One of my sisters lets her 2-year-old watch “Jaws.”
That’s all you need to know, right? This is what’s wrong with our culture! What kind of a sick world are we living in where mothers let babies watch violent movies about sharks eating naked girls and people screaming in pools of blood?!
Except there’s more to the story. My sister is a faithful Catholic mother of nine. The oldest boy is in the seminary. Every one of her children, without exception, is a happy, well-adjusted person, strong in the faith, eager to help wherever it’s needed, always pleasant and smiling. There are people who would cut off their thumbs to have a family life like my sister’s.
So what’s the moral to the story?
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies,” and I feel compelled to agree. There is a baleful eagerness among some Catholics to dictate what people’s lives should look like, right down to exactly what movies they should watch or not watch. For these people, the fact that “Jaws” is a family favorite at my sister’s house is scandalous but, considering the overwhelming love and devotion there, deciding what movies are or aren’t scandalous needs a little more thought.
It’s an especially important question for dads and their sons. Men, by nature, are drawn to movies that contain violence and scary images. They also want to be able to watch movies with their male spawn, and none of them want those movies to be about unicorns and dancing competitions. Unless it’s a cool unicorn, and the dancing competition is suddenly interrupted by an evil dragon with seven heads, and only a Space Warrior sent from the future can stop it before it destroys the ENTIRE CITY… Well, you get the idea.
The question is: when it’s movie time, is it acceptable for a dad to let his boys see movies that have above “G” rated content?
I’m talking about boys age 4-10, but that’s not a fixed range. Also, I am not going to try and lay out a precise set of criteria here. If I did I would then be guilty of doing the very thing I resent: “dictating what people’s lives should look like, right down to exactly what movies they should watch or not watch.” I only want to offer three tips for Catholic dads who are caught between their own fatherly impulses and what “omnipotent moral busybodies” tell them.
1. Don’t let them see nudity and sex stuff. That seems obvious, but we’re all familiar with watching an otherwise acceptable movie and then two people start panting and groping, even if it’s just for a couple of seconds. I contend that those kinds of scenes are far more damaging than violent scenes. Kids can act out the violence in something like a big wrestling match in the backyard. They have no way of handling or processing the sexual stuff. They are simply not ready for that. I myself, a grown man, steer way clear of almost all sexual content in movies. All it does is implant the seeds of lust, and lust is a bad enough problem in our society as it is.
2. Explain things. “PG” stands for “Parental Guidance” – so provide guidance. You never stop being a dad, even when you are at leisure. Your kids will ask lots of questions anyway about plots and characters — as a general rule, don’t brush them off. We watched “Ben Hur” recently, an amazing film with lepers, a crucifixion, and a chariot race that would make Russell Crowe get weak in the knees. My boys loved it — but motives, plot developments, character behavior need explaining or they will overwhelm a small mind. For instance: “Why would God make leprosy, dad?” You better be ready for that one, fellas! “Don’t worry about it, kid, just watch the movie” is not a good response.
3. The film industry rating system is not Church doctrine. “G”, “PG”, and “R” ratings are helpful, but ultimately you are the guy who rates movies in your house. You love your kids more than a board of film reviewers and you know what each individual child can handle or not handle.
That’s it. Nothing too complicated, really.
Oh, and one more thing: be prepared to be wrong. You may err in the direction of too much violence, or too much psychological intensity. Humbly accept the withering stare from your wife and pick another movie.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.