Around nine months ago, my husband and I learnt a lesson we’ll never forget. We were in Dubbo on holidays and were looking for something to do on a rainy day so we took Birdy to see the movie UP! We thought it would be a nice bit of fun for all of us. How wrong we were! Although it was a really sweet and positive film, Birdy was just too young for it! (She was not yet 3). There were scary dogs, wild adventurous rides, evil characters and emotive music. She found the whole experience overwhelming, was distressed at several points and just wanted to go home.
I realised that for a three-year-old watching a movie is a totally different experience than for an adult. And watching it in a darkened theatre, with a huge screen and surround sound is another experience again.
While we’re used to the conventions of movies, young children can find even the simplest of plots difficult to follow. They can’t read the language of film, the visual cues that indicate the passing of time, the true nature of a duplicitous character or complex relationships. And while we may think it’s obvious that cartoons or animated films aren’t real, it may not be at all obvious to them. The other day I was reading Angelina Ballerina to Birdy. The book contained references to royalty so I made the comment that Angelina must live in England with the Queen. Birdy then asked me if we could visit Angelina when we go to England. Even though Angelina is cartoon mouse who does ballet, Birdy still (on some level) thinks she’s real. That’s part of the magic of childhood. But it’s also part of the fragility of childhood. And why a film which to us, is water off a ducks back, can create real distress or concern in a little one.
I stumbled upon a wonderful resource this week, set up by The Australian Council on Children and the Media. Called Know Before You Go, the website gives detailed film reviews from a child’s point of view. It highlights the sorts of themes and situations that are likely to be distressing to children of different ages. It comments on the language, violence and sexuality portrayed in films. And best of all, it explores positive themes and messages that you can explore with your child through the film. I was impressed by the quality of the reviews, which are written by child development professionals.
Going to the movies can and should be a magical experience for children. My husband and daughter have had two wonderful movie experiences. One was The Fox and the Child, a beautiful film about a friendship between a wild fox and a young girl and more recently they enjoyed Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue. However, my own feeling is that there is plenty of time to enjoy movies when children are older. My neighbour has two daughters, aged 3 and 5 and they have not yet seen any movies. In fact, when they put on a movie at school her eldest daughter found it too scary and asked to do colouring in. Next time the teacher announced she was putting a movie on, my friend’s daughter just assumed it would be scary again and took herself off to colour in. The teacher called my friend aside at school drop-off to ask what the problem was. “Don’t you watch movies at home?” The assumption was that every kid watches movies. But I tend to agree with my friend that there’s nothing wrong with waiting until children are old enough to cope with the stimulation, excitement and tension that movies create. What’s the hurry?
In the meantime, there are plenty of great TV shows and DVDs that are-appropriate for young children: Playschool, Charlie and Lola, Maisey, Poko, Justine Clarke, The Wiggles and Elmo just to name a few. As a result I’ve also decided to start doing more reviews on this website. I’ve been meaning to for some time, but now I have the motivation to start…Watch this space!
Have you taken your kids to the movies? Or do you watch movies at home? Which ones would you recommend? Which ones do your kids love? Which ones would you rather forget? Do your kids react differently at home than to the big screen experience?