And let's face it: infants and toddlers really don't have much to discuss.
Now that the kids are older, things are a-changin', and dinner table discussion is one of them. I'm enjoying it. One of the more interesting discussions to crop up of late: movie and video game ratings.
It started because one of my daughters had been planning her birthday party for about, oh, two months. (I had to hold her back from delivering the invitations two weeks early. She'd been that obsessed.) Part of the event included a video. Originally she wanted something "scary," which in her vocabulary meant Hitchcock (I'm so proud).
But then she realized that not all her 10-year-old friends would appreciate Hitchcock. (Wise girl.) So she started researching online. (Scary how good she is at it.) She loves Robin Williams from things like Flubber. So she found another movie he's in and asked if it would be okay for them to watch: License to Wed. Immediately, I nixed it. No, I told her, that would not be appropriate for the party.
(What I thought was, With all the adult content in that movie, if I were stupid enough to let you watch it, your friends' parents would all flog me, and for good reason.)
She found a site that rates movies based on content and appropriateness for age ranges (how she found it, I'll never know; I'll have to ask her what it was, because it sounded really awesome), and discovered a cute little movie that was a great fit: clean and perfect for her age range.
So at dinner we got talking about movies and ratings. She mentioned that some of her friends' parents won't let them see PG-13 movies until they're actually 13. That's fine, I said. That's their rule. But I did wonder silently if the rule also meant that they're allowed to see any PG-13 movie at that age.
Which wouldn't be okay in my book.
My kids (only one of which is older than 13) have seen a few PG-13 movies. Each one is hand-picked by Mom and Dad. There are PG-13 movies I don't want them to EVER see (but when they're adults, that's their choice, and it'll be out of my hands.) And there are some that I'll let them see when they're a little younger than 13 but can handle the suspense or the content or whatever.
But the point of our discussion is that the ratings are a suggested guideline, that they're someone's opinion, and that we shouldn't take them as our only source to make a decision.
We talked about my son's video games as another example. He has the entire Zelda series. I've lost track, but I think there are four games. The first three have the typical kiddie rating. The last one is rated T ("Teen," basically, the equivalent of PG-13). Zelda is very much a fairytale fantasy game. You're a little elf-like creature, using your sword to hit open stones for gems to use as money. You fight evil monsters and the like. Good fairies help you along the way. Good and evil are very differentiated, and good wins.
It didn't worry me that the last one was rated T. Just like certain elements automatically give a film a PG-13 or R-rating, any blood automatically gives a video game a T-rating. My son has won the game twice and still hasn't found the blood. But apparently, it's in there somewhere. Hence, the T rating.
But then there's the game Medal of Honor, based on WWII, and directed like a movie by Steven Spielberg. (Which frankly blows my mind. What was he thinking, especially after making Schindler's List?). The graphics are intensely realistic. You're a soldier with a gun, killing other real-looking people. You shoot someone's limb off, and then they bleed and fall down and groan as they die. It's like a real-life movie you're in, blowing up people.
You're not in there rescuing prisoners from concentration camps or taking back cities. It's battles and rampant destruction. It's a far cry from the pretend, light-hearted world of Zelda.
And here's the other big thing: players of Medal of Honor don't (and frankly, can't) have the same mindset as real WWII soldiers did, knowing that they're fighting Hitler's regime and possibly trying to save the world, that they're fighting for home and family and freedom and their very lives.
That's what World War II was about. This game is about randomly killing people in a very realistic setting. And that's not okay with me.
Yet both the last Zelda game and this one have the same rating.
Explain that to me, because it makes no sense.
Medal of Honor will never, ever, enter my house. Yet if I based all my decisions purely on ratings, either both games or neither would be under my roof.
Two final thoughts:
While living in Finland, we (obviously) used the Finnish rating system as our guideline for picking movies.
Since non-sexual nudity is really a non-issue in Europe, we ended up renting a couple of movies that had the equivalent of a G-rating there but an R-rating here. A couple of others might have been PG there but R here.
One of those G-rated videos was rented by my father for a Family Home Evening. I still giggle when I think of that: the mission president renting an R-rated movie for his family. Hahaha! (But it was G over there! It was! And the nudity was seriously like 1/4 of a second long and totally non-sexual.)
I learned quickly upon returning to the States to check a video's rating before mentioning that I'd seen the film so I wouldn't freak-out my friends. Ratings are very much in the eye of the beholder.
The final thing I'll mention I still find a bit disturbing: Disney's Pocahontas was rated, as were all Disney animated movies at one point, G. We'll not discuss the lameness of the movie and its historical inaccuracy.
What specifically bothered me rating-wise is that at one point, a white man shoots an American Indian at point-blank range with a rifle, and the Indian falls down and dies. Pocahontas falls to her knees, and all the characters, including the shooter, are upset by the incident. This isn't "fantasy violence" like you'd see on the Roadrunner cartoons or Bugs Bunny, you know, someone running off a cliff and staying in the air a moment before they fall, or getting whacked on the head with a hammer and we all laugh. This was an actual rifle shooting an actual man and killing him.
If it weren't animated, it would have gotten at least a PG rating. If should have gotten a PG rating. Why didn't it? Because it was Disney and it was animated. And let's not forget that John Smith nearly gets his head cracked open by a rock. Is that really G material?
Granted, that was back in 1995. I was thrilled the first time I saw an animated movie get a PG rating. (I'm not remembering what it was called right now . . . it was something about a junkyard robot . . . and it came out before Shrek.)
Seeing a PG rating on an animated movie told me that the ratings board was finally cluing in: just because something is drawn doesn't mean the content won't impact the audience.
The discussion with my kids was awesome. They were getting it. Let's just say that this dinner table talk thing is getting fun. As much as I freak out about my kids aging, they're sure at a fun stage right now.