Bad Parenting Tipping Point: The DVD Dilemma

Is it nudity or violence? What tips the scale and motivates a parent to make the “off limits” call?

The daughter is enthralled by the story of the Titanic. Her cousin lent her a book when we were last in Iowa, and when we got home she actually checked a documentary dvd on the disaster out of the library … and watched the whole thing in one sitting.

Okay that last part she gets from me. I love historical documentaries. I once celebrated the Fourth of July holiday by watching Ken Burns’ Civil War* from start to finish.

But Dee’s fascination with Titanic went into overdrive when she discovered there was a movie about it.

Nothing beats history except the Hollywoodization of it.

For a decade plus old film, it is still surprising hard to check out of the library. I had to get in queue, and we waited a month.

And as the credits rolled, I had my reservations.

“People die,” I reminded Dee.

“Yes,” she said, “I know that. The ship sank.”

“This is only sort of make-believe,” I cautioned.

“I know,” she replied in that tone. THAT tone. The one that reminds me that she isn’t feeble-minded and that I am being over-protective.

So I girded myself, and we watched the first half on Friday night.

It’s a horrible movie. Very James Cameron. Cheesy. Trite. Insipid dialogue. Caricatures in place of characters. CGI that wouldn’t pass muster on a Wii.

And the acting? Aside from Kathy Bates, who couldn’t be awful if she tried, it was spectacularly awful. DiCaprio and Winslet give it their all – but the script was hokey and stacked against them from the opening bell.

But even as death loomed, what really made question my parenting skills were the bare breasts.

Yeah, not the liberal use of “fuck” and “shit”, or “shite” depending, but nekkid titties.

We are not particularly modest in our household. I don’t duck for cover when the daughter is about, and Rob and I sleep in the nude.**

Perhaps it was the suggestiveness? Eight is still a bit too young for the “full monty” explanation of sex.

Last night was the infamous “Jack sketches Rose in the nude scene” and by this time, Dee was firmly indoctrinated into the “Jack is an artist, so it’s okay” camp.

But the sex in the car?

Nothing is shown. It’s all suggested and then cut-away to another scene before coming back to find them sweating and undressed (ironically, Winslet’s breasts – so prominent during the “art” scene are strategically covered now.)

“Um,” Dee said, “are they naked?”

“Yes,” I said – steeling myself for a “grown-ups in love sometimes get naked when they kiss” explanation.

“Hmmm,” and her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed and she said no more.

Bullet dodged for another day.

But then came the iceberg. The panic. The rising water. The frantic, and tragically doomed, people scrambling for boats.

After a scene which highlighted a father lying to his young daughters so he could get them onto a life boat with their mother, she asked,

“Can I have a tissue?”

“Should we turn this off now and finish later?”

“Yes,” she agreed. “You and Dad and I would have been on a boat together, wouldn’t have we?”

And of course I didn’t lie to her. It was women and children first and the majority of the men on Titanic who had any balls or integrity went down with the ship.***

She hasn’t asked to watch the end today. She knows Rose lives and that Jack dies. We talked about that in advance. But in the larger scheme, this isn’t make-believe. People really died. Dads really died.

Maybe I should have copped out and told her the movie wasn’t appropriate for kids – and maybe it really isn’t – but she watched the documentary already, and it was far more grim and real.

At eight I was still watching Disney mostly. Was I better off for being sheltered?

I have vetoed films that I know other kids her age have seen already. Pop stuff. Fantastical but dark.

She doesn’t want commercial tv. She is far less exposed to the over-sexed culture and mindless distraction that numbs mind and soul than the majority of her peers.

She knows death first hand, so it’s pointless to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And it’s futile to shield her from the fact that human beings mainly exist to couple. The world revolves around that … and killing each other.

I am betting it will be a while before she asks to finish the movie and when we do, it will not be in the evening before bed.

*I still marvel at how the Civil War became Ken’s. Alien historians a thousand years from now will marvel that one man caused all that destruction a hundred years prior to his own birth.

** Rob, by the way, is covered up and if  Dee were a boy, it would be the opposite situation. For example, I began shooing my nephews out of the room when I dressed when they hit five. Although, I am not so concerned about the over five year old boys whose mothers bring them into the women’s change room at the pool. That’s their problem.

***And yeah, that sounds sexist but seriously? Who would really cheer on the idea of men first in a situation like this?

12 thoughts on “Bad Parenting Tipping Point: The DVD Dilemma

  1. well, I don’t know. I mean, the fact that you were watching Disney movies at that age. I would rather Jake watch something a bit rooted in real life and have the chance to explain it to him in real life terms rather than Disney- mommy usually dies, stepmoms are usually nasty, and there is some bit of magic that will come along and save us all- terms.

    It’s hard, isn’t it?

    What gets my goat these days is the R rated commercials that come on during PG rated programing. scary movie spots and video game ads. They are terrifying.

  2. Amazing how much more we notice when the kids are around.

    I’ve been watching a lot of movies from years past with my daughters. Suddenly all the violence and sex that I hadn’t remembered from the movie when I watched it only with my wife is blatant and glaring at me.

    I act like it’s nothing, but it’s definitely there.

    As much as I despise violence, I can handle it and dismiss it way easier than the sex scenes.

    I want to be sex positive and violence negative. Easier said than done.

  3. That’s how we handled movies with our kids. We got caught once or twice with language in an otherwise good film, and we took the opportunity to talk about how it was a movie and that we didn’t talk like that. As an aside, I’ve never seen “Titanic.” I may be one of the only people I know who hasn’t.

  4. you prepped for it, watched it with her, and it was obviously square in her wheelhouse as far as her current interest goes. a plausible “worst case” is that she’ll be careful what movies she asks to watch again…

    i was far more restrictive with gratuitous violence in film, than with boobies. with reading material, i was extremely liberal – letting them read anything they wanted. good stuff, bad stuff. if you read enough, you learn to sort out what’s good and bad. not sure that applies with film, though…

    1. Like Daisy, I monitor violence a lot more than I do sex. Maybe because my boys are more naturally interested in violence than sex. If kissing happens, they leave the room. When the chainsaw comes out (hypothetically, because I forbid that kind of movie), they are riveted.

    1. I think there is more crap acting than not. The key thing is whether or not the story is engaging enough for people to accept that very few actors are really “acting”. Most actors just look good on film and though that is a genetic gift, it’s also not overly common.

      Only a handful of movies can bare a repeat viewing.

  5. I think the key to letting kids watch slightly more grown-up movies is doing what you did, which is watching with them and addressing any issues that come up. It’s one thing to sit together watching a movie like Titanic, and another thing to send the kids off into the other room to watch Saw IV on their own, which I know a lot of parents do.

    For what it’s worth, Gillian and I watched the Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet together – sword-fighting, bare boobies and all – when she was about eight. She had recently heard the story of the star-cross’d lovers and wanted to see it, so we did. She doesn’t seem to have been traumatized (although I recall her asking to turn it off right before the stabbing/poisoning part) and I’m pretty sure she’s not planning to run away and get married secretly when she’s 13. 🙂

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