March 28, 2012

Parenting Advice From Bill Maher

03-28-12 Editor’s Note

By Eric Messinger

One of the best bits of parenting advice that I’ve ever
heard came from a most unlikely source: the comedian and talk-show host, Bill
Maher. Publicly, Maher has long indicated that he does not want to be a
father. Still, I often allude to Maher when I’m thinking about children
and pop culture or news reports that may be too violent or sexual, or inappropriate
in some way. Last week, I thought of his perspective again when I got
caught up in a discussion on Facebook raised by a mom who decided that her
12-year-old daughter was not ready for the Hunger
movie. — 

On Facebook, the mom framed the discussion this way: “I am
not letting my 12-year-old see Hunger
. Just seems too violent. My friend, who is a movie reviewer and
who cares about my child, was supporting and encouraging this decision, and I
want her to be a kid longer. Plus, she never read the book(s). Am I a bad

Her friend the movie viewer weighed in too: “…the director
Gary Ross did the best he could at desensitizing the novel’s graphic violence
and keeping the studio happy but it’s the message of the movie that bothers me.
What exactly are these teens winning and why are they forced to kill? Why not
have the government just feed them? I worry teens will imitate the film at
summer camps. Anyway, for my review go to”

My friend, of course, was not being a bad mother, but her
comment made me wonder if I was being a bad father. Although I had a general
sense of the Hunger Games’ darkly
imagined future—in which  kids compete in a televised battle to the
death—I hadn’t really given much thought to whether it was appropriate for my soon-to-be
12-year-old daughter because she seemed to really like the books and many of
her friends did too—and so did many parents. Her plan, for weeks now, has
been to see it this weekend with a few good friends, as part of one of kid’s
birthday celebration.

So how do I think about material that may be somehow too raw
and edgy for my daughter? Where to draw the line?

Here’s where Bill Maher is my guide.

Maher was debating a point about whether the Bill
Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal placed a horrible burden on parents who now had
to discuss sexual matters with their young children who were hearing terms like
“oral sex” or “blow job” for the first time. As I remember it, he argued
that the particular concern was way overblown (so to speak) because kids only
care what they care about and they process information in ways that they
can. So, in this case, a sea of 9-year-olds were not likely to start
taking up an active interest in oral sex. Period. Most were not
likely to even ask about it—nor would they want to hear more from their

I thought he was right, and I have found that to be true as
a parent. As a general rule, kids handle information in a way that works
for them. I’m sure my girl loves the plotting of Hunger Games without getting too caught up in its dark vision. To
her, it’s a fantasy world. I let her watch Glee too because she loves the music and drama and I think the sex
stuff, for now, is kind of peripheral to her consciousness. (Wishful

And when it’s not, when she wants or needs more information,
then we’ll talk. (I hope.)

Inspired by the Facebook posts, I checked in with her about
seeing The Hunger Games, and she
didn’t think it was such a big deal and that she could always turn away at
parts that seemed too violent—and she was really looking forward to seeing it
with her friends.

Rather than question her about its post-apocalyptic vision,
I left the conversation there.

Eric Messinger

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