Can Your 10-Year-Old Handle The Hunger Games?

“A little hope is good,” says the wicked President Snow in the best-selling science fiction novel, The Hunger Games.  “But too much hope is very dangerous.”


Not sure how I missed the 23 million copies of Suzanne Collins’ novel containing that brilliant, chilling line that have sold since 2008.  But I had never heard of the Young Adult trilogy until my 10-year-old daughter told me she wanted to see the movie.  A precocious classmate who’d read the series in third grade had recommended it.


So I went out and read the book.  And shortly afterwards, my 10-year-old and I went to see the movie together.  She was the youngest person in the theater.  The audience was largely teenagers, one of whom confessed she was seeing the movie for the third time in two weeks.


The next day I debated the merits of allowing 10-year-olds to read and watch what they please on Michel Martin’s NPR show, Tell Me More.


First, I am happy to report that Hollywood and the nation’s fiction writers are cooking up such high-quality, thought-provoking, nuanced and character-rich fare for our teenagers.  This is no mindless "That’s So Raven" or" Zoey 101" shlock.  Both the book and the movie were provocative and well-scripted, on par with other teenage dystopia fiction such as Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm.  The narrative’s main theme is injustice - power-crazed adults who force teenagers to battle and kill each other once a year, complete with parades of 13-year-old competitors and their gory deaths broadcast on national television -- and victory over that injustice. 


A dark yet hopeful plot line sure to tantalize teenagers of any generation.  Because teenagers, and perhaps a few 10-year-olds, know what it is to be filled with hope that you can change the world.


The Hunger Games also brims with themes of loyalty, courage, love, and the life-saving quality of trust among friends.  Intriguing subplots include adult abnegation of responsibility, political corruption, societal bullying, the banality of reality TV, and the dangers of shallow luxurious excess. In addition to the violence everyone is talking about.


My 10-year-old daughter, who is not quite literate enough to handle The Hunger Games’ grammar and vocabulary, loved the movie as much as I did.  I had to whisper a few warnings and plot translations in the dark theater.  But essentially, she enjoyed the gravitas and drama.  As for the violence, toned down to meet a PG-13 rating: frankly, we both found the previews for other movies to be far more frightening.


No doubt the idea of adults forcing teenagers to battle like gladiators for their own viewing pleasure is deeply disturbing.  However, who are parents protecting when we refuse to expose our kids to a book like The Hunger Games?  Kids know at an early age that life itself is disturbing.  Most children are exposed in elementary school to bullying, favoritism, injustice, family deaths, divorce, even sexual abuse, family violence, and sometime deadly violence in their own communities.