Movies and Sons

JawsOne of my sisters lets her 2 year old watch Jaws.

That’s all you need to know, right? This is what’s wrong with our culture! What kind of a sick world are we living in where mothers let babies watch violent movies about sharks eating naked girls and people screaming in pools of blood?!

Except there’s more to the story. My sister is a faithful Catholic mother of nine. The oldest boy is in the seminary. Every one of her children, without exception, is a happy, well-adjusted person, strong in their faith, eager to help wherever it’s needed, always pleasant and smiling. There are people who would cut off their thumbs to have a family life like my sister’s.

In The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, C.S. Lewis wrote: “It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies,” and I feel compelled to agree. There is a baleful eagerness among some Catholics to dictate what people’s lives should look like, right down to exactly what movies they should watch or not watch. For these people, the fact that Jaws is a family favorite at my sister’s house is scandalous but, considering the overwhelming love and devotion there, deciding what movies are or aren’t scandalous needs a little more thought.

It’s an especially important question for dads and their sons. Men, by nature, are drawn to movies that contain violence and frightening images. They also want to be able to watch movies with their male spawn, and none of them want those movies to be about unicorns and dancing competitions. Unless it’s a cool unicorn, and the dancing competition is suddenly interrupted by an evil dragon with seven heads, and only a Space Warrior sent from the future can stop it before it destroys the ENTIRE CITY…

Sorry. Got a little light-headed there. The point is: when it’s movie time (and please don’t tell me to just do something else besides watch movies. We do plenty of other stuff, but sometimes it’s just movie time, and that’s that…we don’t want to read a book, we don’t want to do a special art project with glue and popsicle sticks, we just…want…to watch…a movie) is it acceptable for a dad to let his boys see movies that have above “G” rated content?

O.K. so first: I’m talking about boys age 4-10, but that’s not a fixed range. Also, I am not going to try and lay out a precise set of criteria here. If I did I would then be guilty of doing the very thing I resent: “dictating what people’s lives should look like, right down to exactly what movies they should watch or not watch.” I only want to offer three tips for Catholic dads who are caught between their own fatherly impulses and what “omnipotent moral busybodies” tell them.

1. Don’t let them see nudity and sex stuff. That seems obvious, but we’re all familiar with watching an otherwise acceptable movie and then two people start panting and groping, even if it’s just for a couple of seconds. I contend that those kinds of scenes are FAR more damaging than violent scenes. The violence they can act out, they can channel it in the back yard in a big wrestling match or whatever. They have no way of handling the sexual stuff. They are simply not ready for that. I myself, a grown man, steer way clear of almost all sexual content in movies. All it does is implant the seeds of lust, and lust is a bad enough problem in our society as it is. Skip those scenes, please.

2. Explain things. “PG” stands for “Parental Guidance,” remember? You never stop being a dad, even when you are at leisure. Your kids will ask lots of questions anyway about plots and characters—as a general rule, don’t brush them off. We watched Ben Hur recently, an amazing film with lepers, a crucifixion, and a chariot race that would make Russell Crowe get weak in the knees. But it’s an amazing film. My boys loved it—but motives, plot developments, character behavior, etc. need explaining or they will overwhelm a small mind. For instance: “Why would God make leprosy, dad?” You better be ready for that one, fellas! “Don’t worry about it, kid, just watch the movie” is not a good response.

3. The film industry rating system is not Church doctrine. “G”, “PG”, and “R” ratings are helpful, but ultimately you are the guy who rates movies in your house. You love your kids more than a board of film reviewers and you know what each individual child can handle or not handle.

That’s it. Nothing too complicated, really.

Oh, and one more thing: be prepared to be wrong. You may err in the direction of too much violence, or too much psychological intensity. Humbly accept the withering stare from your wife and pick another movie.

This article reprinted with kind permission from Catholic News Agency.

Dan Lord


Dan Lord is the author of By the Downward Way (SalvO, 2014) and Choosing Joy (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). His articles have appeared in Crisis, National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency, and Fathers For Good and he is a national speaker on various topics. He blogs at That Strangest of Wars.

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  • Mags

    I like it!
    Mother of 5 boys…(and one girl!)

  • snipercatcher

    Why is it that people who wouldn’t let their kids watch “Jaws” or something similar insist that sensitive adults watch “The Passion of the Christ.” Yes, we did the stations of the cross in elementary school, do we actually NEED to see it in Technicolor?

  • bronwyn

    If your 2 yr old nephew is watching Jaws he might hesitate before jumping in the ocean for a swim.

    Oh the testosterones!

    When our son was 5 years old he loved dinosaurs. My husband thought it was a good idea to let him watch Jurassic Park. Even though we explained that dinosaurs no longer roamed the earth (God wouldn’t allow them to live during our time because we’d be their dinner) He knew they were extinct but still, he kept his dinosaur book at the bottom of his desk drawer. He was afraid of taking the book out!

  • Editor

    Actually, the nephew in question is a girl, and she shows no fear of the ocean at all (so far)–although, one could argue, that itself could be a problem, since a person ought to have a healthy fear of the ocean, in my opinion. Sharks really do kill people, on occasion! Anyway, my point is that the love of strong parents and a good family has a way of diffusing the scariness of many things in life, including shark attack scenes in movies. Thanks for your comment, bronwyn!

  • Editor

    Woah…I’m a little confused by this comment. To whom are you referring? And what do you have against Technicolor?

  • Insightful piece Dan.  Helps to sort out the gray area of movie watching decisions for us parents with younger kids.  I don’t think my kids (4yrs and 2yrs) are ready for Jaws yet, but that classic will certainly be shown in my house at some point.  

  • Editor

    Thanks, David! For the record, my oldest is eight, and I still can’t bring myself to show him Jaws. One day, though…it’s too good to be avoided for much longer.

  • baltobunch

    I really do get it, but after carefully sheltering my oldest 2 (we have 8), they rebelled in a bad way.  The oldest is no longer Catholic, the youngest dropped out of high school to live with her bf whom she later married in a civil marriage.  Nothing like that to shake your faith.  We homeschool the younger children, but I also realize that some day they will be out in the world.  So, we pick and choose what we allow them to do, while guiding their path to adulthood.  No, I wouldn’t show a 2 yr. old ‘Jaws’, but the younger kids have seen classic war & old western movies–war & the old west are realities.  On the flip side, so is abortion, and they’ve seen pictures of aborted babies.  Parents should know with their own children what they should be watching and at what age.  Just MHO.