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Why I Don't Regret Showing My Young Kids 'Jaws'

Age really does matter, I guess. I was 7 when "Jaws" came out. Theaters weren't as strict about admitting kids in those days. Usually you could just walk up to the window and buy a ticket. Or you could pull the ol' switcherooney: Buy a ticket for "The Apple Dumpling Gang" then sneak into whatever show you want.

If you were with your family, you were an automatic shoo-in. Usually the youngest kid got dragged to whatever the rest of the family wanted to see and paid off the therapy bills later.

As such, I remember Jaws quite clearly. My cousin and I were the side effects of a family full of teenagers. Ah, 1975. Just before "Grease" and "Star Wars," two other movies that helped shape my childhood. I remember peeking around my fingers for most of "Jaws." The suspense is that splendid. The buildup of the terrifying theme music. The screams on the screen. Hell, the screams in the theater.

And of course I remember Robert Shaw getting eaten alive, which scarred me for life. I was even afraid to go swimming in freshwater lakes.

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Neither my husband nor I had not seen "Jaws" since it was first released. So, when it popped up for a 40th anniversary run on TV, we watched, especially because the police chief, the fisherman and the scientist had just set off to catch the shark, and we didn't have to sit through the first part. Our 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter were there, so we warned them. We said things like, "You don't have to stay if this is too scary for you" and "Are you sure you want to be here? It might be too much, seriously."

They assured us they would be fine. "Come sit next to mommy," I told my 12-year-old.

Three times. I had already screamed three times before the shark had even had an appetizer. As far as I was concerned, this movie was holding up.

But my kids hadn't budged. Not one flinch at a pop-out attack, not one blink at a boat bump, not one sucked-in breath at the site of the floats attached to Jaws bobbing menacingly to the surface. It's like they were watching a commercial for Geico, or maybe "Finding Nemo."

"COME ON!" I yelled at them. "AREN'T YOU SCARED?" Now I was pissed. I wanted them to be scared. I wanted them to feel all of the agony of being tortured by a shark.

"Why?" my daughter asked earnestly.

My son sat dutifully watching as if it were some sort of punishment.

My husband and I remember the movie experience, from the forbidden thrill of seeing an R-movie in a dark, sticky theater to the gasps and squeals of the audience.

The big moment finally came. The one I knew would scare the bejeezus out of my kids. We're talking about when crusty sailor Robert Shaw becomes the chicken of the sea. I'd forgotten how horribly drawn out and terrifying this slow munch was. It seemed to take 20 minutes for Jaws to even get the guy's legs down the hatch. All the screaming and blood spurting was making me plow headfirst into the corner of the couch. On top of that was my husband shouting, "DON'T WATCH, KIDS! DON'T WATCH!"

"MOM!" my daughter hooted. "Are you serious? It's so fake!"

My son just sat there shaking his head. "It's PG," he said.

"I know! We're protecting you!" I shouted.

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I peeked out from behind the couch cushion. Sure, the shark was chewing with metronome-like precision. Yeah, the mouth looked hinged on to the rest of the body. OK, the flopping seemed a little bit mechanical.

But it still managed to bring back all of my feelings from 1975, when I was just a tiny kid in a stiff fold-up movie seat, peeking around my fingers, screaming into my cousin's arm and vowing never to swim again.

It was the beginning of the summer blockbuster. It was the beginning of knowing that movies were more than just something to do. They were magical, they evoked feelings you could never access unless you were sitting in the dark with a hundred strangers all stripped to their primal emotions.

Movies today just aren't like that. That isn't to say they aren't good, but we don't watch them in the same way or frame of mind. We're not in the theater much anymore with the dark and the popcorn and the collective buildup of emotion among the audience. Our kids' standards are much higher, too. Even the latest technologies in animation have a hard time satisfying their hungry brains.

Our kids are also demanding. They can watch a movie when they want to and where they want to. No longer do you have to sneak past a theater employee or even wait through long plot build-ups to get to the action.

In 1975, Hollywood owned us. We made a point of going to the movies with our friends, standing in long lines, buying Milk Duds, sitting in the dark and begging Hollywood to entertain us. Now, we demand entertainment—and there is a lot of competition for our attention.

These days, the kids own Hollywood .

Even though my kids were unimpressed with "Jaws," they did get a kick out of how their parents still reacted to it, as if it were still 1975. My husband and I remember the movie experience, from the forbidden thrill of seeing an R-movie in a dark, sticky theater to the gasps and squeals of the audience. It feeds into our experience today.

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My kids have a tougher time getting at that and, to me, that is sad. When they're adults, I'm sure there will be other things they look back on in childhood with the same sentimentality. I don't know that it will come from Hollywood, though, and it definitely won't come from a mechanical shark.

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Photo via Universal Studios

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