I’ll freely admit that up to this point we’ve been pretty guarded about John and media. He watched nothing at all until he was about two and a half — the only time he saw a face on a screen was when he was on Skype with my mom. After that we phased in Curious George and (very recently) Dinosaur Train, but I think we can all agree that PBS Kids is some pretty benign stuff. He’s seen Disney movies on tv. And he’s been to the movie theater four times, for shows ranging from Winnie the Pooh (horrible) to the Lorax (surprisingly good!). All in all, this is one pretty sheltered kid. And that’s been a fairly deliberate decision.
But with kindergarten, and with all the friends who have older siblings, comes a greater awareness of everything else that’s out there. John told me recently that he was playing Power Rangers with a friend, although he has no idea what a Power Ranger is. We got him a balaclava for skiing this winter and he was excited that he would be able to play Ninjas, although again, he does not know what a ninja is.
And, perhaps inevitably, Star Wars entered the house about two weeks ago. Like a virus. One day he doesn’t know anything, and the next day we’re checking the Star Wars encyclopedia out at the library and discussing the relative merits of storm troopers vs. clone troopers. John has imaginary chats with Darth Vader over breakfast. (Darth is surprisingly uninformed about cereal.) He walks around singing the theme song under his breath. He’s drawn pictures of each color light saber, and they are on our fridge for reference. He’s still playing basketball non-stop, but instead of Middlebury vs. Amherst, his games now pit the Jedi against the Imperial Troops. “Yoda! For three!”
Fortunately, I’m not a completely blank slate when it comes to Star Wars. I’ve watched the first three — the real three — more times than I should probably admit. So I’m happy to at least try to explain what I know. The whole premise is so ridiculous to begin with that explaining the Force to a five-year-old is probably easier than it would be to an adult. “It’s where Jedi knights get their magic.” Done.
Here’s the thing that worries me though. The movies, particularly the newer ones, are chock full of big fights. Guns (or “blasters”) and many more creative weapons. Giant monsters. A sand pit that eats people. Up to now, our little man has seen nothing scarier than the Man with the Yellow Hat falling out of a boat on Lake Wannasink Lake. But he definitely wants to watch these movies, and real movies, which involve actual conflict, are going to happen sooner or later. He won’t be watching Curious George forever. How are we supposed to know when it’s time?
Anyway, we’re trying it, and we’re trying to handle it responsibly. I’m sitting right there with him keeping an eye on things, making sure it’s not too overwhelming. We’ve talked ahead of time about what’s going to happen. I’ve had more than one conversation with him about my opinion of play fighting. And it’s going pretty well, so far. No big nightmares. No sudden urge to turn everything into a gun. But I’m still torn. One of two things must absolutely be true:
1) He’s too young and he shouldn’t watch these movies. If so, I’m taking away a little piece of his innocence by letting him watch them. Or,
2) He’s not too young and he’s fully able to handle them. And if so, I’m just finding out that that little piece of innocence is already gone.
I guess I’m saying that it’s fun to see him exploring something new and to explore with him, even if it’s in a galaxy far, far away. But it’s a little heartbreaking as well. It’ll be soon enough that he’s really big, and I wouldn’t rush that for this world or any other.