Beware: Hunger Games Book and Movie Will Disturb Younger Kids

Mar 23

My just-turned-10-year-old son is begging to read The Hunger Games. My oldest son, who is almost 12 years old, finished reading it a month ago. All three of my sons (ages 7 to 11) have informed me that the school population is abuzz about the book’s movie. Which is a bit odd.

“It’s about kids killing kids,” I’ve explain to my middle son. “And it is extremely violent and disturbing.”

“You mean, like when the guy gets chewed up by that wolf monster at the end?” my 12-year-old pipes in. “And when that guy gets stabbed at the beginning of the games.”

Yes, that and many more. The book is rife with bloody scenes that are a far cry from those depicted in the Henry Huggins book I’m reading to all of them every night before they fall asleep.

I, personally, read the entire Hunger Games series over a year ago. And I loved it. The main character, Katniss, is one of my favourite literary heroines of all time. She’s smart, resourceful, caring, and strong. We see the horrible atrocities through her sympathetic eyes, and this is what makes story such a compelling and worthwhile read. Even for younger readers.

However, I am still on the fence as to whether I’m ready to allow my 10-year-old son to read it. Because the story is so well-crafted, it is not mere violence for the sake of violence – which might make it easier to dismiss as ridiculous. The Hunger Games has the potential to alter a young person’s impression of their world because it is that good at portraying the evil of the situation. And, furthermore, each novel in the series (there are three) grows more violent, to the point of being hard to read by the final instalment.

If you are a parent grappling with whether the books are appropriate for your child, I’d recommend reading the series yourself (particularly for readers younger than 12 years old). This will allow you to determine if your child is able to handle such a disturbingly violent work. You know your child best. Furthermore, if the answer end up being yes, the books provide ample fodder to talk about how your child reacts to the themes of killing for survival, corrupt governments, and the atrocities of war.

The next question on every parents mind (or perhaps the only question for some) is: Should I take my child to The Hunger Games movie? I am of the persuasion that younger viewers should read the book first. As violent as the book remains, at least the young reader is limited by the boundaries of his or her imagination. A movie, on the other hand, can portray scenes that seem far more disturbing and realistic than what may be hazy, at best, in, say, an 11-year-old’s mind.

Most parents, from what I’ve seen, base their movie-going decisions on the MPAA ratings. Now, this is where things get interesting. Across the United States, the movie has a PG-13 rating. This means that a child under the age of 13 must be accompanied by an adult. In other words – parents beware of mature themes and dialogue. Strangely, here in Ontario, the Ontario Film Review Board has given the Hunger Games movie the lesser PG rating. This would put The Hunger Games in the same category as The Adventures of TinTin. Does anyone else find this baffling? My son doesn’t even need my permission to go. He can go on his own with a gang of 11-year-olds. Kinda’ sucks, doesn’t it?

The MPAA describes the highly anticipated movie as: “Intense Violent Thematic Material and Disturbing Images.” Unfortunately, because of Ontario’s odd choice in parental ratings, many moms and dads will not give any thought to the possibility that The Hunger Games may be upsetting to fresh-faced young viewers because of the harmless PG rating. For clarity around the different MPAA ratings, check out my earlier blog piece while explains the difference in detail.

The final verdict in my household is this:

I, personally, can’t wait to see the movie. I loved the books (the first one is best), and the critics’ reviews are stellar. My oldest son has asked to see the film, as well. I have agreed to take him, although I plan to go with him so that we can talk about it when it is over. (I can also get a sense of how he reacts to certain unpleasant scenes.)  I will not let my 10-year-old watch the movie, and have yet to decide on whether he can read the series.  I fear that these stories will stain his sweet mind with questions for which I don’t feel he is prepared.

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