Curt and I are the proud owners of two middle schoolers. They rock at being in middle school. Sure they are learning to deal with hormones and shifting emotions but what kid in their genre isn't? Grant and Katie are embracing greater responsibility and new freedoms with gusto, taking ownership of their actions, their grades, the sports they play, and their friendships. They are growing in their knowledge of who Jesus is, what following Him means, and why it matters to them right now. We couldn't be prouder of them.
I have watched with interest how popular books attract a cult-like teenage following and are made into blockbuster Hollywood movies with all the hysteria and paraphernalia that follows. If merchandisers think teenage girls will buy it, they make it.
Curt and I are more liberal with what we let our kids read than what we let them watch. We're earning a reputation of being Super Strict (teenage code for MEAN) when it comes to watching movies. In my opinion, it's one thing to read a book and imagine the scene the author is creating with their words. It's another thing entirely to watch it on a big screen. Images are very difficult to remove from our minds.
When I was a little kid we had a babysitter that forced us to watch the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz. I was way too young for the scary creatures and that horrifying witch. I had nightmares for YEARS and I'm certain that experience shaped the way I parent my kids when it comes to what they view. I don't want the same thing to happen to them.
We've said no to every PG-13 movie (and a handful of PG movies we dubbed "too scary") the kids have wanted to watch, using the logic that they aren't thirteen. One of our friends challenged our logic in saying no just because of age. "You know who sets those limits right? It's Hollywood. Don't you think you know your kids better than some person sitting at desk in Hollywood? I wouldn't let that be the sole standard that guides you in making your decision."
We know that as our kids grow and mature, we have to give them a little more freedom to voice their opinion and test their wings. Grant is now 13 and has been talking to us about a few movies he'd like to see. Katie isn't 13 yet, but she's been talking to us about the movies she'd like to view as well. She feels left out that her friends are allowed to watch certain movies that we've said no to. It's a valid point to consider moving forward.
One book that is all the rage this year is by John Greene. It's called The Fault in our Stars (or TFioS as all the kids are calling it). Katie, Grant and I all read it within a week of each other. Katie loved it. Grant thought it was "the stupidest book ever." I will admit to crying toward the end but my overall impression of the book was more toward Grant's opinion than Katie's.
This story is packed with over-the-top drama. One kid with cancer falls in love with another kid with cancer. They question the meaning of life. Fear oblivion. Come from good families with parents who are grieving that their children are dying. One of them dies.
I have enough friends who are suffering great tragedy in their real life, every day digging deep within to find the strength to face another day. Reading a fictional account of more hurting people is not my idea of fun. But I want to know what my kids are reading and engage in educated conversation with them about it, so I'm reading all kinds of teenage literature right now.
There are some good parts to the story. Both main characters come from stable homes and have parents who love them and enforce boundaries. Their romance starts as friendship and slowly develops into a romantic relationship, something any parent of a teenager will appreciate being promoted.
But there was cussing in the book. Quite a bit. The book contains references to casual sex, inferring that everybody who is cool is doing it. The characters spend a lot of time playing violent video games. And the main characters have sex (even though they are only 16 and 17 years old) within minutes of sharing their first kiss. It made for good discussion with the kids on what worldview the book projects and where it does and does not match up with our worldview, family values, and their calling as followers of Jesus.
This weekend was the movie premiere of The Fault in Our Stars. I was hoping to avoid the movie but Katie got invited to go with a group of her friends on opening night. My initial thought was, "No way." But I don't want to make parenting decisions that are fear or ignorance based. So I started asking my friends why or why not they were letting their daughter view the movie. And then I started looking for movie reviews. Since it wasn't officially released yet all I found was the movie trailer. The sex scene was promoted in the trailer. It was the sticking point for me.
It froths me that Hollywood presents our kids with a glamorized version of sex. Cause most teenagers kiss for the first time and then hop in bed together five minutes later right? And they have no regrets or shame or fear of pregnancy and STD's five minutes after they put their clothes back on, right? Wrong. I have never talked to anyone who had sex as a teenager that doesn't carry scars from it as well. But that's not what the movies show. Unfortunately our kids view what they see on the screen as a reality they desire for themselves. (Stepping off my soap box now).
Curt, Katie, and I talked about the pros and cons of seeing the movie. Katie really wanted to go to the movie but was completely uncomfortable watching the sex scene. We finally decided that I would tag along to the movie and that we would take a strategically timed potty break when the sex scene came. Since we'd both read the book we knew it was after the visit to the Anne Frank museum.
I've never been to a movie premier like this. The line wrapped around the theater. 99% of the people in line were pre-teen and teenage girls. When the gates were opened the girls started shrieking at the top of their lungs and rushed the theater. Similar reactions happened when the movie started playing, and when the boy in the love story came on the screen for the first time. Katie, one of her friends, and I took our well-timed potty break, then came back for the remainder of the movie.
The movie wasn't even halfway over when girls started sobbing. And I'm not talking sniffling. I'm talking all out sobbing, bordering on wailing. By the end of movie I was pretty sure they were going to have to mop the tears off the floor. It was really, really surreal.
Overall The Fault in Our Stars was a decent movie. Thankfully a lot of the swearing that was in the book was eliminated for the movie although stronger language (including the F word) was added in one scene to make it more intense. The causal references to sex and the violent video game playing that occur in the book were eliminated from the movie as well which I appreciated.
The movie was passionately acted. The characters were believable and funny in parts. There were a few places where I laughed out loud. The story line is just so laden with drama and sadness. It gets emotionally tiring to watch.
Katie loved participating in the group outing. She enjoyed the movie and was relieved to not watch the sex scene. She brought up the fact that there was language that she didn't appreciate but none of it is stuff she doesn't hears every day at school. Katie liked the love story between the characters and only cried quietly once toward the end of the movie.
I came away from the experience with mixed emotions. I very much enjoyed spending time with Katie, her group of friends, and the mom who was hosting the gathering. I learned a lot through the process of talking through this decision with Katie and Curt. I liked compromising and thinking outside the box to make the movie fit our criteria of what we felt was appropriate for Katie.
However I was sad about how enthralled the girls were with fictional characters and how the characters in this book are shaping what these impressionable girls believe to be true about life. I also was disappointed in the fact that this movie could easily have been rated PG if the producers would have taken out the cussing and the sex scene. What benefit did those things serve to the viewer? My final disappointment was the previews. Stepping up to a PG-13 rating exposed the girls to some pretty terrible previews, including a horror film where the actors were inviting evil spirits to join them. I looked around and all the girls had their heads down, were diverting their eyes, or watching but screaming through the whole preview. I think the next time we see a movie in the theater we'll come just as the movie starts and skip the previews.
We don't regret letting Katie watch this movie because we eliminated the parts that we felt would be damaging for her. I'm sure we'll go through a similar process for movies in the future and I know we all learned a lot. If you do choose to go see The Fault in Our Stars, bring a box of Kleenex. If you don't need it chances are the people on either side of you and all down the aisle will.