Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Waiting on exposure to violence, not Star Wars

Mayim explains how she shelters her kids from many things—but not this cultural phenomenon
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 11/04/2015 at 12:30 PM EDT

I’ve been accused of sheltering my kids too much. I worry about the overstimulation prevalent in a society with such a strong technology emphasis, while acknowledging that technology is important and necessary for them to function in this world. (For more on how I manage a low-tech household, click here). Personally, I wish billboards didn’t show gory violence and commercials, sometimes even causing my sons to cover their eyes in fear.

I also wonder what message it sends to small people to see singers being half-naked on album covers and billboards to sell their product (I’m remembering how my piece on Kveller about the Ariana Grande billboard led to an internet firestorm).

Their dad and I, although divorced, have done a pretty consistent job of keeping our boys protected from things we deem appropriate for more mature audiences. He and I are both kind of socially conservative so it’s worked out for us well.

I don’t allow toy guns in my house, but I do allow my sons to imagine whatever they want, as long as they don’t point said imaginary objects directly into my face. My sons are very gentle by nature, but they love swordplay (yes, swords are different than guns–happy to write a whole post about that some other time) and roughhousing and all of that stuff. They also have a fascination with the army, and I make sure to talk about how difficult the life of a soldier is, with an emphasis on giving up your life to protect the lives of others. I have tremendous respect for the people who serve our country and I make sure to instill that in my boys as well. They still find war fascinating, but Firstborn has started to see war more as historical devastation, I think. Little Man still thinks it sounds heroic and like a great adventure. (He’ll learn in time.)

With such a conservative perspective on both culture and violence, how did we handle introducing our sons to Star Wars, then? My ex and his parents are huge fans, whereas my parents probably never saw more than Episode 4 (the original Star Wars film, also known as A New Hope) and maybe my dad took my brother and me to see The Empire Strikes Back (Episode 5), I don’t even remember. But culturally, I understand and embrace the importance of Star Wars and want my children to be a part of that for sure.

While many young people are exposed to the movies very young, I decided to not show our boys any movies until they could follow the plot. Small children will be captivated by most anything on a screen, and as a low-tech mama, I wanted to wait until they could understand and talk about it without simply getting “wowed” by the special effects.

Once they started to understand what Star Wars was, there was about a year or two during which they still weren’t old enough to see the films. During that time, we focused on teaching the values of being a Jedi: being calm, slow to anger, strong and brave, and being a master of meditation and clarity. These are wonderful qualities.

I let my boys play with my Star Wars action figures (full disclosure: they were my brother’s, but I stole them…so they’re mine now!) Using the figures, we started to explain and explore some of the characters and relationships.

When they were about 6 and 9, I guess, we watched Episode 4. Then we watched 5. Then Return of the Jedi (Episode 6). We watched them as a family, the four of us, Little Man clutching one of our arms. (It’s a lot of intensity, and he’s very sensitive, so we took plenty of breaks where needed.)

After finishing the original trilogy, we started the prequels: when we watched Episode 1 (The Phantom Menace), Firstborn lost his mind. He couldn’t believe how bad it was. That was a great day, because from the mouth of my babe, he just spoke his truth! Episode 2 (Attack of the Clones) was similarly received, much to my and my ex’s amusement. The love plot highlighted in Episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith) really put Firstborn over the top, but he and Little Man still really enjoyed so many things–even though I had already seen the prequels (I saw Episode 3 with Firstborn in my stomach!), it was a delight to see these movies with them, as if for the first time.

Episode 3 is the only Star Wars movie that is PG-13, so we waited the longest to see this one. We told them what to expect, providing every spoiler possible, so that they (especially Little Man) knew where we were headed. (The things we fear are almost always more creatively devastating than reality, I have found.) We took some breaks during intense battles and torture scenes, but we made it through and they both felt like such grownup boys. They love the story and when I asked them which Star Wars character I was the most like, they were more than happy to tell me.

There are a lot of things that can contribute to violent acting out in kids. Some people blame TV, some blame violent video games (which their dad and I both do not allow in our homes), some blame genetic predisposition. I don’t know that there is just one thing to blame for the increase in violence we see in our society, but for me, waiting a good long time to expose them to cinematic violence was important in that it allowed time for my boys to mature before they were exposed to violence they might have been too young to truly put into context. I don’t agree with the notion that “kids don’t internalize what they see,” because I believe that sometimes they do.(Here’s how another Star Wars fan mom handled the Star Wars decision in her house, via GOOD.)

Encouraging age- and personality-appropriate behavior is important for development; and it is my belief that there is no rush on any of it. Kids will figure it all out.

Especially the part where they figure out that the love plot of Episodes 2 and 3 is absurd.

Kids. Gotta love ‘em.

Grok with us:

  • Did anything about Star Wars–or any other cultural phenomenon you learned about during your childhood–disturb you? What was it and why? How did you deal with it then? Is it something you still think about now?
  • What parts of today’s culture would you be eager to introduce to the young people in your life? What parts would you have hesitations about sharing with them? How would you create the context for stories – real or imaginary – that are difficult for young and sensitive minds?
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