Saturday, October 03, 2009

Random Thoughts

An old friend of mine called me last night.

You may have read about him here before. I wrote about this friend on my blog a couple of months ago just before he was going to take his oldest son to see Paul McCartney in concert.

He called, in part, to tell me that he had taken his sons to see "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." He liked the computer animation.

My friend has always been an artistic person. We knew each other in college, and I remember spending many evenings hanging out at his place drinking beer and listening to him play guitar. Today, he works as a photographer so it doesn't surprise me that he has an appreciation of modern animation.

I have no children so I don't keep up with these things the way parents do, and I told my friend that the only children's movie I was aware of that will be hitting the theaters soon is a film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." My friend was ahead of me on that one.

He told me that his wife had reservations about that movie, apparently because she is afraid the film won't measure up to the book. I, too, am an advocate of reading, and I agree with her reasoning, but I told my friend that I personally would allow the children to see the movie (unless it gets terrible reviews), and I would encourage them to read the book afterward. I told him that there were many movies that I saw when I was growing up that inspired me to read the books upon which they were based.

That observation turned my thoughts to the stepdaughter of a mutual friend. When she was probably about 5 or 6, I made a videotape of the Danny Kaye movie "Hans Christian Andersen" and gave it to her. I told her it was one of my favorite movies when I was her age, and I wanted her to enjoy it, too. She loved it so much, I gave her a copy of Andersen's stories, upon which much of the movie was based, for Christmas. She is probably in her early 20s now, but her mother told me she still has the book (and, I believe, the videotape — unless she has replaced it with a DVD). I'm glad I could pass that along to the next generation.

My friend and I agreed that the modern world is technologically amazing. There are so many things that exceed anything that my friend and I could have imagined when we were in college together — and, as my friend observed, we thought in those days that we were living in the most advanced time the world had ever seen.

And we were.

But in so many ways, it seems primitive compared to today.

I guess some of the things we were brought up on seem quaint and old–fashioned now. And I suppose most of the people of my generation have had to adapt their approach to parenting so I told my friend that I think parents are the best judges of what is appropriate for their children.

I was speaking primarily in the sense of which films or books for which they are ready. Chronological age is like a one–size–fits–all solution. I don't think you have to be a parent to know that some kids are more mature than others. Parents have observed their child's development from birth, and they should have an idea whether their child is ready for something.

Age is just a number, I often remind people.

Remember that stepdaughter I mentioned? Around the time I gave her that videotape, "Jurassic Park" was released on video, and that was getting a lot of coverage in newspapers, magazines and TV. I had seen the movie at the theater, and I told my friend's wife that I thought her daughter was probably too young to watch the movie. I said it would frighten her.

I figured that was a no–brainer. That movie was pretty intense for adults.

Admittedly, though, I did use my own experience to evaluate the situation. When I was 5 or 6, the winged monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz" frightened me, gave me nightmares.

In hindsight, it was probably wrong of me to apply my own experience to the situation. Different people, different times. But I felt, having seen "Jurassic Park," that young children would be frightened by the images of aggressive dinosaurs.

Anyway, she wound up seeing it somehow — kids always manage to do something or see something they have been forbidden to do or see — and I was right, it did scare her.

Thinking of that reminded me of something else.

About 12 years ago, one of the traditional TV networks (I forget now which one) showed Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" unedited and interrupted only by an intermission. The film was preceded by a brief statement by Spielberg. As I recall, he urged parents to decide for themselves whether their children were ready for the issues that were raised by a film about Nazi Germany.

Spielberg said he would have no problem permitting a high school student to watch the movie, in spite of its R rating, but he would have to decide individually on younger children.

I understand that parents want to be responsible in the decisions they make about what their children watch or hear or read.

Applying common sense is the key.