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Navigating the MPAA (Mothers Protection Agency of America)

If you’re ever looking for a movie to show 9-year-old boys, forget it. It’s not possible.

The mother of one of my son’s friends was planning a birthday party sleepover, and she naively sent out an email to mothers of the guest list, asking for input on what movie to show. “What about Indiana Jones?” she asked casually.

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One mother simply rejected the suggested title. The other two mothers (including me) used the opportunity to pontificate on exactly what makes a movie inappropriate (basically to prove what awesome mothers we are).

“I don’t mind the occasional swear as much as I mind the sex,” one chimed in.

The response: “I’m more worried about the language and violence, I feel like sex goes right over their heads.”

Then everyone started throwing out movies, and even though I think I’m the prudest of them all, every movie I suggested was shot down.

What about Ghostbusters? There’s a scene where a ghost gives Bill Murray a blow job. Oops, forgot about that. Airplane? “That’s even worse,” one mother retorted. “One of the characters has a blow-up doll girlfriend.” I did remember that, but hadn’t really taken in the sexist implications. I guess that’s not a great message.

What are we really trying to avoid here?

Naked Gun? There are “beaver” jokes.

Space Balls? Not that funny.

School of Rock? Adult themes.

Back to the Future? One child had already seen it.

The verdict? Drum roll please: National Treasure. The least offensive denominator, most mutually acceptable film we could come up with was a Nicolas Cage history drama. There’s got to be more to childhood.

I don’t know what I think of this whole dialogue. Part of me wants to puke from the hyper-vigilant parenting of it all, and part of me appreciates that people are actually thinking about how impressionable kids are. But what are we really trying to avoid here?

Nightmares? Totally get that. I have one kid who could have a bad dream about anything; she’s woken up in tears and a cold sweat because she dreamed someone took her spot at the lunch table. My son, on the other hand, seems to have escaped all nocturnal issues. He’s never wet his bed, never had a nightmare (maybe once), and doesn’t need a blankie or a nightlight or water at the bedside.

But maybe it’s not just nightmares we’re worried about. What would seeing a bunch of kissing do to a 9-year-old? Or hearing some boner jokes? Will he have sex earlier than other boys? Will he objectify women? Will he start locking his bedroom door to masturbate? I’m not terribly psyched about any of the above.

I wasn’t allowed to see any R-rated movies until I was 17, when it was officially legal. Of course no one was ever carded at the movies, especially the ones I wanted to see: The Breakfast Club, Class, Flashdance, St. Elmo’s Fire, Risky Business. For the most part, I stuck to the rules and missed most of the movies that defined my generation.

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It was extremely annoying to have these restrictions as an adolescent and preteen, and I swore to myself I would never impose the same rules on my children. That, and going to Sunday school. But I’m doing exactly that, almost more so. It feels right, but it also feels self-indulgent on my part. Am I not trusting of culture, or not trusting of my children’s ability to handle culture?

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