There’s always a dilemma with kids isn’t there? Always a decision to be made where the answer is not clear cut. The list of parental quandaries is endless:
Do we ban all cakes, sweets and chocolate knowing the dangers of a sugar-laden diet or could that actually backfire and make our children run into the sugary embrace of the nearest doughnut as soon as they can escape our clutches?
Do we encourage them to go on the monkey bars at the park knowing that a broken arm is a real risk or is it good to get them to dance with a bit of danger (albeit in the relative safety of a bark-strewn playground)?
And do we rigidly stick to the age classifications on films and trust that the experts know best in terms of recognising when our children are ready to face a bit of fear?
Now I am, by nature, a very obedient person so you would think that my answer to the final question would be a resounding ‘yes!’ You would think I would welcome the arrival of a panel of experts to take this one decision out of my hands so I can prevaricate over the many other decisions parenting brings (particularly given that my decisions often leave me feeling I may have ‘chosen poorly’ in the manner of the baddy in ‘Indiana Jones and the last crusade’.).
But no! This is not the route I have chosen. Instead, I have elected to walk the wobbly tightrope between the worry of being over-protective leaving my children insufficiently prepared to cope with the scarier moments in life and the danger of exposing them to scenes that will leave them waking terrified in the night leaving me guilt-ridden at being the author of their nightmares!
And why have I chosen such a precarious route? Why not – in fact – just leave it to the experts?
Well mainly because I discovered early on that what adults (however expert) think children will fear and what children actually fear are not the same thing. In fact, it is nigh on impossible to predict what scenes, events and film characters will trigger a small child’s fears because it appears to be completely irrational.
Take my eldest daughter: the only film to have ever caused her significant trauma is the PG-rated kids’ animation Robots. Marketed at children. MADE for children even and yet the one film to tip her over the edge. The fear-inducing scene in this instance was a moment where it seems that the lead robot might be broken apart. Despite the fact that he escapes and everything turns out fine (of course), Ana woke up night after night for weeks afterwards in floods of tears, utterly distraught and babbling incoherently about the fact that the robot was nearly killed.
Now I took this as a sign that my eldest daughter was of a particularly delicate constitution as far as film fear was concerned (no great surprise as she is, after all, a girl after my own heart) so from this point on I carefully vetoed any film that had any potential for causing nightmares and was suspicious of any film above a U rating.
We muddled along in this way for a year or so until Ana started reading the Harry Potter series. By this time, a number of her friends had become more adventurous in their film viewing and she was keen to follow suit. I resisted the pleas for months, certain that they were not yet ready for Potter levels of scariness until eventually I capitulated and agreed that they could watch the first film when Ana had finished reading the book. As we switched on the DVD and settled ourselves on the sofa, I nervously envisaged the nights ahead filled with wakeful, terrified children….but my fears never materialised. A giant snake; a dark lord and an underlying sense of menace and my girls did not even break a sweat. Nothing. Not a flinch. These girls are made of steel.
And so we end up at this evening’s events where I took the possibly hazardous step of watching Jurassic Park with my 9 and almost 7 year old daughters. I warned them that it was scary and I gave them a head’s up each time we reached a scene that I deemed potentially nightmare-inducing, but once again, I had misjudged the lie of the land and underestimated their capacity to let the man-eating rampages of realistic dinos wash over them without impact. Instead it was me who ended up shrieking with fear and trembling behind a blanket whilst my children comforted and soothed me – patting me gently on the shoulder and telling me ‘don’t worry, Mummy. It’s not real.’
It seems my fears may have been misplaced. The children were never the ones who needed the protection of film classifications: I did.
Just wait until later when I wake them up in the night crying hysterically after a nightmare about velociraptors. Then they’ll be sorry they goaded me into watching a 12 certificate film….