe you are going way to far in an effort to protect your children, and while your intentions are obviously noble, I believe nothing good will come of it.
    Your children will grow up sheltered, unaware of what it takes to survive in the world and might even end up with some very strange tastes later in life, when they are 18 and ‘they can go and see whatever they want’. They’ll discover a large amount of new, strange genres ranging from slasher films to grindhouse to snuff movies, and before you know it, the fascination of something which they have never seen before might just change them forever.

    I also found it quite astounding how you think Harry Potter is unfit for children while a movie that shows two naked blue catpeople having sex is apparently no problem at all. I much enjoyed Avatar, but I find this very strange when I read the rest of your story.

    I hope it is obvious to you that I am not attacking you as a person or anything, I’m just showing you a different point of view in the hope you might use it to your advantage.

    Good day to you,
    Richard

    • thank you for your surprising comments. If I wished to truly shelter my children, they would not have seen Avatar at all! As it is, we talk a great deal before, during and after and I imagine if I had screened it prior I would have rejected it because of the violence, not because of the blue people’s close encounter. The violent war scenes were something I wish I could shelter them from in the theatre and in real life, but can’t. And sadly, the reality of war-making is far easier to explain and creates fewer nightmares than rabid three headed dogs and trees that reach out to grab students. I’m very much looking forward to a time when mine show an interest in reading and then seeing the Harry Potters. Until then, I’ll try and use my parental responsibility to shelter them as much as they need sheltering, and provide them with points of view that they may use to their advantage. Glad to hear you enjoyed both movies– science fiction is a wonderful genre that encourages exploration of many social issues and we benefit more from reading and watching some of it, than we do from avoiding all of it.

  6. Hello again,
    I must admit I am pleasantly surprised that you actually responded to my comments in a calm and reasonable manner.
    After thinking a bit about it I kinda feel like maybe I’ve been a bit to bold in my statements anyway. I still find it strange you wouldn’t let your children see harry potter and that you feel bad about them seeing Alvin and the Chipmunks, and also think your Disney comment is going a bit too far, but then I realized your children really are pretty young and I probably wouldn’t bring my 6 year old daughter to Avatar, so in that way you’re really not protective at all. Also, the upbringing of your children is strictly the parents choice.

    Also, I believe that talking about things children might perceive as scary or just can’t wrap their heads around might be a very good idea to use when I get kids in the future.

    I guess what I was trying to say was; don’t go overboard and don’t be TOO protective of your children, because they grow up faster than you think.
    And I think I’m going to leave it at that because I noticed I’m not having much luck writing today (I’m dutch, it takes some trouble to write intelligible english sentences which make sense).

    I wish you good luck with your blog, and hopefully Cameron will make the Battle Angel Alita movie as awesome as Avatar was!

  7. My daughter’s favorite movie right now is the movie “9”, which is an animation yes, but not necessarily designed with a children’s audience in mind. When my husband first said he showed it to her I was a little shocked. My daughter is 4. But, after watching the movie with her and discussing it, I realized she understood not only the fantasy but the larger concepts that were addressed in that movie: War, Survival, Loyalty, Death and Afterlife/”Soul”, to name a few. Myself and my husband both being artists, me being an illustrator (for the fantasy genre) and my husband being a photographer, our daughter has grown up around subject matter that perhaps most kids don’t grow up around. However, her language and cognitive abilites are very high and it never fails to astound me at her ability to understand concepts, especially deep ones like a person having a soul and so on. Now, while I don’t know you or your children and there is something to be said for knowing your children and what they can handle, I do think that children should be able to distinguish the difference between fantasy in media and reality. I’m pretty sure a 3 headed dog and a tree that grabs people is covered under the fantasy catagory. None-the-less, both were guarding something those children weren’t supposed to be looking into. Also, literature isn’t always a way to shield your children from disturbing concepts. To give an example, Homer’s “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey” (as well as other classic Greek literature) both discuss Cerberus which was the 3 headed dog that guarded Hades. If your children haven’t gotten to those classics in school yet, I’m sure they will soon. I guess to make a long story short, I agree with “anonymous” that too much protection can end up being the opposite of your intention. Keep the communication with your children open but don’t necessarily shield them from something just because you don’t know how to explain it to them. They might just surprise you in the fact that they know how to explain it to you.

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