Parents wrestle with whether or not to let young kids see 'Hunger Games'

The question buzzing about the parenting blogosphere and on the sidelines of soccer games nationwide this week is whether or not the hugely anticipated movie version of “The Hunger Games” is too violent for some young viewers.

Many parents are being forced to make tough parenting decisions. They don’t want to say no to their tween-age kids when it comes to the flick, but they just can’t bring themselves to say yes to a movie where children kill other children.

Leslie Case knows that just about every other kid in her daughter’s fifth grade class will see the movie this weekend, but she is trying to stay strong.

“It’s been a dilemma in our household for a month. Of the kids in her class, there are only a few parent holdouts who are still waffling and unsure ,” Case told Case has yet to let her daughter even read the book version of “The Hunger Games.” But that might soon change. Her daughter recently bought her mom a copy of the book for her to read in the hopes that once mom gets through it, she might be more amenable.

“My homework this weekend is reading the book. With the movie coming out it just adds an extra layer of pressure,” Case said. “But I just don’t know if I want her to go there yet. She is only 10, but if all the kids see it this weekend, it will be an issue.”

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The first installment in “The Hunger Games” trilogy hit theaters Thursday night, with many parents lining up with their children for midnight shows across the country. The movie is based on the best-selling book by Suzanne Collins about a dystopian future world where the government pits children in a competition to kill one another for sport and entertainment. The media watchdog group Common Sense Media rated the movie “pause for 13-plus” which means parents should stop and consider their child’s unique situation before taking them to see the film.

“I think it is up to parents to know what is in the movie and make a firm decision based on what their kid is ready for rather than what their kid wants," said Common Sense Managing Editor Betsy Bozdech. "There are times that is difficult, and this is definitely one.”

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The movie, which is expected to gross in excess of $100 million this weekend, is rated PG-13, due mostly to the violent content, even though kids as young as 8 have been avid readers of the series.

Psychologists say that parents have a reason to be worried. Reading about the violent death of children is one thing, but seeing it in a visual medium on the big screen is something entirely different, and possibly more damaging.

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"The film, although rated PG-13, includes more than 20 deaths! For the youngest readers, the violence and the concepts in this book may have been largely lost on them," explained developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, PhD, who focuses on how video affects children and adolescents. "A movie experience is completely different. It becomes tangible, imaginable and the visceral response one most certainly experiences at the movies may be terrifying for these children."

Dayanim says that Case is doing the right thing. But she does sympathize with the challenges parents face with regards to the peer pressure.

“When 95 percent of a child's classmates will see the film, peer pressure to follow will be enormous. If the child has not yet read the book, parents should certainly insist that they read the book first," Dayanim said. "This will allow the parent to gain insights on how their child may react to the theatrical presentation of the story. This will also allow a child to realize they may not want to see this on film, and thus discreetly opt out."

Beverly Hills psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish actually put her foot down this week when the father of a 12-year old patient told the doctor he had bought tickets to the film as a surprise gift. Walfish was put in the awkward position of telling the dad that it probably wasn’t the best idea to take his daughter to the show.

“That 12 year-old girl had a history of fears, separation anxiety, and clinginess. She is an exquisitely sensitive person. Another child who is 9 years-old may be more emotionally ready to tolerate, absorb, and integrate the images and story," Walfish told "Age is not the issue. You need to know your individual child and his or her readiness to see violent images,”

At the end of the day, some parents will give up and give in, but don’t tell their friends.

“We are taking six of our kids, ages 24, 17, 15, 12, 8, and 6.  But I am lying to my mommy friends about it,” one Mormon mom told (asking we exclude her name so her friends don’t find out). “However, our community is quite conservative. We have friends who don't even let their children see movies rated PG.  Heck, many don't even have TVs!  These same friend haven't let their kids even read the books.  I"m sure they would think we are irresponsible parents for letting our kids see this movie.  And maybe I am.”