Should the Force Be With Him?
Is “Star Wars” appropriate for a four-year-old?
by Rebecca Odes & Ceridwen Morris
August 5, 2009
My son is only four and some kids in his class have already seen Star Wars. There’s a lot of light saber playing and Yoda birthday cakes and things like that. He has asked for a light saber, and I am pretty sure he will ask to see the movie soon. My husband was excited about the idea, but I think this is too young for such violence and themes. I am generally pretty laid-back about things, but I’m feeling like I might have to put my foot down. So, I guess my question is: Is Star Wars okay for a four-year old? And if have to fend him off, what’s a good way to do it? – Trying to Stay on the Light Side
Star Wars seems to have replaced various religious texts for the modern American guy: It’s the classic Good vs. Dark Side narrative, complete with battles, explosions, and awesome gadgetry. Many parents of our generation have been looking forward to their sons’ first Star Wars viewing since the meconium wipe-down. As mothers of sons, this is a topic we have been extensively debating amongst ourselves. So we decided to seek some counsel from a child development expert and professor of psychology at Barnard, Dr. Tovah Klein. And here’s what we gleaned from our conversation with her:
Star Wars was intended for an older audience. (It is rated PG, after all). Because it’s not geared towards little kids, it’s hard for them to make sense of it. Not just plot turns involving the defense of Aldreon, but the adult “conflict, tension and aggression.” When little kids watch this “tension” they may become noticeably “frightened” or “aroused” – and by aroused, Dr. Klein was not talking plain old excitement. She was describing a kind of confused, brain-scrambled state. “Violence without meaning is frightening,” she says. “When children can’t make sense of what they see on screen, they don’t know what to do with what they feel.”
But what about the seemingly inexhaustible interest many boys show in good guys and bad guys? Doesn’t Star Wars fit in with this sort of inherent preoccupation? Dr. Klein pointed out that while four-year-old play often revolves around good vs evil – this is the age where they begin to discover that both impulses reside within their own Pre-K souls – it’s best if the content of that play comes from their own imaginations. It doesn’t matter what kids use to work this stuff out – action figures, dress-ups, superheroes, whatever – what’s more important is that the ideas come from them. When young kids see a movie like Star Wars the ideas are being “put to them.”
It’s here where you may find a resolution to your own particular adult tension and conflict (and ours for that matter): If he’s really interested, avail yourself of some of the plethora of Star Wars toys. We know of one boy who played with Storm “Troopolers” for years before he saw the movie. He had pieced together information from Star Wars geek dads and uncles, and wrote his own story from there.
You could also choose some benign scenes on YouTube and show him a few. You do run the risk that your four-year-old will point to another, more controversial clip and demand, “CLICK ON THAT!!” So consider whether you think you might lose control of the curatorial process, or that this could turn into a battle in itself.
Dr. Klein also emphasized to us that it’s really up to the parents of kids this age to decide “what goes in and how much.” We really want to draw attention to the “how much” part of that sentence. We both live in New York, where our boys can’t get home from school without passing merch-filed shop windows and being stalked by a truck filled with SpongeBob popsicles. Ideally, our kids would not encounter tons of trashy, violent or otherwise annoying, upsetting, arousing, shallow or immoral media, but they do. And we pick our battles. Our choices are made in context of so much else. There are boys with older brothers, for example. How vigilant should parents be about overlapping media?
Our anecdotal longitudinal studies indicate some (perhaps too) early viewings of Star Wars are largely fondly recalled and seem to have left no lasting trauma. But if your gut’s saying no, there’s absolutely no need to rush into it. The Jedi tradition, though at times endangered, isn’t going anywhere.
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