Thursday, May 3, 2012

Should My Child See The Hunger Games

If you have kids who happen to be in their adolescent to pre-teen age years, chances are he or she is somehow tapped in to the Hunger Games phenomenon.  There is a movie that has been out for a little over a month that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.  The book that the movie is based from has also sold millions of copies and is hard to get a hold of at the local library due to the long waiting lists.  Kids are reading this book and seeing this movie.  Parents have wondered if it is appropriate for their adolescent kids to go see it or to read it.

So why is there a question?
The Hunger Games is violent.  The story is futuristic and dystopian, that is to say some time in the future the world has gotten worse.  The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in one of 12 districts that essentially functions as serfdoms where the residents are required to provide goods that are consumed in the chief city, Capitol.  The means of suppression and control is a yearly event called the Hunger Games where each of the 12 servant districts must provide 2 children aged 12-18, a boy and a girl, to compete in a nationally televised fight to the death.  The lone survivor/winner receives wealth and his or her district receives extra food for a year.  The plot without a doubt is violent.

This might sound like an odd story line for a series of children's booksand you might be wondering why the series is popular.  The story is well constructed and the plot is quickly paced and interesting.  Where the story really shines is in the shaping of the characters themselves.  The author, Suzanne Colllins, constructs likable characters that the reader can easily relate to and root for.  If your kids have read it, ask them about Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, or President Snow; I am sure the will be able to tell you all about them like they know them personally.   The Hunger Games is a well told story.

So why the concern?  
As already mentioned, a fight to the death among children is a violent plot element.  The thought of kids killing kids is stark and tragic.  Katniss herself tells the story so you see the games through her perspective.  You get to know the other characters through her experience with them.  You feel her tragedy and anger and grief as she lives through this experience.  Parents would be wise to gauge the level of maturity in their children to determine their preparedness to handle these themes.

There is a larger question here that involves the criterion used by parents when they allow their children to consume any type of media.  Is violence of any kind appropriate?  What about sexuality (a theme that the Hunger Games does bump up against at least in the book)? Should Christian families consume any such media?  There are a few things to consider.  The first is the individual child's ability to process such themes and images.  Studies show that violent images in TV, movies and video games increase arousal (especially in boys) and the likelihood of aggressive behavior. 

Often gratuitously violent media creates an image that aggressiveness and violence is more manly and more desirable and can therefore have a negative overall effect on behavior.understood within its appropriate context is likewise a means to understand and appreciate this good gift of God.  

Similar things can be said about sexual images and themes in media.  And just like violent themes can affect behavior, likewise sexually themed media can alter a child's perspective on what they understand to be "normal" and "acceptable" behavior.  Caution is to be urged.

So how should parents set their standards?
Sometimes we want to take a zero tolerance policy.  No sex. No violence. Period.  To hold to such a policy would mean that would need to lock ourselves away in a cave and never  come out, not even to read our Bibles (which contains examples of both).  Additionally we are apt to create new laws for ourselves that God has not written hoping that we can make ourselves holy and righteous by means of what we do and do not do, of what we see and do not see.  This leads us down the path of legalism.  A Christian is righteous by faith for the sake of Christ and in love seeks to obey God's commands in the Bible.  Christians do not make up lots of extra rules to try to make themselves holy.

So what is a Christian to do?
The world is a violent place.  Turn on the news, open a book or a magazine and you will see instances of violence.  Likewise the world is a sexualized place.  Rather than learning to hide from it, Christians and Christian children need to learn discernment.  Again the world is a violent place.  Scripture teaches Christians how God deals withviolence - by the violent death of His Son on the cross.  Scripture teaches Christians where and when violence is appropriate and necessary (Romans 13:4)  and what to do when someone reacts violently toward you (Matthew 5:39).  Therefore, some violent themes are beneficial.  Experiencing them by way of our media exposes us to the violence in the world and helps us to know how to make sense of it.  

Other times violence is bad.  Other times violence is portrayed for the sheer pleasure of it; the enjoyment of watching someone in pain or enduring a gruesome death.  This is wrong.  People are made in the image of God.  To enjoy suffering and torture is to enjoy the destruction of God's image. 

Similarly with sexual themes.  God made sex.  Sex is a good gift that God has given for the benefit and mutual love of a husband and wife.  To consider it as an aspect of human relationships that should be

A high level of discernment is needed here by Christians and Christian parents because our society and culture has adopted so many harmful opinions about sex.  We are led to believe that sex is "just sex" - a recreational activity with zero complications or consequences.  It's not.  Sex is a lot like fire: keep fire in the fireplace and it warms the house, take it out of the place that was made to contain it and it can burn down the homestead.  Much of the portrayal of sex and sexuality is purely gratuitous and dishonors the good gift of God and treats those it portrays as mere objects instead of one made in God's image.

So let's get back to The Hunger Games?  
Is there violence? Yes.  Katniss as the heroine does fight and she does kill.  Note that her acts of violence are different.  Some kill for sport.  Katniss does not.  She kills twice; once in defense of a friend and once to end the suffering of an enemy. This might introduce a good discussion: was Katniss right to kill Cato?  What about sex? The Hunger Games contains no sex. That said, Katniss does struggle to understand the romantic feelings she experiences as she finds herself caught between two male characters.  (Again, this might  be a good opportunity for discussion between parents and their kids)  There is a very minor sexual tone to these engagements that parents, especially of younger children, should be aware of.

Parents need to learn discernment when answering questions of appropriate media consumption for their children.  There are many angles to consider; from the appropriateness of the material itself, to the readiness of their child to handle such material.  A discerning parent would want to teach discernment to their child.  This would mean that parents must know what media their children are consuming.  It is always easiest to draw lines in black and white, but parents must take advantage of situations that are presented and use them as opportunities to teach their child 
 to discern for themselves what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong.

Proverbs says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when heis old he will not depart from it." 
Being a parent is your Christian duty.  God gave you that job.  God gave you to your children.  Teach them.  They will be blessed by it.

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