Monthly Archives: May 2014

Scary Movies

Last weekend, we went to see Godzilla. We were excited for the afternoon date and the mindless entertainment (mindless, because we don’t have to take monster movies seriously even when they try to make a deeper point about the folly of humanity’s self-destructive love affair with advanced weaponry and technology, and attendant disregard for the delicate balance of our natural environment. Mindless fun!).


Our fun day at the movies was almost ruined however by the appearance of an entire family a few chairs over. And by family, we mean mother, father, and three very young children (aged, we guess, 8, 4, and 1). We cringed and gritted our teeth.

We were not worried about noise, although we expected it. We aren’t the kinds of people who don’t like flying or eating in restaurants with kids. We think kids are noisy and there you have it. Kids trapped indoors are perfectly free to vocalize and act out in our opinion. While it can be hard to be trapped indoors with them, we sympathize with parents who do not always have choices when they need to travel somewhere or do something difficult with kids in tow.

No, what was threatening our calm was wondering how anyone could think it was a good idea to voluntarily sit in a dark room filled with images of death and the sounds of screams and destruction with children too young to know that what they are seeing and hearing isn’t really happening.

A couple years ago, Dave took our teenage son to see Looper, a smart but very violent movie. A similarly-aged family sat behind them, and the kids, one of whom was a toddler, were not so happy to be there, and fussed and cried. The parents tried to keep them quiet (another blow—let’s put small children in a noisy, scary, dark, and constraining environment and then make them behave quietly and respectfully so that we can enjoy ourselves) and they were sort of successful. But after multiple grisly killings, Dave couldn’t stand it and turned to appeal to the father, saying, ‘This is not a good movie for your kids. It’s too violent, too scary. I don’t think they should be here!’ The father, whose English wasn’t great, apologized and seemed to think that the complaint was about the noise. They left shortly after.

This raises questions. Are parents dragging the whole family to movies because a) they think that the risk of permanent psychological scarring is outweighed by the chance to share popcorn together during a fun family outing, b) they are intentionally desensitizing their children to media violence and sex through exposure, c) they can’t afford a babysitter, or d) they lack the education or knowledge to make a wise decision?

One way or another, there are cultural differences here. We think differently than the people who would take their kids to see movies with mature themes. Maybe they were raised this way. Maybe they are thinking it through and actively making choices. Maybe our position is a position that we can afford to take.

But before we talk ourselves out of being horrified, or assume that parents should just do what feels right for their family, it’s not a bad idea to take a step back and maybe check in with someone who thinks about these things for a living.

A good starting resource is Common Sense Media, a collection of media reviews for families. On this site you’ll see a breakdown of a movie’s content in categories such as violence, sex, language, drug use, etc.. These come along with ratings by the editors, by parents, and by kids. What do the kids think about Godzilla? They rate Godzilla appropriate only for ages 11 and up.

We’re not talking here about violence in society. The editors rightly point out that the research on media violence begetting violence is not very conclusive, and most commentary on kids and violence is fraught with anxieties related to infrequent but high-visibiltiy crimes by youths. It’s too hard to say what the impact of media is in such matters when many factors come into play. But it’s clear that violence (including images of violence for the very young who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality) causes stress and stress causes a reaction (which in the very young can be impossible to talk out). At the very least, learn from your child’s ability to talk about stressful issues. If they can articulate their feelings, or tell you how they feel, then you can reflect together on something you’ve watched. But if they are not verbal enough to understand or communicate an issue of violence, then don’t expose them to it.

With our kids we really tried to learn from them what their threshold for discomfort was. Our daughter was far more bothered by intense images than her younger brother was, and in the beginning we had to judge whether a Disney movie was too scary (and when our kids were very young, they were!). We tried not to put her in a situation where she’d be exposed to something she was uncomfortable with. We remember her first movie in the theater was almost a non starter because the previews were so loud and intense—she and mom went into the lobby to wait them out. Once the feature started she was fine. Remember what it was like when you were young, listen to the experts, and don’t be in a hurry.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

On Celebrations

When families participate in important events, kids can be a real wild card. We’ve seen that the likelihood of a meltdown is proportional to the importance of the event. This is not a plot! It’s not the fault of the children. In fact, when there’s a high level of anticipation and expectation, adults communicate stress, often without being aware. When we’re anxious about something, kids pick up on it, and they often internalize the anxiety. Just think about the emotional turmoil that surrounds a birthday, for example: most of the energy is positive, of course, but it’s stressful nonetheless. These can be hard events for kids: since they don’t have the tools to manage their feelings like adults (hopefully) do, their young-but-powerful emotions erupt in ways that can be, shall we say, counterproductive.

You might think that kids should naturally love the parties we throw for them. But graduations, birthdays, mitzvahs and other celebrations often become opportunities for adults to ‘put on a show’ for ourselves, forgetting who the event is for. We invest a lot into these events, we stress about the success we hope for, and young kids feel the strain.

To help young children survive events that are meant for their benefit, here’s a few tips:

  • Remember that these events are supposed to be a blessing for the child, not for us (Simple, but it has to be said).
  • Help your young child know what to expect (“We will do X for a little bit, then we’ll do Y, and then we’ll be all done!”).
  • Give choices whenever possible (“Do you want to sit next to your aunt or next to Dad?”; “What would you like to eat first?” … “Dessert!” is an acceptable answer on certain occasions).
  • Consider their threshold for public humiliation (“You look SOOOO cute in that suit!”) and honor them without embarrassing them.
  • Direct their attention to keep their mind off their own discomfort (“Watch your sister practicing her dance moves”).
  • Don’t compare a child to others (“Look how that little boy is sitting quietly”), rather catch them doing their best and acknowledge their efforts (“Sitting still is so hard, but you’re becoming a real patient kid!”)
  • Be determined to focus your energies on enjoying your child (rather than on the success of the event), and they will feel more special and less stressed.

Keep a sense of humor while dressing up and celebrating your child, and the likelihood grows that you will all take good memories from these special events.


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

In Praise of Homeschoolers

Though we have always had our children in public schools, we considered home schooling. Briefly! We never felt we were up to it, and were fortunate to live in school districts with programs that worked for our kids. But we’ve hung around home schoolers from the beginning, and Dave now teaches enrichment classes to homeschoolers throughout the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. We are a little in awe of parents who make the commitment.

Photo by Flickr user PearlsofJannah اللؤلؤ من الجنة

Photo by Flickr user PearlsofJannah اللؤلؤ من الجنة

There are so many reasons why a parent would homeschool their children: from academic pacing at schools (too slow or too fast for your child) to a child being alternatively gifted (in ways a school can’t harness or help); from religious reasons to not wanting–or being able–to wake up in the morning. Whatever the reason, the job is the same for all homeschoolers: give your child an education to rival funded, established, complex organizations with expertise spanning from early childhood to late teenage, covering (at my count) 5 or 6 distinct developmental stages, and somewhere around 50 subject areas. What kind of madness would drive a parent to take that on?

These mad and magic parents are devoted and sometimes frazzled, passionate and often exhausted. But they are committed to exercising the responsibility they feel for their kids’ education. I’m constantly amazed. One of the families who’s kids I teach have homeschooling in their blood: my student’s grandmother homeschooled his parents in Los Angeles when people were being jailed for taking their kids out of school. Her efforts were part of setting the stage for the supportive environment we have in the state right now. For some of my students, my enrichment courses are paid for by the public school district, allowing parents to match the education to the child in the most personal way. Amazing.


Photo by PearlsofJannah اللؤلؤ من الجنة, under license 
This post appeared originally on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog

We’re Not Dead Yet

"I'm not dead yet!" ... from Monty Python and The Holy Grail

In one of Dave’s acting classes, he led his 1st and 2nd graders through an improv game where they got to grow from birth to old age over the course of 5 minutes. So they started out curled up on the ground acting like infants, then, guided by Dave, grew through toddlerhood, childhood, teenage (unscripted kissing ensues), adulthood, and old age. Here’s the thing, Dave never said what stage the kids were to act out, he just said the years. So: 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 … etc. By the time the kids got to 45, they were walking bent over with imaginary canes. One young boy (the instigator of the kissing at age 15) actually said, “Let’s play bingo!”

Wait. We’re 47.

About 10 years ago, Anghelika had a revelation. She realized that by the time our kids were grown up, we would still be alive, not even walking with canes. We’d be able to do things, like go to the theater, leave the house without getting a babysitter, spend the day walking in the city, hike the mountains, and not play bingo. And, here at the twiggy edge of the empty nest, we can say that she was right. We are alive, healthy, still have our teeth, and can still taste food. We even enjoy doing things with our kids, like the triathlon Dave ran with Timo last year. We just have to be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves with the whole empty nest thing. …

On a recent Friday night, we decided to go out to dinner, and texted our 17 year old from the restaurant to see what he was doing—he usually stays out in the neighborhood after school on Friday. We sent the message: “Where r u?” … He replied, “in my room! where are you?” We hadn’t even thought to look.


[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]