Before taking his two teenage children to a new Broadway production of Edward Albee's play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," New York Times critic Dwight Garner wondered whether they were ready for it.
"All parents want to find a happy medium, to make our children feel, as A. O. Scott, my wise colleague at The New York Times, has written, 'both adventurous and protected, comfortable and sophisticated.'"
Garner joined The Daily Circuit Thursday, Nov. 29 to talk about introducing kids to different cultural experiences. Ty Burr, film critic for The Boston Globe, also joined the discussion.
We've compiled some tips to help parents navigate difficult cultural material with their children:
1. Err on the permissive side and let children find their own way
"Don't force feed art to children; you have to lead them to it," Burr said.
Garner said it's important for parents to be open about new cultural experiences and push them to learn about complex topics.
"In my own childhood, I think my parents were perhaps overly protective of us kids and sort of shielded our eyes and confiscated books that we were reading," Garner said. "Looking back on it, it's always the stuff your parents take away from you that you want to read and see the most... We don't throw things at them that we think are absurdly above their age level, but if you don't push them I think that's a mistake."
2. Treat your children as individuals with differing abilities to handle tough topics
"You have to be aware of your kids and the differing personalities and what they're capable of," Burr said. Balance your child's interest in a particular movie or film with your understanding of what they can handle.
3. Think about the tough themes in the art as a potential inspiration and source of deeper learning
A caller in Minneapolis ended up choosing a career path based on an early movie experience.
"When I was 12, my mother unknowingly took me to Rent," she said. "I think she had just known it was a Tony-award winning musical, I don't think she really knew it was about ... Some people would say that was inappropriate, but after seeing Rent I went on through middle school and high school and became an AIDS and HIV educator through the Red Cross ... Other kids might have taken a different thing from that, it became a passion for me. If you can give your children those experiences and teach them rather than let things be scary or dangerous."
4. If you think you're shielding your children from something, they likely already know about it
"Kids are generally ahead of where we think they are in their observation, if not knowledge, of the adult world," Burr said.
Films or books that bring up these adult topics are often an opportunity for kids to open up about what they are thinking about.
"We tend to have safe houses where we don't talk about things kids see because they feel uncomfortable talking about it with their parents and parents feel uncomfortable talking about it with their kids," Burr said. "I do know that when you take your kid to see a movie, sometimes you can spark these absolutely incredible conversations that come out of their experience of seeing it. It prompts them to start talking about stuff they've been thinking about already and the movie almost gives them an excuse to lay it on the table."
5. The book kids want to find themselves is the one they should be allowed to find
"It's the book that you carry in the back pocket when you're a kid I think that's going to make you a real reader," Garner said.
6. Don't be surprised if your child is upset by something you didn't suspect
"Emotional traumas can be more difficult for kids to process than visual things," Burr said.
One caller said he loved "Braveheart," but had a lot of trouble processing the scenes of death in "Titanic."
"For a young mind, that's a big idea to wrap your brain around," Burr said.
How do you know when to expose children to difficult films, books, plays and other cultural fare?
Before taking his two teenaged children to a new Broadway production of Edward Albee's play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," New York Times critic Dwight Garner wondered whether they were ready for it. Kerri spoke to Garner and film critic Ty Burr about "going beyond cultural kid stuff."
Are there movies or plays or books that are important enough for your kids that you "waive" the usual adult content rules? Can you think of having that experience yourself - as a young person - and what a difference it made?
I read The Eye of the Needle when I was 10. Good book, but probably a little too soon. And not exactly a work of high art.
Dwight Garner says he errs on the permissive side. His own parents banned Judy Blume.
"I think you have to be aware of your kids and what they are capable of and not capable of."
"Not all classic movies are good for kids. I slapped on King Kong and it was an intense movie." His kids are still freaked out by it.
It seems like many R rated movies from the 1980s/1990s are basically what is not PG13 "strongly cautioned" with a few swear words. So there are a few older R films we will let our 13yr/10yr olds watch. Some PG13 movies are a little too adult - we did not let them watch the Dark Knight movie this year as it seemed too adult in its themes etc.
Ty Burr sat down and watched The Godfather with his daughter when she was 11. The intensity and the adultness "rocked her world" and she had never seen a movie that prompted her to see the world that way.
I looked at book of Life magazine photos when I was very young. Knowing the photos documented actual events made subsequent works of fiction seem tepid in comparison.
Marie, a caller:
When she was 12, her mother took her to Rent and that after seeing it she became an AIDS educator for the Red Cross and traveled to Tanzania to do the same. All because of a musical.
"Great art can influence kids in unexpected ways."
Garner says he took his son to Ladder 49, a movie with a major character's death at the end, when he was young:
I didn’t notice it at the time, but Penn, terrified, wept in his seat, tears collecting in a miniature wading pool at his clavicle.
On the way out he said something I’ll never forget. He looked at me and, wiping his face on his shirt-sleeve, half-croaked, “That was the first time I’ve ever cried about something that wasn’t about me.” Penn, now a passionate moviegoer, had sprung his first cathartic leak. But I felt like a monster.
Kids are ahead of where you think in their knowledge of the adult world. "We tend to have safe houses where we don't talk about what kids see."
My son, who is now 12 has been interested in World War 2 since he was about 4. It has been a journey of discovery for us as we increased his access to such terrible events. He started out learning about the airplanes and tanks and have moved on to D day and Hitler. Only now are we allowing him to learnmore about the concentration camps. I don't know that he could totally understand the finality and gravity of these topics any earlier and don't know if anyone can at any age.
My parents had me watch The Diary of Ann Frank.
I'm sure they thought I wouldn't understand it but at the end I asked my mother if it was true the "those men killed that girl."
We lived near a busy street by the fire department and every time a siren went by (they were the kind that sounded like Europen sirens) I thought the Nazis were coming to get me and I would go down the hall and sleep on the floor outside my parents' bedroom.
How old were you?
@KerriMPR family arrived late force to sit apart at Robocop, kid sitting next to me horrified by the shotgun dismemberment scene -major FAIL
The look on my teenager's face when she "got" the adult humor in Shrek...priceless!
Ty Burr's kids love Stanley Kubrick. They are teens. He says that Clockwork Orange "was rough" for her but that she was ready. They spent weeks discussing it afterwards.
Ty Burr saw The Last Picture Show with his mom as a teen. The Cloris Leachman's sex scene wie th Timothy Bottom "made him wish the floor would open up and swallow him." He says he and his mom did not discuss the movie on the ride home.
seriously, the innuendo in PG13 is worse than rated R, too much left to the imagination
My parents were lenient with me when I was young, but one experience sticks out in my mind as being pivitol.
When I was in high school I took an acting class that required us to attend one play outside of class and write about it. I scanned theatre listings and found one that looked interesting. I didn't know anything about Sam Shepard at the time, or his play "A Lie of the Mind," which is abobut spousal abuse.
I left the theatre that night changed. I was and continue to be, over a decade and a theatre degree later, I'm still committed to making art that tackles hard issues like that.
My mom, who saw the play with me, never talked about it other than to say it was sad, but she liked it, never mentioned the "adult" themes. She'll never understand how important it was to me that she was willing to let me be exposed to some of the harsher realities of life. I'm thankful to both of my parents for protecting me when necessary, but also for exposing me to art that deals with the lived experiences of those around me. It's made me a more compassionate person.
As a music historian and primary care giver to my children (the oldest now 8), I have exposed my children to a variety of music, film, lit, history, World Religions, political debates et al. The crucial point is that I encourage them to think about what they have seen and we discuss its meaning to us and explore different interpretations.
When it came to film, I let the kids watch a variety of Errol Flynn films so that they could see the same actors "playing pretend." They caught on pretty quickly to the idea that what they watch on TV and movies is not "real."
These are instances where I as a responsible parent have control. What concerns me most however is the pictoral graffitti scrawled in the stalls of men's restrooms than music, movies, and lit. When my son was 2 1/2 he could read and he could identify pictures...That took a bit more explaining as a parent.
It's the book that you carry in your back pocket that makes you a reader. - Dwight Garner on the horror novels he read as a child.
@DailyCircuit my daughter has loved The Wizard of Oz since she was 2. But when she watches it now w her older friends (6- 8)they are scared
When I was a kid I used to love to watch "Liar, Liar" with Jim Carrey. I had watched it with my mom a couple of times and I would always "have to go to the bathroom" when the scene where Jennifer Tilley's orgasm is played on a tape recorder (knowing full well the embarrassment watching it with my mother would cause). I remember once the movie got to that point and that scene was coming and I said, "Man, I always have to go to the bathroom at this part." Without skipping a beat my mother says, "Oh, I'll pause it." That was one of the most traumatic experiences of my youth.
@KerriMPR A friend read Lolita as a pre-teen and thought it was simply a story of a spirited young girl and her driver. #dailycircuit
@KerriMPR I'm 23 & can watch lost of movies w/ my parents, but the rape scenes in Girl w/ Dragon Tattoo were particularly awkward. AWKWARD.
@KerriMPR I was 12 when I asked to watch Schindler's List. My parents asked me to read the book 1st which I did. It helped prepare me for it
@KerriMPR Watched Schindler's List in school at thirteen. I thought it was really brave of my teacher to even approach parents about that.
Connor, a caller from Bloomington:
His dad let him watch Braveheart. It didn't affect him but that Titanic scarred him because of the injustice of the poor people dying.
Ty Burr says emotional trauma can be more scarring to kids than physical violence. "We can contextualize violence in a movie."
I'm 70. As I listen, I believe this is as much a generational issue as anything. As we were growing up and we were exposed to and involved on serious theater from Antigone to 45 Minutes from Broadway. We were not really restricted in our reading.
My 14-year-old wanted to read the Kiterunner. We let her but she. Was very disturbed by it. She is in an advanced language arts class and the books that are at their supposed reading level all mostly adult books. Difficult.
My son was required to read Kite Runner in middle school, with the graphic depictions of rape and child molestation and slavery, I wasn't a fan, and refused to let him engage in this segment of the class.
A great discussion. I am a performer myself, and it bothers me that many parents seem to think the arts in general are for children. Numerous times, I have watched parents bring their young children to theater and dance events, only to allow them to run up and down the aisles of the theater, be constantly changing seats or bouncing up and down in their seats. I have a limited budget, and if I have paid $45 or more for a ticket, it is something I really want to see, and I expect to be able to watch the show in peace. Bringing young children to a show, if they cannot yet sit still in their seats for an extended period of time, is rude to the performers and the surrounding patrons.
I saw both Alien and The Shining during their original theater runs. I would have been eight and nine years old, respectively. Although I would definitely have been considered "too young" for either film, they both remain favorites to this day.
I watched tons of violent movies with my older brother and parents when I was a kid. I remember watching Flashback, Robocop and Terminator without a problem. But the broomstick scene in Fantasia still freaks me out.
I meant to add that kids gravitate to books, etc. that appeal to their general age group. What's important is exposure to the arts, at all.
At age 15 back in the 70s I saw a drive-in double bill: Deliverance and A Clockwork Orange. Being a student of film and somewhat more intellectual than other kids I was able to appreciate the art and craft of those films, but while shocked I also remember being somewhat detached, as if I understood that these were 'adult' films, and that I was witnessing a window into the adult world.
I was so excited for my young daughter to see ET as I thought it was a wonderful, heartwarming story. I showed it to her as a young adolescent. She was SO disturbed by the ET character when he got ill and white, that to this day (she's 29) she is freaked out about that movie. She can watch any horror film, reads voraciously, but can't handle ET. I goofed on a very strange movie choice!