When are Kids Old Enough…

for Spongebob, Harry Potter, the Twilight series…

I have told my kids that they will never be allowed to watch Spongebob because there is no “right age” for rude and disgusting, but what about Harry Potter and other works of children’s literature that have become a right of passage for kids?  Just because a child is able to read books like this, it doesn’t mean that they should. I was shocked when my barely seven year old daughter came to me last week to find out if she was allowed to read the first book in the Harry Potter series.  Murdered parents?  A room under the stairs?  Dark magic?  Hmmmm, as a mom I don’t think that I’m ready for that conversation.  Instead we steered her to the Ramona series, which she is devouring happily.  My larger problem is that my four year old son reads on the same level as my daughter, and he has now begun requesting chapter books.  How on earth do I find chapter books both interesting and appropriate for a four year old boy?

So as parents, how do we make these big decisions about appropriateness?

1. Would you want to discuss the content?

When deciding if your child is old enough to read a book or watch a movie, look closely at the subject matter.  Is this something you would feel comfortable discussing with your child?  When we watched the movie version of Beezus and Ramona, we were prepared to discuss that sometimes parents lose their jobs, families move, and cats die.  These were all tough topics, but ones that we felt our six year old could handle…and so could we!  I’m not sure that I’m ready to talk about evil men whose name cannot be spoken killing someone’s parents.

2. Would you want your child to make the jokes?

A couple years ago, a well-intentioned family member sent a copy of Happy Feet, but the “rude humor” warning on various sites made us decide to put it aside for a couple years.  By the time I was eight, I’m sure I had seen Police Academy a dozen times, but that doesn’t mean that I want my kids to become fans of gross or sexual humor at a young age.  Yes, my daughter rides the bus and attends public school, so I’m sure that she isn’t quite as sheltered as I might think, but right now her reaction to that sort of behavior is to ignore it or roll her eyes.  By putting the DVD in the player and inviting her to watch that level of humor, I’m sending her the message that it is appropriate.

3. How has your child reacted in the past?

When our daughter was four, we decided that she was ready for a full length film for the first time.  We headed to Blockbuster (may it rest in peace) and chose the least scary Disney film we could find: Cinderella.  It turned out that our two year old was interested in the movie as well, and for nearly two hours I watched as my daughter danced to the music and my son giggled himself silly every time the mouse spoke.  This has been a great barometer for how our children will react to other films.  I know that the shadow man and the wolves in The Princess and the Frog and Beauty and the Beast bother my daughter, but my son doesn’t mind them. I also know that he loves the silly humor in classic Disney movies, such as the antics of Captain Hook and the crocodile in Peter Pan.

How do you decide what is right for your children?

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  • Marianne

    We like to look at http://www.commonsensemedia.org it will give you a recommended age and tell you about the movie and different factors about it. So you just have to know your own child – if they are very sensitive, or don’t understand something make believe, or will copycat anything they see etc. As she gets older and many of her friends have seen the movies she asks to see some of them a lot more, we still say no to a lot of them but also again weigh that with her personality and what we believe.

  • My kids are 5 and 3, they watch Spongebob all the time. My 5yo’s favorite movie is Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. They both also enjoy The Simpson’s from time to time. I do draw the line at sexual and\or overly perverse content.
    My husband and I have beat it into them that TV is NOT real. Same with books (the books they read, at least). The kids take TV and book for what they are, entertainment. In fact, the TV my 5yo watches and the books she reads has given her a career aspiration. She knows that someone played make-believe and came up with the stories that are now TV shows and books.She wants to do the same (for now, haha)
    We are not worried about what they watch and read. Aside from the entertainment value, everything is a learning experience. Spongebob works at the Krusty Krab to be able to buy food for himself and his pet. Squidward works to be able to pay for his art supplies. Responsibility and needing to work for what you want.
    I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, but doesn’t he go to school to practice his craft? Stay in school, go to college, and train for the job you want.
    My parents weren’t super strict with my brothers and I so we never felt the need to sneak anything. We always felt comfortable going to our parents for anything.

  • when my girls were younger, the loved spongebob & they still do a little bit. my kids have always known that tv and movies are not real as well as books unless of course they are reading non-fiction. i did, at times, keep them away from some movies that had a lot of sexual content. for the most part, i don’t censor a lot of what they read, watch, or the music they listen to. my kids are also older (23, 16, 14 and 12), and we have always had an open relationship. they come to me and ask me if they question something. i think that it’s a parent’s personal preference on how they decide what’s okay for their child to read, watch, or listen to. it also comes down to knowing your own children. btw, my 14 year old daughter started reading the twilight series (a classmate got her started on it), in fifth grade. by the time she got 1/4 into the 2nd book, she was bored with it and didn’t want to read the rest. lol

    • Amy

      Ciara, I love that your daughter was bored with the Twilight books! They are horribly written, but I couldn’t put them down. Like bad reality t.v…..

  • Well you know I love you right? So let’s just have that said ;)… As for how we censor or filter their media? There is a lot of TV that they don’t watch. For years Pokemon and Power Rangers were not allowed in the house simply because they irritated me. Sponge Bob is tolerable to me but I’m not a fan, so at any given point I envoke my mom-given right to say “No you can’t watch that” and then we discuss why. For the most part we tend to follow the ratings on movies as well. But that brings me to my next point.

    CJ was in love with magic and Harry Potter when he was in the 1st grade and the first movie had just come out. He wanted in the worst way to go see it but we had a strict rule (as book loving people) and that was that he had to read the book before seeing the movie because as we all know, books are almost always better than the movies!! This prompted CJ to read. He was a decent reader at that point (I mean it WAS just 1ST grade) but he was already bored with the books at school and so my sister gave him his first Harry Potter book. At first we read with him to help him through the big words but after a week he took off on his own.
    I don’t think I agree completely with filtering (or in some cases, over filtering), I think parents have to give their kids the benefit of the doubt – they understand so much more than we think they do and I felt we could handle parents being murdered and discussing that kind of death over seeing the silhouette of a hanged man (Disney’s Tarzan – a movie we have never owned and never will)

    This is a great topic for discussion Amy! I’d comment more but I feel a book coming on!

    • Amy

      OMG, Nikki, Tarzan was just on the Disney channel the other day and the kids asked me to DVR it. I’m so glad I forgot! There is also a suicide attempt in The Incredibles. My kids can read the newspaper headlines on the screen, so I fast-forward through that every time. Exposure to the idea of suicide is actually a risk factor for a suicide attempt. Why that is in that movie I will NEVER understand.

  • We don’t have cable (so that helps) but when she watches TV it’s generally something on PBS. I haven’t really been too over the top with what movies she watches. She watched the Princess and the Frog and as we were watching it (we watched it together as a family) I was worried the imagery would scare her ~ and some of it did. It gave us the opportunity to talk about what the meaning of the movie was, and to again reinforce ways to manage fear etc.

    My daughter’s not old enough to read on her own yet ~ and I’m not sure how I’ll handle books. I was reading above grade level very early. My mom had to give the librarian written permission to let me take out whatever books I wanted to read… I just LOVE books. I hope that my daughter will also love to read (she seems to now) and we’ll just have to play it by ear as she begins to read on her own.

    Great topic for discussion, thanks for bringing it up.

    • Amy

      Jackie, this is the issue we’re facing with my son. He is in pre-k, but really is ready for basic chapter books reading level-wise, but maturity level…definitely not. I’m struggling to find books that he’ll enjoy and be interested in that are also age appropriate.

  • We make sure anything our daughter is watching is age-appropriate. There are SO many choices out there that we don’t find it to be an issue to make sure she’s watching something we agree with. We do not allow her (she’s almost 3) to watch Spongebob and probably never will. The show disgusts me (and I have a sick sense of humor) much the way Ren and Stimpy disgusted my parents (and it was banned from my home).

    I am very protective of my daughter when it comes to things I can control, like the media viewed in our home. It won’t be long before she’s in school and I can’t control things she hears from other kids, so I take full advantage of the control I do have now. I also make sure I sit and watch things with her. We don’t watch shows with commercials, either, which is why we have a huge DVD stash and watch things like Disney Junior. We were watching Nick Jr in the mornings (not the channel, but the morning line-up on Nick), but my daughter started paying attention to commercials and asking for things, so we stopped watching it.

    I know it’s cliche, but kids grow up so fast nowadays and I want to keep my kid a kid for as long as possible. She’ll live without watching Spongebob, and if it does scar her for life to miss out, I’ll pay for the therapy later on. 😉

    • Amy

      Ashley, I agree 100%. Once innocence is lost, that’s it. Game over. My kids have a lifetime to be exposed to all sorts of media – which I’m sure they will be – so why not keep a watchful eye in these early years inside our home.

      And I remember Ren and Stimpy! I totally watched that so that I could talk to boys about it. Beavis and Butthead, too. 😉 But I was in junior high, not pre-school. I think that makes a huge difference.

  • BethRD

    Is your 7yr old friends with mine? I just had the same request about Harry Potter books about a week ago.. and of course I had to steer her away from them for right now. (Of course the whole series on the bookshelf are the ones I have collected and read!) Her twin is content with any of the Fairy books for now.. but the more advanced reader has blown thru the Wimpy Kids books(she got those at the library at school before I could see what they are about), and now has been hearing the older kids at school talk about the Harry Potter books.
    I hope to get her hooked on the Ramona series or even AtoZ mysteries.. and next up is Nancy Drew books. I agree it’s tough to decide when are they old enough… subject matter is a gray area to get into. WOw…some of the conversations we have been having lately have floored me for 2nd graders…but i encourage them to ask me anything they are curious about. (how I answer is based on the question content!)
    And don’t get me started on the Spongebob stuff! He has caused alot of behavior issues in the past.. and is now limited on amount they can watch a week.
    Great topic to post today!

    • Amy

      I love the Nancy Drew idea! I remember loving those books when I was a kid.

  • Brilliant post, Amy! Honestly, I think the answer to this question comes down to what the parent feels is appropriate- and that is why I think your post is brilliant. If we just allow them to watch and read whatever they want, it is not taking a proactive role in what they are learning. There is soooooo much out there, so why not choose the good stuff? Like Liberty’s Kids? My kids watched episodes of that before we took a trip to Boston and they were so excited to see all of the historic stuff! My husband just finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia series to the kids (L is almost 8, E is almost 6). I think it is a good alternative to Harry Potter for this age- and actually teaches them something beautiful!!!!
    We don’t make a big deal about what they see at friend’s houses, but we make decisions about what they watch at home, because we should! That’s our job. 🙂
    Another series for girls are the American girl books. I know that it is easy to get caught up in the doll side of this, but the books and movies are actually really good. My husband just started reading “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” to the kids- and they are loving it!
    Anyway, happy choosing and thanks for the great post!

    • Amy

      Oh, the Mouse and the Motorcycle! That makes me think of Ralph. 🙂 How funny!

      GREAT tip with the Chronicles of Narnia. I have the entire set in my basement just waiting for the right time, and it seems that now may be it.

      Thank you 🙂

  • Melody

    What a thought provoking post! It breaks my heart though, and makes me feel immense gilt to know that despite the fact that as the parent I should have control over what they watch, I can only do that part of the time. It is such a helpless feeling when there is opposition to what is ok and what is not between the parents. For example, I don’t allow them to watch things that are the least bit degrading, violent, or otherwise inappropriate, yet their Dad refuses to turn off the TV or change the chanel when there is something he is watching that is detrimental to their development, ie. scarey, bloody, voilent, vulgar, etc. He yells at them to leave the room when it is pointed out to him, but takes NO responsibility. He often denigs that it could be harmfull as well. Agghhhh, just thinking about it makes my blood boil!
    Anyone else out there have this problem? If so, what have you done about it?

  • Candice

    We don’t watch Spongebob either but have also nixed Phineas & Ferb, Yo Gabba Gabba and Fish Hooks. At 5 our daughter has watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and pirates of the Carribean series with us but we know her intellectual capabilities. Watching with intention and mindless TV-babysitting are also different.