Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Star Wars is Making Your Child a Violent Monster

Emily Brazelon is worried about the effect Star Wars is having on her young children.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—circa 2006, at our old house in D.C.—my husband and I let our little boys watch Star Wars. Eli was almost 6 and had just broken his leg. We were housebound, antsy, and despairing. In a moment of weakness, we turned on Star Wars. We figured, like most indulgences, that the movie would thrill and then pass.

Wrong. Our younger son, Simon, who was not quite 3, couldn't sleep that night or for many nights over the months that followed. He was obsessed. He talked about the movie to any relative, friend, or baby sitter who would listen and plenty of shopkeepers who wouldn't. He relived the trash-compactor scene. He worried over Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi sternness and Darth Vader's glittering malevolence. He sniffed out plot twists in the rest of the endless six-movie saga (who knows how) and tried desperately to work out why Darth Vader could be Anakin Skywalker and Luke's father—and could also cut off Luke's hand. Here's a little girl sweetly summarizing the Star Wars plot. Simon wasn't sweet. He was feverish. He was short-circuiting. Thanks to our two hours of stupid indulgence, Paul and I concluded, his neurons were melting.

She even mentions a psychologist she had interviewed for an unrelated matter who told her this was a definite faux pas.
During Episode 1, in the throes of Simon's initial fixation, I happened to be interviewing child psychologist Edward Zigler. In the middle of a conversation on an entirely unrelated topic, I veered off into my family's Star Wars woes. I was confessing to Dr. Zigler, but in that rueful way that's really a bid for absolution. Instead, on the other end of the line, I heard only silence. And then he said quietly that indeed I had erred and that Simon probably shouldn't watch any more movies with violence or even suspense, for, well, years. Here's a 2007 study from Seattle Children's Hospital that links violent screen images to aggressive behavior in boys (not girls) ages 2 through 5.

While I am a big proponent of parents carefully screening what their children watch, I think Bazelon is overreacting here. Her youngest son wasn't quite three when he watched the first Star Wars. That's probably a little young, but watching Star Wars one time isn't going to irreparably harm a child. I was watching Star Wars that young and look how I turned out. *crickets chirping* Okay, maybe not the best example. Still, she needn't be so concerned about her two sons getting excited about a movie and wanting to be Jedi even if they are making their own lightsabers and thwacking each other. Boys have lots of energy. Let them play make-believe; it's good for them. She can talk to them about the movie and help them understand what they saw.

I think that's a better option than banning Star Wars for three years.

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