When is the right time to let your kids watch grown-up movies? From a worried dad

Forrest Gump (1994). Paramount Pctures
Forrest Gump (1994). Paramount Pctures 

Before I became a parent I had many, many fears, most of which revolved around my ineptitude, ignorance and hatred of mornings. 

When I really sat down to have a good worry about the longer-term terrors, however - the thought that my children might not love cricket, the infinitesimal chances of a daughter bringing home a bloke I approved of - I tended to get stuck on one large and seemingly intractable conundrum. How are you ever supposed to know when your kids are old enough to watch proper, grown-up movies?

Yes, it is wonderfully true that I have parented through a golden-age of children's movies that benefit from The Simpsons' ability to entertain on more than one level. I cried buckets at the end of Toy Story 3 and I think The Incredibles and Lego Batman are hilarious, but at the same time, if I ever have to watch Frozen or Finding Nemo again I will turn into the ugly half of Beauty and the Beast.

Quite apart from the strange suffering that is handing over your hard-earned in a cinema to see something as excruciating as The Angry Birds Movie, the fact is I love films, and I'm excited to share the good, important ones, with my children.

Before my son arrived, I asked a good friend with grown kids about this and he gave a kind of useless shrug and said that you never really know when they're ready, but you'll definitely know when you've got it wrong.

And it's true, because if you think back you'll find a film - usually a horror movie - that you definitely watched before you were ready and which, at least in some way, scarred you for life. You might even remember the struggle to sleep properly for the next few weeks, months, or years. 

To be fair, in the case of films like The Exorcist, you may never be ready, or old enough.

For me, it was the third movie in the haunting Freddy Krueger series, which I was forced to watch, despite my fears, at a Year 7 slumber party of my peers. Talk about "nine, 10… never sleep again".

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Sure enough, it is horror movies that are causing the most angst with my 12-year-old, mainly because it seems like every child his age, at least at his school, has seen Stephen King's It already, and he thinks he wants to.

I'm sticking with no, although my record of protecting his psyche is not flawless. I let him watch the first Star Wars movie - despite the gorey arm slicing and upsetting deaths - at six, because that's how old I was when I saw it.

Turns out he was fine, but it scared the hell out of his sister a few years later, who wouldn't watch past the armless Cantina scene, and talked about it for months afterwards.

Which goes to the crux of my worry - you can't really know when they're ready, and getting it wrong really seems to mess with their little heads.

Then there are the other worthy films you'd like to watch with your pre-teen, but which turn out to be difficult calls as well - like Forrest Gump (surprisingly inappropriate in parts), The Breakfast Club (drug references? Who knew?) or There's Something About Mary (almost as inappropriate as it his hilarious).

Even when I've thought I've nailed it in the past, as I did when taking my then 11-year-old son to see Amadeus for the first time at the Sydney Opera House with a live orchestra, I have stumbled; somehow forgetting that, alongside the music, it features sex, suicide, death, drunken debauchery and some interminable opera scenes.

Eventually, of course, in roughly a decade from now, I will get it right, because both my children will be over 18, and able to make up their own minds.