The Hunger Games: Helping Your Child Discern

If you haven’t heard of the new Hunger Games movie, you’ve probably been on a desert island for the last few weeks. It’s the latest Hollywood hit; the newest junior-high buzz; and parents’ most recent hurdle.  Considering the theme of the movie—a sort of giant, teenage gladiatorial battle—it shouldn’t be surprising that even non-Christian parents are raising a cry of concern on the web.

What IS surprising to me is the large number of elementary students that I’m running into who have not only seen the movie, but love it.

What troubles me is when I ask elementary students WHY they like the movie.  Their responses without exception show that they have not biblically filtered what they have seen on the screen.  At best, they haven’t thought through the possible messages of the movie—good or bad (and I do think there may be some good ones).  At worst, they have swallowed a bad message.

The most frightening answer that I received recently was, “I liked it because of the final kill in the movie.”  My sources tell me that the final kill in this movie is a “mercy killing,” when one of the worst characters is being torn apart by wolves, and another teenager kills him quickly—mercifully?—with an arrow. 

There are so many possible messages in a scene like this.  How does a 5th-grade boy process these messages without help?  SHOULD a 5th-grade boy have to process these messages?

Help with Discernment

A few months ago in 3rd-5th grade children’s church, we talked through some principles for godly discernment when watching movies.

1.  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flowthe springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Children and parents need to think through, “What is this movie trying to do to my heart?” Beyond that, “Is my child skilled enough at protecting his/her heart that wrong messages in this movie will not affect him/her?”

For example, what is your child excited about when he/she walks out of the movie theater? Is he excited about violence? Does she begin to talk or want to dress in ways that show she is making ungodly actresses her standard of living?

2.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

I don’t think that this means you can never watch a movie in which someone does something evil. If that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to read the Bible!

I believe the question is, “What does the movie cause you to dwell on?” What message is exalted? What images stick with your child from the movie?

What parts of the movie does your child talk about most afterward? It does no good to say that good triumphed over evil in the movie if all your child remembers is the “cool” villain. So maybe the villain WAS killed at the end, but if he lives on in your child’s mind as the protagonist of the movie, so what?

Just a side note here: boys and girls study and retain different parts of movies. I’m no expert, but from countless interactions with children over the years, I’ve noticed that boys tend to absorb and retain violent scenes or actions, while girls are much more likely to absorb subtle patterns of speech or attitudes. A boy is much more likely to relive blood and gore. A girl will mentally replay the way a certain actress talks, moves, and dresses.

3.  “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”  Romans 14:13

Maybe you’ve decided that it’s fine for your child to see The Hunger Games or some other “iffy” movie.

Remind your child that not everyone’s parents think the movie’s okay. Realize that just as your child can be affected by peer pressure, he/she can also BECOME peer pressure. Make sure that he/she is careful when speaking to friends about the movie so as not to cause their brother or sister to stumble and want to disobey mom or dad.

Media discernment will always be a challenge, but my hope is that these biblical principles will help you talk with your kids and discern what they are ready for.

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Scott AllisonScott Allison
Scott is a pastoral intern at Faith Church. He and his wife Courtney work in Children's Ministries at the church.