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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Hunger Games and a Father's Dilemma...

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desire.”

When it comes to my children, I am very weary of the pop culture and its influence on them.

I realize that I can't raise them in a bubble, as my wife often reminds me, but there are so many subliminal and counter-Christian signals in today's society that I am very concerned about what they are turning our children into.

When I hear that 75% of all Catholic kids leave their faith, or at least stop practicing it, during their teens (and that applies to non-Catholic Christians as well), I am disheartened.

I was one of those teens. While, I never really left my faith, I started drifting by the time I got into high school and didn’t return to it for almost thirty years.

Although, there are many contributing factors to this, including family dysfunction and friends, in today's world the mass media has gained more influence on kids than ever before.

In fact, studies have shown that the the biggest influences on children these days are friends and the mass media.

Because of the deterioration in the American family, even among married couples where both parents are working, kids spend more time with friends and television then with their fathers and mothers.

Also, things were much different in previous generations.  In the mid-twentieth century, for instance, kids would read more books and developed their own imagination from what they read.  Radio changed that by putting voices, sounds and thoughts into kids' minds.  Television revolutionized the way kids saw the world, by putting images to those sounds.

However, all books, radio and television programs and movies were filtered through a Christian world view. Whether a writer or movie director wanted to or not, he had to deal with good and evil from the widely accepted prism of an Absolute Truth, better known as God.

Unfortunately, that has changed.

With the watering down of Christianity, the rise in atheism, agnosticism and the new age movement, there is so much confusion that it was difficult for my generation to decipher what truth was and our children are being subjugated to much worse.

It is what author of Landscapes with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind, Michael O’Brien, calls neo-paganism wrapped in Christian packaging.

In other words, in a not so distant past, witchcraft and spells were usually performed by evil or fringe characters seduced by evil. And, vampires were legendary demonic beings, who sucked human blood, had fangs, slept in coffins and terrorized the inhabitants of the area where they lived.

Today, they are the protagonists of books and movies, which top the best selling lists and make hundred of millions of dollars at the box office.

The latest entry in this pop-culture phenomenon of turning children's book series into multi-million dollar Hollywood movies is The Hunger Games trilogy, which despite my objection, my wife allowed my eleven-year-old daughter to read (which she devoured in about three weeks), because it's apparently all the craze in her fifth grade class.

I’ll be honest, after doing some research, I was not a fan of Harry Potter, for the witchcraft, warped perspective on good and evil and moral relativist aspects (among other things) and although for older kids, I definitely objected to the Twilight series for obvious reasons.

Although I have not read the books, what makes me queasy about The Hunger Games is that it is based in a post-apocalyptic world, where as in Potter good and evil, right and wrong is determined by the individual characters (relativism) and not by an Absolute Truth (God).  In fact, there is no God mentioned.

Moreover, it is set in a pagan-style culture, reminiscent of Ancient Rome, where battles to the death, in this case between children (who kill other children for survival), are spectator sport and broadcast on national TV.  Am I reading too much into this?

Just on principal alone, in a society that has seen its share of children killing children tragedies like Columbine and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Tech, because it involved older kids, I object to exposing kids to this message.

The fact that our children’s school principal sent a warning to parents that the school is not recommending The Hunger Game books for fourth graders and younger was another sound of alarm for me.

While my wife points out, my daughter is older, the message is still the same whether they read it in fifth or third grade.

Anyway, tomorrow afternoon, most of the girls in my daughter's fifth grade class have been invited to a birthday party for two classmates, where they will be going to watch The Hunger Games (since most of the class has already read the books) and thus my dilemma.

As a matter of fact, despite buying her the books to read, my wife had already told my daughter that she wasn't going to see the film. However, because of this party, and the fact that all her friends are going, my wife washed her hands like Pontius Pilate and let me be the one to choose between Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth (over dramatic, I know!).

Mind you, over the past year or so, my relationship with my daughter has been a bit strained. She is maturing physically and, in the process, has withdrawn from me somewhat.

In her mind, I have become the “no” dad.

Monday night, she was unusually sweet as she asked me for permission to go to the party. She even agreed to read The Hobbit by Tolkein, which I have been trying to get her to read for months.

Now, I have to decide between following my fatherly instincts or further alienating her.

Decisions are definitely getting harder as they grow older...

What would you do?


Robert said...

I am having a similar issue with my 10-year-old daughter. Most of her friends have seen the movie and she wants to see it as well. Like you, I hesitated because of the morbid theme and the fact that I want my daughter to hold on to the glorious innocence of childhood for just a little while longer until puberty hits.

My wife and I agreed that we would get her the book to read first, then she could watch the movie. We just downloaded the book on her Kindle and she'll start reading it in a few days. I figure by reading the book and asking questions, she'll be ready to handle the movie. I also plan on reading the book so I know what to counsel her on.

I think you're doing the right thing, Carlos, in being concerned about the theme of the movie. I suppose if she's read the book and understands the good vs evil component of it (I haven't read the book so I'm not too familiar with it myself) then perhaps she can handle the movie, with appropriate parental follow-up, of course! ;)

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks, Robert.

I guess I'll just have to trust God and the way we have been raising her, which despite my faith is still alien to me at times.

Considering she on the cusp of teenage, it's going to be a rough ride...

knittingnurse said...


It is a difficult world in which we live. My Mom finally acquiesced recently and admitted that raising children in these times is much more difficult than when raising my brothers and I.

I have read the trilogy and I (shamefully so) enjoyed them. However, I'm a woman in her 40's. There is an element of good v evil in this but the violence is quite intense in the books. The movie violence is much more tame albeit still present.

One aspect I found especially disturbing in the book is the complete lack of strong parental examples. Katniss's mother essentially abandons parenting all together upon the death of her husband. This leaves a child to raise and feed herself, younger sister AND mother. Gale finds himself in the same situation. Peeta is abused verbally by his mother and is even informed by her that he basically has no chance of surviving as he's useless.

THIS is the aspect of this series that truly disturbs me. Children are exposed to the thought process that parents truly do not care or them and that they have no one to turn to other than peers.

Thankfully my son and I are close, read and discussed the books together AND he's older (15). I will pray for you to receive guidance through this and the coming trials of parenting through the teen years.

Jannett (and Randy)

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks, Jannett.

Obviously the responsible thing would have been what you did; read the books!

Interesting note on the parental indifference angle, thanks.

I have talked to her about my concerns and after much internal debate and talking to several friends, who have dealt with maturing young girls, decided to let her go and keep talking to her.

The fact that I know the parents who are hosting the party and who are very involved in our parish helps.

camimiami said...

You did the right thing... We have a 12 year old but also raised a 23 year old. Even though we could have done many things better in raising her, we are the only parents in our 12 year old's group that raised an older girl... We let our 12 year old go to the beach with another parent because today was the last day of school before the break. Right now I came all the way to the beach to pick her up so we can get back for the prayer service at STS. The parent that brought, from a lovely and very giving family, had no hurry in coming back...I tell my 12 year old it's all about balance....and to you I say what I always tell my wife...we have to pick our battles!

camimiami said...

The above comment was posted by Jorge Alvarez....using my oldest daughter's account!

Sue said...

I was glad to see this post, because I have been somewhat perplexed by the number of blog posts and facebook comments from Catholic and other Christian friends exclaiming excitement about the new movie and detailing all of the "positive" elements of these books. I, admittedly, sort of dropped the ball on this one and my 14-year-old daughter read the series before I even knew what they were about. She checked them out from the Christian School where we have our homeschool support, and though I usually check out her books first I didn't in this instance.

After she had already finished the series she told me all about it, and said that she wished she had never read them. She said that the violence continued to disturb her even after finishing the books, and she felt that she was not encouraged or uplifted by the story at all (and, she is not overly sensitive at all).

I don't think we will allow her to see the movie right away, but whether we eventually allow her to see it or not I think that I will read through the books myself so that we can discuss the themes, and hopefully clear up and work through any points of confusion or negativity. Maybe that would be a helpful thing for you do do with your daughter as well.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks for the support and words of encouragement. We do have to pick our battles and, as you point out, communication with our kids is the key (and of course, living our faith at home and teaching them by example!).

Don't feel bad about dropping the ball. As you can see, I did too and in today's society, where we are bombarded by information and work; we parents have our work cut out for us.
I am often so caught up in my own reading that I neglect what my 11-year-old is reading. Fortunately, I don't have to worry as much about my two younger ones, 7 & 4, yet!
The key for all of us is communication with our kids and hopefully they can understand why we oppose and can discern.
It sounds, by the response of your daughter to the books, that you are doing a great job of raising her.
God bless…

Jalen and Irene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jalex said...

I teach in a Catholic private school and a lot of my high schoolers are presently obsessed with the book. So I read the book in an effort to understand what the craze is all about, and to open up a path of dialogue. After reading the book, I used the last few minutes of a class period to discuss the book. My approach was to offer them a balanced critique: I drew out the salient moral points, attempted to show them the critique of our culture which is implicit throughout the book (which most of them had completely missed!), particularly our devaluation of the dignity of life, our obsession with reality tv and artificiality in beauty....I found that there is quite a bit to work with here. I then showed them, by way of contrast with the Great Books in our school curriculum, how the quality of the writing is somewhat poor, how the characters are a bit flat, and how certain elements in the book feel arbitrary, contrived, and finally, how certain moral dilemmas in the story fall short of the measure of truth. And while we are reading these great books, I will often refer to the Hunger Games using analogies, in an attempt to draw them deeper into the material.

In short, I tried to teach them how to be critical with what they read, and to compare it with what they already know from their other studies or from the principles of faith. I believe this is most effectively accomplished in an atmosphere of responsible freedom and by showing a genuine interest in what THEY are interested in. Most teenagers are, despite their best intentions, strongly self-absorbed, and so you often have to be creative in finding ways to work through this framework.

Finally, although I have found that it is impossible to stifle or mitigate their excitement, I think they like to be challenged and it is worth the effort to challenge them from time to time to take cognizance of the fact that they are targeted, that they are deliberately being marketed to, and to stop and take account of where they are in the flow of culture....hollywood loves these trilogies or series (lord of the rings, harry potter, twilight, etc.), and the Hunger Games is simply the latest edition. They are perfectly capable of seeing this perspective. In fact, they could not even argue with me when I made this point. Even if they were not ready to fully embrace the challenge, the seed is planted, and I think that is often the best you can do as a parent short of tying them up and putting them in a closet.

Ann Roth said...

I understand your concern about what your daughter is reading. You haven't read the books but you are going to judge them based on what? My radar goes up when something is all the rage so I had to check it out. Do you understand that they are dystopian literature like "A Brave New World" or "1984". The story is supposed to show you an extreme world as a warning to us. A person cannot read these books and think that the world of the Hunger Games is o.k. (If you do then there is a far deeper problem)The story is supposed to disturb us. And I agree with Jalex above. You might be interested in Father Barron's comments.

If you didn't let your daughter go to the movie but you hadn't read the books and seen the movie, you goofed. Sorry, I know you were sort of agonizing over it, but you made a decision without facts. You didn't put a lot of thought or effort into it if you didn't read the books. I read everything my 11 year old reads. And we discuss the stories when necessary. If you didn't let your daughter go to the movies, you cheated her out of some bonding time with her friends, she is now the outsider for no good reason. If you don't care about her friendships, then why is she is school? She has a right to be mad at you and you have lost credibility in her eyes. If you had read the books and seen the movie and still didn't want her to go then you could have intelligently discussed it with her. BTW, the movie is less graphic than the book in terms of violence. And it is pretty good. My own take is that girls my daughter's age (11 and 6th grade) like Katniss because she is cool-hunter, survivor with a soft spot for her sister. Katniss is only in the Games to save her sister. And she has to survive in order to go back and take care of her mother and sister. Without Katniss they would starve. There is a lot to think about in the story. I would agree that the books are probably not well written but after something like the Hunger Games my daughter is ready for something like one of the Anne of Green Gables books. If you didn't let your daughter go to the movies, I suggest you read the books, see the movie and then decide whether you should take her yourself.

One thing is for sure: parenting is not for wimps.

Joy Schoenberger said...

What would I do? Tell her no. Absolutely. No doubt about it.

If you told her no already, and you back down because that's what all her friends are doing, you are setting a TERRIBLE precedent.

And your job is not to be your daughter's friend, it's to be her dad. Do your job.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you Anne and Joy.

Obviously, I dropped the ball.

I realize the responsible thing would have been to read the books and make up my own. In my own laziness and preoccupations, I reacted way too late and then had to make an uninformed decision.

Anne, I watched Fr. Barron's take, hoping to gain some insight (and actually some guidance) but he left it open.

Joy, I realize,I am not my children's friend. Unfortunately, I am turning into the dad that my kids don't like to hang out with. My wife is much more hip and fun!

It's definitely a fine line we walk between what we teach and, in my case, what we do...