‘The Hunger Games’: A GoodTherapy.org Movie Review

Smiling girl with bracesThe Internet is awash in opinions about children 12 and under viewing The Hunger Games, or not. There are professional, parental, grandparental, educated, and miscellaneous opinions, enough to make a reader dizzy. What do we really know about the human penchant for watching violence and its effect on children, adolescents, or adults? The answer is (drum roll), almost nothing. Effects are difficult to pin down when there are so many variables up front. Even so, if a child watches a movie that is inappropriate to that child’s level of development, the impact it has on his or her life is likely minimal compared to the imprint of life events within and without the home.

Different Worlds, Different Reactions
The outcome of one study reveals that emotional reactions to media images are different from those elicited by events in reality. Researchers believe there are two possible explanations for this. The first is that what we feel while watching drama is weaker than what we feel when seeing real events. Because the sensations are weaker, people can experience them in a pleasurable way.

The second possibility is that emotions felt when looking at images may be of a different quality than those triggered by the same situations in real life. So, when violence is viewed one step removed from reality, the emotions it triggers may be one step removed from “real” emotion. A study done in Sweden corroborates this theory. Swiss researchers observed that preschool children watching violent cartoons had joyful facial expressions. When they watched realistic violence, the same children had negative reactions; they were clearly distressed.

This is not to say media has no effect on kids and that parents should let children watch anything. Almost all of us have been frightened or disturbed by a movie for a long time after the credits rolled. We can be slimed by images and their associated feelings. They stick in our minds as frightening possibilities.

The Minds of Tweens and Adolescents
Why is The Hunger Games so attractive to tweens (ages 10-12) and adolescents? Harold Koplewicz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, points out that between the ages of 11 and 24, our brain hums with revolutionary activity, and emotional development gets ramped up before we have adequate impulse control. (Sounds like a recipe for angst.) Koplewicz writes that in adolescence “you’re freezing, you’re boiling, you hate (everyone), you love them. You have very deep and well-felt emotions, but it’s very hard.” The Hunger Games captures this inner turmoil by showing adolescents fighting for their lives, with no adults present to help them. Tweens and adolescents can relate to the predicament.

If Koplewicz is right, most young people are not attracted to the violence in The Hunger Games, but the characters’ dilemmas resonate with them. If this is the case, then watching the movie can be viewed as an exploration and validation of their feelings and thoughts.

Children and Violent Media
Some children are more attracted to media with violent images than others. There are no black-and-white criteria to define who these children are, but there are characteristics that they have in common:

Children attracted to viewing violence tend to:
•    Be male
•    Have a higher than average need for emotional arousal
•    Show a high level of aggression
•    Be curious about what is forbidden (some of them)
•    Like seeing justice restored (some of them)
•    Distance themselves emotionally from the violence in view

Young people of both sexes find violent images more attractive when background music, editing, and special effects give clues to their unreality. Predictable outcomes, viewing in a safe environment, and just resolutions also make disturbing scenes more palatable. It’s helpful to keep in mind that violent entertainment is not as popular as other forms, such as comedy. Similarly, adults and children attracted to violent sports may not be giving in to “blood lust.” Violent sports allow expressions of excitement and controlled emotional arousal. There is some evidence that viewers are attracted not to the violence but to the passion and commitment the athletes demonstrate.

On the Other Hand
While research makes our penchant for violent media more understandable, maybe even normal-ish, it doesn’t change the fact that violence is not usually foisted upon us; we have a choice about what we watch, and we need to take that responsibility seriously.

Eugene V. Beresin, MD, writing for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, points out that that multiple studies have confirmed a correlation between exposure to media violence and increased aggression in children. Those who have been victimized are especially prone to see violence as an acceptable way to solve problems and to act out what they have seen on the screen. Children repeatedly exposed to violence at a young age also may become desensitized to it and less empathetic in general. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and educators become more media literate, so that they understand how violence affects children and are prepared to discuss what is being viewed and to help children learn to interpret what they see. Children also need to be given tools for conflict resolution.

It seems that our world is emotionally between the ages of 11 and 24, and our collective brains are humming with revolution. As Harold Koplewicz suggested, we have emotional development but are not good at controlling our impulses. When viewing our world in terms of adolescence, The Hunger Games story is comparable to aspects of our history and current events. And, setting aside all religious beliefs, there are no adults around to protect us, either.


  1. Goldstein, J., ed. (1998). Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment. New York: Oxford University Press, 212.
  2. Keegan, R. ‘Hunger Games’ is part of a long, grisly tradition in literature. (2012, April 2). Available from: The Kansas City Star. http://www.kansascity.com/2012/04/02/3530831/hunger-games-is-part-of-a-long.html#storylink=cpy
  3. Margolin, G., Gordis, E. B. (2000). The effects of family and community violence on children. Annual Review of Psychology, 445.
  4. Beresin, E. V. The impact of media violence on children and adolescents: Opportunities for clinical interventions. DevelopMentor. Accessed April 5, 2012. Available from: http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/developmentor/the_impact_of_media_violence_on_children_and_adolescents_opportunities_for_clinical_interventions


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  • Amy H

    Amy H

    April 6th, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I have a very intelligent and mature 10 year old who got me to read the books so of course going to see the movie version of The Hunger Games was something that we planned to do together from the moment we learned that it was being made into a movvie. I do not think that this is a movie that you should blindly take your child to see, for there are some very intense aspects to this whole series of books. So I would encourage any parent who is thinking of doing this to please at least read the books first so that you can determine beforehand of you think that this is going to be auitable material for your child. We saw the movie together and while I did not think that in any way it was as good as the books (the movie versions rarely are) I thought it was ok for my daughter’s age given that she is pretty mature and able to separate fact from fiction. It was voilent but I don’t think that one movie alone is going to cause your kid to start acting out in this way unless there is the tendency to behave like that in the first place.

  • Pollock


    April 7th, 2012 at 2:37 AM

    Its never going to be easy to stop kids from violent content.What may be okay for one child may not be okay for another of the same age.Ratings go only that far.The best way is for parents to be aware of what their kids are being exposed to and to be on their toes when it comes to content consumption by their kids.

    It is the only things that can guarantee some level of protection.As with everything else,it is not fool proof either.Kids can get whatever content they want to discretely now on their mobile phones.

  • fred


    April 7th, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    Guess each parent knows his kid, but this does seem a little too violent to me to let just any kid go and see.

    And you know that there will be parents out there who will take their kids just because of all the hype and know nothing about the story.

    There are worse films that they could see, and some that are far more violent than this one, but just watching other kids have to kill one another for sport? Kind of puts a damper on the whole love one another lesson most parents have been trying to teach their children.

  • Roger


    April 7th, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    found the movie way tamer than the books

  • Craig


    April 9th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    If you know your kid and he is ready to see it, then what is the big deal? You go with him, talk about any questions he might have, and use it as a way to talk to each other about any of the issues that are raised by the series: government control, hunger, violence in society, looking out for family. There are a whole slew of discussions that could come up from the books and the movie. Why is that a bad thing?



    April 9th, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    @Craig:Its all good, except that kids generally do not have the capability to understand most of the things you have mentioned. Heck, how many parents can even talk about all the things you have mentioned? it would take an informed parent and a not-aggressive child who shows brilliance beyond his age to benefit from such an approach. Not putting your idea down but I don’t think that would work for such young children.

  • Craig


    April 9th, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    @Harold- I appreciate that man but it’s not like I was talking about taking a 5 year old kid to see a movie like this. You knwo your child, and if he is 13 and thinks that he can handle it, then trust that and go with him and make sure that you do what you can to ensure that he can handle it. And nobody ever said that once you sit down you can’t get up and leave. If I thought that there was anything in there that was inappropriate, that’s just what I would do. I am not saying expose your kids to anything and everything, but we can’t shield them forever. And I would much rather my own kid get the information from me than depend on someone else to give it and tell him the wrong thing. Just my opinion.

  • Robinn


    April 10th, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    This is fiction people! Why all the fuss? The more attention we give it the more it will grow while if we ignore some of it then soon it will all go away!

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