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What will they watch in grade 3 — The Exorcist?

September 23, 2010

I’m trying not to be a helicopter mother. Honest to god, I really am. I know that children are resilient and that they are best protected by letting them face challenges and learn things on their own. I know that, really and truly I do.

But every hand-wringing blog I read about the endangered species free-range kid rings false. Because parents like me are not trying to protect their kids from skinned knees and playground squabbles and the boredom of an unstructured afternoon. We are trying to protect their right to be children in the first place.

Today, I had to protect that right against a second-grade art teacher with a Halloween project. My daughter’s public school has a fine arts mission, so her teacher clearly cannot limit herself to the pumpkin-and-black-cat theme pack. She decided that her budding artistes should tackle Frankenstein. Not the green-skinned, goofily grinning illustration on trick-or-treat bags, but the 1931 movie with Boris Karloff considered by critics like Don Druker to be “one of the most deservedly famous and chilling horror films of all time“.

Full disclosure: My daughter is not exactly the most courageous consumer of popular culture. When she was four, we had to sit next to her when she watched Dora the Explorer so she would not be spooked by “Swiper, no swiping.” I am sure that there were kids in her class who saw no further than the clumsy shuffling of a low-tech movie monster in platform shoes and went home no worse for wear. But my daughter and several of her friends spent a good part of the afternoon crying over the movie and I spent a good part of the night dealing with her fear. (Fear and sleep will always be issues in this house.)

My daughter couldn’t really tell me much about what she saw in the YouTube clips the teacher showed. At the mention of the name Frankenstein, she just covered her ears and sobbed. I kept thinking, “Surely to god she wasn’t stupid enough to show the scene with the little girl.” Do you know that scene? Little Maria is playing next to a pond when the monster shuffles over. Initially startled, she overcomes her fear and takes his hand, inviting him to play. They share a creepily tender moment throwing daisies into the water and watching them float away, until the monster runs out of flowers. He silently picks up the girl and, as she screams at him to stop because he is hurting her, throws her into the water. And she drowns. (I’m not going to embed or link to the clip, because if you are a mother, you don’t need to hear that splash.)

Of course, my daughter’s idiot teacher did show this scene. No doubt she thought it would be relevant and the kids would relate because they are roughly the same age as the child being killed.

Having met with a wonderfully intelligent and open-minded vice principal, I think I have managed to shut the whole Frankenstein project down. But now I have to prepare myself for the backlash for having been over-protective of my child, from the teacher and from the parents of kids who cut their teeth on the Lord of the Rings.

And that’s the point for the Apocalypse this  week — the fact that I will have to try to explain that it is not developmentally appropriate for 7-year olds to watch the killing of a child, no matter how bad the special effects are.

The Apocalypse: 21.5

Humanity: 16

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11 Comments
  1. Ok, I’m VERY far removed from being a helicopter parents and my kids have watched Spiderman (1, 2 AND 3), Iron Man and various others….but even in my WILDEST dreams, I wouldn’t show kids that age that Frankenstein movie….especially THAT scene! What the hell was she thinking?! Oh right..she wasn’t. Tool.

    I hope your wee girl feels better about the whole thing sooner rather than later. And good for you for going to the VP.

    • Aww- thanks! She’s a fighter, this kid. Afraid thank Frankenstein will chew off her feet if they are sticking out of the covers, but a fighter. (It helps that her other heli-mom is a psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder.)

  2. First, I question the judgment of any teacher who would show clips of a horror movie, even an old campy one, to 7 year olds. Kids at that age are not developmentally able to process the whole reality/not reality thing….their grasp on that concept is tenuous at best. When my son was 7 he thought monsters lived in the tub drain…you could tell him there was no such thing until the cows came home – in the end, for him, monsters still lived in the damn drain.

    Second, exposing young children to any type of violent image is a stupid thing to do – period. There are many Halloween movies made specifically for children – she should have chosen one of them….AND sent home permission slips – parents know their children best.

    Third – in my high school classes, I do a unit on horror/suspense writing where I show several movies to the kids – Psycho, The Birds, It, Poltergeist. I still have to send home permission slips as well as give the kids warning so they can excuse themselves to the library if the films freak them out. My last assignment was in an urban district – many of my kids belonged to gangs – they play horribly violent video games and occasionally beat each to a pulp without so much as blinking an eye – yet Tim Curry’s portrayal of the evil clown Pennywise sends them into convulsions of fear.

    Fourth – I love horror movies but because I watched The Wizard of Oz when I was very young – flying monkeys STILL frighten me…oh yea…also oompa loopas….and spiders…and clowns….and I’m with your girl on the Dora thing…creepy.

    The Teacher should be reprimanded and her lesson plans should be monitored.

    • Don’t even make me think about those creepy fucking monkeys. La la la… I can’t hear you… la la la.

      Seriously, thanks for this thoughtful response. I did actually question whether I was making too big a deal of this and it helps to know that I’m not the one who’s an arse.

  3. I’m with T – the teacher needs some serious monitoring, and perhaps some advanced seminars in child development, to boot. Unbelievable. Thank goodness for parents like you who fight to keep childhood what it should be. I wonder if anyone else would have stepped up if you hadn’t. Kudos, my friend, for being such a good mom.

    • Monitoring yes. After a good swift kick in the arse.

      I knew you guys would stick up for me- Thanks!

  4. My husband and I pawned the kids off on their grandparents last weekend and went to the movies. We saw The Last Exorcist. It was not a good horror movie, but I was nonetheless appalled when a very large family came in with very large popcorn bags and proceeded to spread out through the entire theater. The kids’ ages ranged from maybe 7 to about 15. All the kids, of course, wanted to be as far away from their awkward parents as possible, so they went down front. And then they started trickling back up the theater, laughing to control their fear, as the blood began to flow. They ended up just about sitting in their mommy’s lap, asking very loud questions about why the virgin was being abused in a sacrifical manner. What on earth is wrong with people? I like your idea about how we’re protecting their right to be kids. Good job.

  5. My mom likes to tell the story of how she had to whisk me out of the theater when we saw “Pinocchio” because the whale made me go into hysterics.

    But now? I totally love whales. Seriously. I go on whale watches a few times every year.

    So, maybe in another few years, your daughter will embrace Frankenstein. Or maybe the art teacher will make her draw even scarier things, like Sarah Palin.

    I just scared myself a little bit, just by writing that last sentence.

    • We are Canadians, so my daughter doesn’t know that Palin exists. I will show her The Exorcist myself before I expose her to that nutbar.

  6. Tracy permalink

    I’m going with the comment about reprimanding and monitoring the teacher. Please show this to your headmaster.

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