My daughter is currently rolling along just fine with old Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes… Which fall around the same era/level of violence. Based on her total lack of reaction to the violence and “scary monsters”, I’ve settled on her turning three as the time most appropriate to opening the original trilogy can of worms.
Far more than the content, though, is HOW it is consumed. When she watched Ghostbusters the first time, we stopped it twice when it got too scary – and we talked through the story whenever she was confused or had questions. We do the same with Doctor Who, and now she’s the one explaining the basics of time travel to mommy whenever we’re watching a 20 minute episode while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven.
Watch it with your kids, watch their reactions, and be ready with a pause or stop when things need explaining, or get to be overwhelming. And yeah, if they start having nightmares, or freaking out their teachers/fellow students at school, maybe tone things down for a bit.
After her birthday, my daughter was home sick from preschool for a few days, and we went ahead and tested the waters, watching Star Wars. I told her as we started, and consistently during the tense parts of the movie, that she could let me know, or just turn away from the screen if it got too scary.
Her thoughts on:
- the only things that are definitively killed are robots (Storm Troopers, droids) bugs (Greedo) and maybe Obi-Wan Kenobi (though she also theorized that he simply jumped out of his clothes, and was running around the Death Star naked).
- Darth Vader dresses a lot like Batman, and might be a ninja.
- “When the orange guys go ‘pew-pew’ on the skeletons house, and they fly in the hole, and then the other man and his doggy comes in and scares away Darth Vader and he spins and spins, and then and then it all goes boom and the doggy doesn’t get a medal from Princess Leia.†“
In short, kids often make different connections with narrative works, and Star Wars is no different. Where you may see a movie depicting at various points
- planetary genocide,
- good guys shooting first (if you still watch on VHS, anyway),
- and of course adults playing in wet garbage,
it’s more likely that your kids are seeing something else (okay, they probably also see the garbage thing, and are plotting how to replicate it on trash day using the garden hose and a city sanitation vehicle). The key job for you as a parent, is to understand what it is they see, and help “nudge” their potentially harmful interpretations back on track.
Again, as I mentioned prior to my update, it’s much more important that whatever you let young children watch, you watch together. Even something seemingly innocuous like the Berenstain Bears(*) can off “go off the rails”, or significantly diverge from what you would consider “healthy messaging” on a given topic, so simply looking for and relying on a movie rating or age advisory is bad, lazy parenting, and often worse than letting your kids see fictional battle stations housing thousands of living beings blow up to the cheers of the protagonists.
(* see: http://www.toplessrobot.com/2008… for the proof)
(† that part still pisses me off, every time, and she noticed it too! Made me so proud…)
This answer originally appeared on Quora: