Fair warning, this one could be a rant. I've wondered how I should approach this for a while as I have very fixed views which differ from quite a few people I know, and as such I've been conscious that I may appear as massively judgemental. But sod it, nothing ventured...
I'm intrigued when parents actively let their children watch films that are too old for them. And by this I mean letting children watch films that are certificated very plainly above their current age range. I'm not talking about teenagers, I'm talking about kids under ten years old.
I'm of the view that films have certificates for a reason. They are there to help viewers understand, at a glance, how suitable a movie is for watching.
You'll love it.
What I've observed comes down to one major factor: I see an awful lot of parents of my age who really want their kids to be interested in the films they love. These are mostly the films or comics that we grew up with in the 1980's, and that have been brought bang up to date with modern interpretations. The difference is that these films often cater to a more mature audience than we were when we watched them as kids. There is a tonal difference in these films that has been reflected by the certificate on the film.
My personal example is Star Wars. My son loves Star Wars. And I love that he loves Star Wars but he hasn't watched Revenge of the Sith (certificate 12 and featuring the decapitation of Dooku as well as the pain-wracked almost burnt alive death of Anakin). I know what you're thinking, "calm down Dom, they're just Star Wars movies". Whilst I'm happy for my seven year old to watch space battles, light sabers and ewoks, I don't believe he need to watch a grim-themed science fiction universe for an audience five years ahead of him.
Can I go home daddy?
There was another example of this when I went to see Avengers Age of Ultron at the cinema. A parent in the audience had turned up with two children, one probably about eight and the other around four. The four year old definitely didn't want to be there but dad was insistent that he wanted to watch this film. And here's what annoyed me: if he was really are desperate to watch the film, he should go and watch it. But at least make an informed choice as to whether it's suitable for his children. Don't take them without understanding if the film is even suitable. Whilst Age of Ultron is fantasy violence (a wonderful phrase if ever I heard one) it's an unremitting slugfest from start to finish. Which really can only start a conversation about overexposure to this sort of thing and the eventual effects of desensitisation.
If you let one through...
The other side of this is that if you let your children watch films that are beyond their age you can't go back. First of all, they can't unwatch something. Second, you haven't got a leg to stand on if a film comes around that you don't want them to watch ("but you let me watch the other one"). My example, possibly a bit extreme, is this: The Dark Knight was a 12 certificate (should've been a 15, but we'll let that slide). Imagine you've let your under ten watch a 12 certificate movie. Would you then let them watch The Dark Knight? Would you be comfortable letting them watch the Joker go crazy in Gotham, or Batman beating him to a pulp in an interrogation room? I'd hope your immediate answer is no.
Best birthday ever.
Films are certificated for a variety of reasons, sometimes due to underlying themes, or language, or violence. But they are certificated for a reason. I can't wait to watch Alien with my kids (when they're old enough, just to be clear I'm not a complete hypocrite!) but I'm in no rush. There are plenty of great movies they can watch right now. The purpose of my parenting isn't to enforce the things I love onto my kids. In time I'm sure some of my interests will influence them, but that will come in time. My son has a joke with me that his twelfth birthday is going to be great because he'll be able to watch all the new Star Wars films and the second half of the Harry Potter franchise. And if that happens, that could be one of the best days we spend together.