For more than a year, Cooper has been begging to read the Hunger Games trilogy.
When he was 9, the answer without hesitation was no. (Right there on the book, it’s recommended for grades seven and up.)
When he was 9 1/2, the answer was still no, after I sought advice.
When he was 10, the answer stood firm, after I sought additional advice.
Now, at 10 1/2, the answer remains no, after I read the books myself.
According to Cooper, he is the only fifth-grader not allowed. (In reality, I do know a few other families who are telling their children to wait.) The PG-13 movie is absolutely out of the question.
Am I the meanest mom in suburbia? The most overprotective? I argue no to both.
Do I condemn all the moms and dads who’ve let their 8- and 9- and 10-year-olds read the books? Not at all.
But I absolutely defend my decision for my child.
Before I read the books, I relied on friends and family members who had. They all know my son — both his voracity for books and his sensitivity to injustice. I honestly expected the teens from church to give the green light, but both boys I asked said no.
I recently gave in to pop culture peer pressure and read all three books in a five-day span. (A lot of housework was ignored that week. I also ignored a healthy curfew.)
The books are well-written. The plot and character development are compelling. The stories are chock-full of lessons on confidence, sacrifice, strategy, relationships, out-of-control power.
The content, though, is incredibly disturbing. Quick, nonspoiler description: In post-apocalyptic North America, a central government rules over 13 geographic districts. One district rebels and is obliterated. To remind the remaining 12 districts of the despotic government’s power, two teens from each district are chosen annually to fight to the death on the cruelest possible reality show. The game continues until only one teen survives.
Suzanne Collins’ descriptions are vivid enough to have appeared in my nightmares for a full week. (Nightmares are especially unwelcome when you’ve been shorting yourself on sleep to read.)
And while I don’t regret my Hunger Games marathon, I certainly don’t classify the books as required reading for elementary school students — or anyone for that matter.
Every time Cooper asks and I say no, I remind him that there are hundreds of other books to read that aren’t inappropriate for him. He reads plenty of science fiction, biographies and graphic novels. He’s been exposed to plenty of good-vs.- evil plots, classic literature and what I endearingly call “junky books.”
I also remind him that it’s my job to protect him — his body, mind and soul. Based on his age and experience, I limit how far from home he can ride his bike by himself. I make sure he’s wearing a helmet before he pedals away.
I provide a healthy mix of food and drinks and limit junk food. I encourage physical activity daily. I limit the amount of screen time he gets weekly. And I monitor the media he takes in.
Because once an image or idea is in your head, you can’t go back. Once a 10-year-old, no matter how mature and responsible, is exposed to unnecessary death and destruction, it’s there forever.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.