The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is no exception. A friend recommended the trilogy to me and I read (OK, devoured) them while on vacation in February. The movie (based on the first book) arrived in theaters this past weekend. Viewers of all ages came out in droves.
If you’re not familiar with the book or movie, the author brings us face-to-face with moral rights and wrongs that, at first glance, are easily interpreted as ludicrous and impossible. But are they?
A parent asked me if I thought it was OK for his child to read this book in school. This book, while classified as young adult fiction, draws upon some serious, heavy material. While developmental and cognitive functioning should be considered, I answered that kids are exposed to the book’s themes everyday. War, violence, societial trust, sense of belonging — these are themes of the book that our children face, but often without good discussion.
You can use The Hunger Games to guide a discussion about difficult topics.
As a psychologist and a parent, this book and movie provided me a great opportunity to have a discussion with my college-aged son about relevant issues to our daily existence: survival, war, love, fear, motivation, hunger (in a broad sense).
Here are some general thoughts about how to discuss these issues with children, teens, and young adults.
- Winning, especially when doing so goes against personal values or morals, does not always bring happiness. Haymitch (and other winners) suffered greatly from the trauma associated with the games. They were forced to do things that were beyond what humans should be asked to do. Watching him seemed reminiscent of the PTSD experienced by many of our troops or young adults in life-threatening or abusive environments. This is an opportunity to talk to kids about how winning at all costs may have lasting negative consequences.
- We are all motivated by a variety of factors, and motivation is powerful.
- Many were motivated by fear, hunger, love, greed, power, pleasure. Use the movie to discuss motivators and open up discussion about how motivations differ between people and can be both positive and negative.
- We can experience a variety of emotions in one situation.
- Identifying our emotions and expressing them effectively can help us cope in the harshest of situations. Katniss was able to acknowledge her sadness during the games without being so distraught to put her own life in jeopardy. She used this emotion to propel her into action. She also felt love, fear, despair, and even slight happiness in unexpected moments. Her ability to find positive moments allowed her to think more clearly and stay calm in life-threatening moments. Emotions can be complicated, but so can many life situations.
- Belonging to something can be protective. However, it can also bring us to ruin if we belong to groups for the wrong reasons.
- This movie highlights the importance of trust and working together as ways to engage most effectively in life. One can see that even in the privileged Capitol, people collectively perpetuated a violent, unjust, horrific “game,” but individually many questioned its rationale. Katniss’ role in the games shifted perceptions and views about it. One person can make a difference when working toward doing what is right.
- Rules are important.
- We need rules, boundaries, consistency to feel safe.
- But rules without rationale and logic can be dangerous. One can discuss the development of a democratic society in the context of this movie. One cannot be exposed to the books or this movie without asking questions about democracy and checks and balances. There seems to be no fair judicial system in the Capitol. It’s easy to make a comparison to dictators and open up discussions with kids about vital lessons learned in history.
Parents need to decide for themselves if a book, movie or other media is appropriate for their own child. But it’s important to not avoid a book because it contains difficult topics that we adults are afraid to discuss. I hope the talking points provide a way for parents to have open and healthy conversations with their children or others about meaningful and relevant topics.
Did you watch or read The Hunger Games with your child? How did you talk about it afterward?