Childrearing

Father Lets 5th Graders At A Sleepover Watch Aliens, Internet Explodes In Judgment

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My family seemed to live above “age restrictions” when it came to movies. There was nothing that could really come on cable television that was off limits in the late 70’s — television was a completely different animal back then. There was one movie channel: it was called the “G-Channel” (this had nothing to do with MPAA ratings) and it played one movie a night, at 8pm. No matter what that movie was, my family would sit around together and watch it.

We finally got an actual cable box in the early eighties. Back then, you could open up a cable box and rig it to get all premium channels with a roach clip. I know this, because my dad did it. He was like the MacGyver of bootleg cable. Not only did he show me how to rig a cable box to steal cable (I was eight-years-old at the time), but he had a a love of scary movies and I was his partner in crime for that, too. I grew up watching scary movies — Alien, The Excorcist, and The Shining – to name some, and apart from the few years I took a running leap into my bed because I was terrified a clown would jump out from under it after I saw Poltergeist, there were no lasting repercussions.

I’m taking this little trip down memory lane today because of a terrific post I read about a father allowing a bunch of 5th graders who were at his house for his son’s sleepover watch “Aliens.” NY Times film and TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, wrote it for Roger Ebert.com. It was a beautiful piece about the power of movies and the fun of watching what could almost be described as your “younger self” experience a particular movie again for the first time. Observing his son and friends watch Aliens reminded him of the excitement and nervousness he felt when he watched the movie for the first time — and he described what it was like to see each of the kids process what was going on in the film. It’s a fantastic essay. It made me nostalgic for not just childhood, but for what film used to be — before the infinite possibilities of CGI were at an action film maker’s fingertips. How much more they used to have to rely on suspense and plot to impress an audience.

Unfortunately, there were readers too busy wagging their fingers at him for allowing 5th graders to watch Aliens to even process any of the beauty of the essay. As you can imagine it was dozens of comments questioning Zoller Seitz’s fitness as a father for allowing children to watch such a thing! Enough that Zoller Seitz felt compelled to write a postscript to the piece, explaining his decision:

I am honestly stunned that this piece got the reaction it did; I wrote it in about 90 minutes, after the boys went to sleep for the night. It was written in what I hoped was an affirmative and embracing spirit, and for the most part it has been received that way. But I’ve also been described in comments as unthinking, arrogant, irresponsible, a bad father, a bad babysitter, a jerk, and a monster of the worst sort, because I showed an R-rated science fiction film to fifth grade boys at a sleepover.

He goes on to explain that he knows the boys very well — some of them have been in the same class as his son since first grade and one of the kids he’s known since he was an infant. He’s friends with all of their parents, who he describes as artists and writers, something he feels the need to explain because, “the definition of what’s acceptable or permissible varies depending on what community you’re a part of. In my experience, artists tend to have a more, shall we say, flexible attitude towards what constitutes proper viewing material.” These are all things he wouldn’t even have had to explain had the internet not decided to concern-troll his parenting instead of immerse themselves in the spirit of the piece.

This is just another example of how some people just can’t stop insisting they know how to do it better than another parent: are more careful, more admirable, and more fit. It’s what makes people call the cops on their neighbor’s kids playing in the yard “by themselves” and on a smaller scale it’s what makes people feel obliged to judge another adults parenting choices, like many readers did to Zoller Seitz in this article.

(photo: YouTube)