For a moment on Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I were those parents. You know the kind that I’m talking about. The kind of parents that you hear about on the news, or read about on your friend’s blog, and make you shake your head and wonder “What in the world were they thinking?” The kind of parents who… bring their child to a movie that he was too young for.

That’s right: On Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I took our four-year-old to see Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s acclaimed animated movie about a video game villain who wants to be a good guy. (For what it’s worth, my Christ and Pop Culture colleague Nick Olson was less than impressed by the movie.) We thought it’d be a slam dunk. After all, we’ve watched numerous Pixar movies, and while on paper, those were a bit beyond his age, he enjoyed them well enough. We even made it through Toy Story 3‘s “incinerator hell” scene with nary a scratch. And just to be safe, we’d even had a talk before entering the theatre about how movies might be a little scary at times, but they aren’t real and they can’t hurt you.

But the movie had barely started before he was complaining about how loud it was and covering his ears. And once Ralph made it to Hero’s Duty — the movie’s riff/parody/homage to first person shooters like Halo and Gears of War — my son was actually cowering in his seat: he had turned away from the screen and covered his eyes, and was asking us to take him back to his grandparents’ house. I did everything I could to encourage him. I offered to let him sit in my lap. I told him the scary part would be over soon. However, nothing worked and my wife and I realized that forcing him to sit through the movie any longer would just be cruel. So, after about 45 minutes, we got up and left, all the while wondering what awful things the other parents in the theater — most of the attendees were families — were thinking about us.

Put simply, we messed up, and not only did we waste $20, we gave our son an awful time. (Thankfully, I think all was forgiven once we returned to the grandparents and had some more Thanksgiving goodies. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream covers a multitude of parenting sins).

As I reflect back on this experience, I realize that it was driven by so many false expectations on my part. As we were waiting for the movie to start, I had a “moment” that actually got me a little choked up. I had suddenly realized that I was watching a movie with my boy, and not just any movie, but a movie with a fairly high geek quotient. It made my heart swell with pride, not just as a movie lover, but also as a “geek dad”. What then emerged was this idealized vision of how my kid would react to the movie, and it was false.

We’ve all heard about “sports parents” who put their kids under incredible pressure to perform well in athletics, who berate them when they fail to live up to some idealized standard, and who even put their kids in sports, not because it benefits the kids, but because it lets the parents relive some past athletic glory. Now, I didn’t berate my son because he couldn’t make it through a PG movie with some admittedly pretty intense scenes, but I confess, I was hoping he’d “tough it out” because of that aforementioned “moment”. I had pushed him harder than I should have, and it did not end well, end of story.

Some dads want to share their love of football or baseball with their kids. I want to share my love of (geeky) pop culture. I can’t wait for the day when we sit down and watch The Simpsons, Doctor Who, or Firefly together, head down to the local comic book store, play a couple of death matches on the ol’ Xbox 1440 (or whatever system is around at the time), discuss The Silmarillion, or watch any number of movies.

But after “The Thanksgiving Incident”, I’m forced to consider how many of my child rearing plans might just be me projecting my own nerdiness on to my children in a curious form of objectification. To be sure, my kids have shown some early aptitude for such things: for example, MythBusters is currently the most popular TV show in our household. For the longest time, I’ve been planning a special “guys’ day” with my oldest when he turns five in a few months. My wife and the other kids will leave for the night, and he and I will order some pizza, grab a couple of ice cold root beers, and watch Star Wars together for the first time. I’m now rethinking that plan, not because I don’t want him to watch Star Wars (and hopefully have his mind blown by its awesomeness), but rather, because I want to be more responsible about it. I want it to be an an enjoyable, even formative experience for him, and not simply something that I’ve done so that I can cross it off the “geek dad” to-do list.

To do otherwise would be to diminish my son — to turn him into a project that I need to perfect and complete, rather than my flesh and blood whom I’m called to teach, discipline, and above all else, love.


  1. Hi Jason. Your experience is an example of why I created Screen It ( back in 1996 to help parents make informed decisions about movies and their kids.

  2. I just watched this movie last night. I loved it. Still, I get where this might go wrong for a little kid. I actually worry about the same thing with my own kids. I don’t have any yet, but eventually God might bless me with a couple and I have to reconcile myself to the fact that they might not be readers, like metal, or be deep into theology. I have to be okay with, in fact, more than okay with, but stoked about the kid God actually gives me, not the mini-me I might want. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I commented to my community of friends that I wasn’t going to take my 7 year old autistic boy to see this movie because of the violence and I was surprised how many parents defended the movie. I was glad to read your article on it. There are many things younger minds and souls can’t take in and this movie seems to have a lot of elements we’ve learned to avoid with our child. We too have learned the hard way. Thanks for being the voice of reason.

  4. wondering what awful things the other parents in the theater — most of the attendees were families — were thinking about us.

    They were probably thinking that the little boy wasn’t enjoying the show and his parents sensibly took him out of the theater because he wasn’t having fun. Why should they think anything bad about you?

  5. Thanks for the kind words, everybody.

    @Jim: It’s been awhile since I’ve been to your site, but in the past, I’ve found its reviews and assessments to be well-done and thoughtful.

    @Niemand: Well, I certainly hope that was the case.

  6. I applaud you as a parent!! It is so refreshing to read a story of a parent who made a responsible decision for the sake of their children.

    A few weeks ago I was horrified when I went to see the new Denzel movie Flight and found that there were SEVERAL small children in the theater! Not only is the movie rated-R but is filled with constant profanity, full-frontal nudity, drugs, and drinking! Not to mention a bloody plane crash scene! I seriously couldn’t get over how crazy it was that there was 4 or 5 year old boy sitting behind me during the theater with his parents!

    Sorry for the small rant, BUT all this to say that it wasn’t a terrible decision to bring your kid to the movie. It is a kid’s movie, after all. But it is great that you learned from the experience and are thinking in the future about ways to bond with your kid that are good for both you and him :)

  7. Totally blessed by this blog post. As a dad with a four-year-old son (and two-year-old daughter) and a love for geeky stuff, I totally relate. Thank you!

  8. I never thought about pushing “geekiness” on your kids, but man, you’re right! That sports analogy is right on. I’ll have to think a little more carefully about the number of 80’s cartoons I “introduce” my girls to :)

  9. Yeah, wow, as a software developer and one who has definite geeky tendencies, this is certainly a temptation. I had never thought of the sports parent analogy. It’s amazing how powerful the urge is as a dad to push your son into realms of beauty and knowledge, over trails you have blazed with (virtual) blood, sweat, and tears.

    One of my “Wreck-It Ralph” moments was letting my young son play Halo before he was ready. When he started referring to the aliens as “daddy aliens” and “puppy aliens” I realized I was in the middle of a parenting fail! Halo was removed from the diet and reserved until later. And of course, as a young teen, he can now beat me at any video game in sight. sigh.

  10. I WISH I’d read your article 6 hours ago. Just got back from taking our 4 year old to Wreck It Ralph. Completely inappropriate for him, he lasted only 20 mins & hated it. Now he is home, happily watching old Thunderbirds episodes on YouTube with his dad …. Maybe Thunderbirds would work in your house too?!?

  11. I took my 4 (almost 5) year old to see Wreck it Ralph. He loved it. It was his first theater experience and he was all the way forward on his seat, looking through his 3-D glasses.

  12. Jason, thanks for this review. I live in Japan and Wreck It Ralph is coming here next month. My son is 4 and is enthralled by the commercials. I’ll skip the theater now.

    I have to say though, you should care less about what other parents think about you. You seem like a thoughtful parent so why worry about being one of “those parents”? We all make mistakes and should focus on bettering ourselves rather than being judged. As for other parents that are judging you, perhaps they should be better role models for their own kids.

  13. I agree with your son. Something is wrong with the sound on the movie…completely wayyyy to loud and the music does nothing but cause me anxiety when its on. I liked caroline better, that says a lot.

  14. All children are different and grow up in different environments. My four year old loved this movie.

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