Is The Hunger Games movie too scary for younger fans of the book?

Scene from The Hunger Games movie

The movie The Hunger Games opens today, and record tickets sales are expected to make the grisly, post-apocalyptic, survival tale one of the spring’s biggest blockbusters. Like the Harry Potter and Twilight series before it, The Hunger Games film is based on a book written for young adults that has captured the imaginations of readers of all ages.

Considering the ultraviolent nature of The Hunger Games’ plot line—24 teenage protagonists are pitted against each other in a fight to the death—is all this hype a good thing for young, would-be fans? The intended age for young adult novels is 12 to 17, but the books’ popularity has piqued the interest of much younger readers. Not wanting to sully their younger children’s budding interest in reading, many parents across the country have allowed them to read the story.

But just because your child has read The Hunger Game books, does that mean she’s ready to watch it’s bloody action unfold on the big screen? The answer will vary from child to child, but it’s a question parents of younger Hunger Game fans need to ask.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

“[Reading about violence] is a gut experience as opposed to a head experience,’’ said Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health, in a recent Boston Globe story. “A movie is very direct. You are seeing it, you are hearing it, as compared with translating it from black ink on a page into something in your own mind.’’

It may seem counter intuitive that a child who is ready for a book might not be ready for the movie version of the same story. But, as mentioned in one of Rich’s past Ask the Mediatrician posts, books and movies have very different ways of creating worlds. When we read a book, our minds generate the details that are described there—and young readers will imagine only what their brains are ready for. But movies provide all those details for them, which means that a child watching a movie may be exposed to images and sounds for which they are not prepared.

In addition, reading allows children to set their own pace with the story. If it becomes too intense, they can take breaks or even skip over sections. In a movie—especially in a theater—it’s hard to get space from the intensity. The scary parts may be scarier on the big screen, especially because it’s harder to escape them.

If you’re unsure about whether your child is prepared to see The Hunger Games, watch it without her first, and see what you think. As a parent, you know your child best: If you think it will be too intense for her, have her wait to see it.

Are you letting your pre teen see The Hunger Games this weekend? Why or why not? We’d love to hear your thoughts on how appropriate the movie is for younger viewers. Let us know via twitter: @ThrivingKids or on our Facebook page.

For more information about how media affects children, please visit Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health. If you have a media related question you’d like to ask Dr. Rich, send an email to cmch@childrens.harvard.edu or click here.

  • Sally

    Thank you for this post. I don’t want my 10 year old to see Hunger Games yet, and she’s sure she’s the only one in America who hasn’t seen it yet. She has begged and begged to read the book, and I finally gave in, unhappy with myself. She’s reading it now, so I appreciated hearing how children process a book differently than a movie. 

  • Adrian Hudson

    My son, who is a 13 years old boy, has read the Hunger Games books, and the release of the movie has inspired him and some of his close friends to co-author a book of their own, that they hope one day will become a movie. For a child who is board out of his mind in English class, this to me is an extremely positive thing.

    At the age of 13 I believe that he is mature enough to process the imagery and storyline. I most definitely would not recommend the Hunger Games for any child younger than 13.

    In comparison to computer games and other violent/scary movies targeted to these teen children, the Hunger Games is more like a Disney production.

    • Lasd

      This is Not true, the hunger games is a very realistic feel to it, Where as gory games are so fake that it doesnt have any effect to it, where as the hunger games creates a very visual effect which can be disturbing, yes I do agree though, noone under 13

  • Kristin

    For a PG13 film, my husband and I will always view it first before allowing any of our 4 children under 11 yrs old to see it.  However, as a unique exception, last night we took our 9 and 11 year old to opening night of The Hunger Games. All of us have read the complete series.  Last night I thought about Dr. Rich’s expert comments on the way violence is processed while viewing vs reading when I was surprised to find that  the story in the movie was nearly not as violent as the one told in the books.  Most of the killings happen off screen, and many of the gory, torturous or prolonged pain scenes have either been eliminated or greatly reduced.  Also, as in the book there is zero swearing and zero sex.  Despite the horrific premise (of both film and book), this was not the typical PG13 movie.

  • Darlene

    My 10 year old son was invited to his friend’s 11th birthday party, where they were all going to see The Hunger Games on opening night. My son has seen selected action movies with violence before, but after spending literally hours online reading reviews of the HG books I felt very apprehensive about letting him see the movie without being able to watch it myself first, and my son was aware of this. (I was particularly concerned about the theme and its emotional impact) In spite of this, I almost let him go simply because he was going to be the only one not allowed and it would mean he would have to miss his friend’s birthday party. (I had called and expressed my concerns to the mom, who said that all of the other parents were okay with it) In the end I was feeling pressured (from within) to let him go, and I realized that it wouldn’t be setting a very good example on resisting peer pressure. So I admitted to him that I had been thinking of letting him go for the wrong reasons.. I didn’t want him to be the only one not allowed, I didn’t want him to have to miss the party, I didn’t want him to think I was a mean mom, etc.. but that it didn’t feel right to me, and that I cared about him too much to let him just watch it without me having seen it first. I told him that once I get to see it on dvd there’s a chance I’ll let him watch it (or that he might have to wait), but that unfortunately his friend’s party being on opening night was just bad timing. When I put it to him
    that way he actually seemed happy (and maybe relieved?) that I wasn’t letting him go.

    As for the books.. from the reviews I’ve read the violence is pretty brutal and horrific in its details. I definitely intend to read them first before I consider allowing him to, but I don’t plan on that being any time soon.

  • Kazuri Sennon-Grant

    I am 13 and i went with my friends. (11-12 year olds. i am the oldest.) and it was not disturbing in the least bit. We all read the book and the movie only has about 3 disturbing scenes. I have to say that the book was more the distrubing  than the movie. I know how most parents will react when reading this comment. “Oh. this little kid cant tell me what to let my kids do or what not to.” well im not telling you to do anything. Im just trying to make you understand that the Hunger Games is not for a kid that doesnt like action and just a little bit of blood. I would recommend you see the movie before your kid does. Maybe you will be able to see that its really not that bad at all. But this is just my opinion, its really up to you to decide this.

    • Darlene

      Hi Kazuri,

      It’s actually very helpful to hear how other kids feel about the movie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions! :)

  • Razamufo

    Extremely graphic and a poor plot. keep away from eyes and out of reach from anyone. choking hazard on small minded characters.