Something's Going On

Article excerpt

I sometimes worry that, as parents, our justifiable concerns for our children can create in them an unnatural fear of the unknown. Stay away from deep water! Don't cross that street! Touch that wire and you'll be electrocuted! As parents, we have a desire to shield and protect our children from any unpleasant or harmful contact with the "adult" world. You have only to look at the warm, cuddly, self contained universe of most "children's" books, movies, and TV shows to see how pervasive this attitude is.

However, children have a natural curiosity about the world and often show an intense interest in it--even in those areas of human life that involve hardship, conflict, horror, or suffering. What, then, are parents to do?

I was thinking of this as I observed my own seven year old son Ricky watching Hope and Glory, a film about World War II as seen through the eyes of an ordinary eight year old British boy. It is an adult movie--but filled with such richly detailed scenes of childhood that I allowed him to watch it. Like other kids, Ricky has seen Home Alone, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Neverending Story--all so-called children's films about cute kids in outlandish situations. Ricky likes them all, and yet he never asks to see them again. It's Hope and Glory that he begs me to rent every other week at the video store.

I finally figured it out: the children's films aren't believable. My son will never ride on the back of an ant or get left behind while I jet off to Paris, and he knows it. Ricky, like most children, is curious about what the world is really like. These films aren't truthful, and they won't tell him. On the other hand, Hope and Glory, by presenting children and situations with which he can identify, rings true.

After we first saw the film, Ricky asked me about World War II. "Where is England?" I bought a globe and showed him. I pointed out England's proximity to Germany to explain why the boy's country was bombed during the war and ours wasn't. There were other questions I couldn't answer: "Where do accents come from?" "How do you play cricket?" For those, we borrowed books from the library.

It made me wonder: might serving a child small doses of the real world be a good thing?

When I was young, my mother would sometimes allow me to stay up late and watch television with her. It was always a thrill--not just because I was awake while my little sister was asleep but because of the movies she chose. The Diary of Anne Frank. The Pawnbroker. The Petrified Forest. …