I live in a wonderful neighborhood. It’s packed with both military and non-military families, most with children around my own kids’ ages. On the weekends, it’s the norm to see all of our kids meeting up outside to ride bikes, build tree forts, play on swing sets, and jump on trampolines. As parents, we all seem to share similar values, and we’ve gotten to know each other well enough to feel comfortable entrusting our children in each other’s supervision.
That’s why I was so shocked when last weekend I wandered over to a neighbors’ house and found my son watching “Black Hawk Down,” a movie that comes nowhere close to making the cut on my list of appropriate movies for an 8-year-old. Ignoring the smaller issue of the father neglecting to ask my permission to show my child an R-rated movie, I focused on the bigger issue: what made him think that this particular film was suitable for young children to watch?
My son has a vague concept of war and the fact that our country has been at war for his entire lifetime. He knows that wars are fought by men and women in the military. He knows that his father is in the military. He knows that his father has gone on “trips” to faraway places where the bad guys are. And he knows that even though his dad returned home safely, some people die and some people come back hurt. Those are facts I’m comfortable with him knowing, facts I feel he’s capable of processing both intellectually and emotionally.
War movies like “Black Hawk Down,” on the other hand, are not something I feel he’s old enough to handle on any level. I’m an adult, and I have a hard time wrapping my own head around war movies. All I have to do is think about certain scenes from “Saving Private Ryan” or “We Were Soldiers” or “Act of Valor” and I get choked up. I can’t help it. It hits too close to home.
That’s why I worry about my military brats watching these movies before they’re emotionally ready. As I explained to my neighbor, I don’t want my son having “Black Hawk Down” flashbacks if and when his father comes home one day and announces he’s deploying again. My son is well aware that, unlike other movies like “Harry Potter,” this one is based on reality. The scary parts can’t be explained away by calling it make-believe. War isn’t make-believe. And I don’t think he needs that kind of reality at 8-years-old.
I’m not trying to shelter my children from war and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m just waiting until I feel they’re mature enough to handle the content portrayed in these movies. And when they are, my husband and I (not my neighbor) will be the ones sitting next to them, ready to answer their questions and allay their fears.
Do you allow your military brats to watch war movies? If so, what are their reactions? At what age do you think kids can handle war movies like “Black Hawk Down?"