My Beautiful Wickedness

Sometimes it sucks to be me.
October 11, 2008, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ok, without going too far into the circumstances that triggered this question, let me throw this one out to readers:

What’s your opinion on reading violence (books) versus viewing violence (movies) for children? Are both harmful to their psyches? Is one worse than the other, and if so, why? What’s the age at which books with violent content (particularly characters who die violently and sometimes meaninglessly) or descriptions of violence becomes appropriate?

Just to get my cards on the table, I tend to favor wide access to whatever a kid wants to read, presuming that for the most part that kids skip what they don’t understand or don’t find interesting and cruise on into the bits that grab their curiousity. My Kid reads far above her age level, which means that she winds up more often than not in the young adult “books about magical cats and wizards and mice that fight” section. I am not very troubled by magical violence (Harry Potter) because I figure that magical worlds are a good places to safely discuss the real problems of good and evil in a metaphorical way. She hasn’t shown any interest in reality-based books nor does she like the gory Victorian classics like Oliver Twist (which has a surprisingly high body count because Dickens lived in a harsh world). It would be ridiculous and harmful to try to restrict her to boring bunnies and clowns fare. On the other hand, just because she’s an advanced reader doesn’t mean that she’s emotionally mature enough to come to grips with random acts of violence or even the meaningful death of a beloved character. (Yes, that brings us back to Harry Potter…I’ve been arguing with my family all night about this…)

On the other hand, I am a real nut about visual violence. I don’t like it myself (I get up and leave when the guns come out, which means I don’t watch a whole lot of movies) and I am very cautious about what Kid gets to see on the screen. We don’t have cable, we don’t even watch promos for violent shows (which makes watching anything on Fox nearly impossible, thanks to the Terminator Chronicles commercials). My working theory has been that visual violence makes a different kind of an impact narratively than gore in a book, which she usually skips over. For that reason, we delayed letting her watch the Harry Potter movies until she was older. As they grow darker, she needs to be a little older each time. (I was relieved that they delayed the next one…) She didn’t get to see The Chronicles of Narnia (which has a huge long bloody battle scene), but read The Lion,Witch, and the Wardrobe (because the same battle is dismissed in a short and vaguely worded transitional paragraph).

However, after a blow-out tonight over why I turned off a movie adaptation of a book she’d already read (one that amped up the violent deaths of incidental characters who die “off-screen” in the book), I wonder if I am being too lax in allowing her to read pretty much whatever interests her. Is it really any different to read and re-read Harry Potter (which she’s done at least twenty times), bringing a new maturity to it each time, than it is to watch a film of the same stuff? Have I let my deep love of books and my faith that she’ll be wise enough to seek out good in what she reads lead me away from my responsibilities to stand between her and harmful images, at least until she grows up a little more?


4 Comments so far
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While my stomach for violence has a longer leash than yours, (probably because I have no kid to watch out for)…I do hold the naeve view that reading is safer than viewing as far as violence is concerned…your mind can give you some…’padding?’ or ways to intake a particular

Comment by imfunny2


I’m not a parent, but I’ve got loads of nieces and nephews. I think it’s impossible to keep one’s children from reading about or viewing violence. What we can do is teach them that the glorification and sanitization of violence (as depicted in much writing and most film) is inaccurate and unrealistic. And then we can hope.

Comment by democommie

I agree with you that violence on film is more immediate and shocking than violence on the page. And I think it makes a more vivid and possible more long-lasting impression on the imagination. So you have to look at how your daughter reacts to the violence she reads about or the fearful situations characters in books she reads find themselves in. I mean, do these things upset her, or does she recognize them as frightening but take them in stride? If it’s the former, then don’t let her watch — she’ll have a lot of trouble. But if it’s the latter, and she’s gaining some emotional strength from confronting imagined fears, then possibly watching the movie is a good next step: here, now it’s a little scarier — learn to overcome that. Of course, this doesn’t deal with situations in which a film ramps up the violence in the source it’s based on.

One word of reassurance: my nephews, who in childhood loved movies I would never have let them see because of the violence, and whose teens consisted of an unending series of blow-’em-up video games (they didn’t get to play the one-on-one violence ones), are as mild-mannered a bunch of young men as you’ll ever meet. I’m someone who has never been able to watch Psycho, let alone Silence of the Lambs, so I don’t get it, but they have been able to enjoy the grossest and bloodiest “entertainments” without either nightmares or a coarsening of the moral fibers.

Comment by nm

I think it’s easier to use your own internal “filter” for violence when you are reading, as opposed to visual input that is just thrust upon you. I still can’t watch that scene in Bambi where his mother dies ……

Comment by RockyCat

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