My son’s flirting with The Dark Side: why we’re evicting Star Wars from our home

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IMG_8141 Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I am a Star Wars-aholic. My husband and I LOVE all things Star Wars — if you remember, we even road-tripped 7+ hours (one-way) with our then-eighteen-month-old to a Star Wars con last year. We can quote parts of the movie in excruciatingly accurate detail (read: complete with sound effects), and briefly contemplated naming our child Kenobi.

Naturally, we wanted to pass this love for Star Wars on to our son. We planned on waiting to show him the films when he was older, maybe four, but one night I awoke to discover that my husband Sean and son Jasper (who was coping with a horrendous cold) were perched in the rocking chair watching Episode IV, and I knew our lives had changed forever.

Well, now we’re changing them back. We’re taking Star Wars — all of the movies, shirts, and toys — out of our son’s life. Here’s why.

It all started a few months ago, when we noticed Jasper had adopted the peculiar habit of pretending to choke me or my husband. It didn’t really make sense — where did he get this? We’re politically (and in my husband’s case, spiritually) pacifists, and don’t even play-fight or wrestle in our home. We don’t even intentionally kill bugs! Why were we suddenly getting choked by our child, who knows to delicately hold flowers and gently pet the dog? What was encouraging him to do it?

Oh, wait a sec:

Ah…now you see, right?

Jasper has three favorite Star Wars characters: Darth Vader, R2D2, and C3P0. He likes other ones, but those are his dudes. The latter two make sense — they’re adorable and sweet. But Jasper’s fascination with Darth Vader totally cracked us up, because Vader is pretty hardcore. Sean started announcing Darth Vader whenever he showed up on-screen, to great applause from Jazz, and we both took to humming the Empire theme spontaneously to get smiles from our babe.

What we didn’t realize at the time is that we were unwittingly teaching Jasper that Darth Vader is awesome — and that being like Darth Vader is a cool thing to do. When Jasper would heavily breathe in and out in imitation of Vader, we applauded him and said that was “so cool.” But when Jasper started choking us, we didn’t immediately connect the dots. One day we were out at a playground when Jasper suddenly reached up to Sean’s neck with both hands and squeezed, and it hit us with the weight of eight hundred Ewoks — Darth. Fucking. Vader.

Of course, it’s not really Darth Vader’s fault — stuff like this is probably why researchers recommend that you don’t let your kids watch violent media. In our defense, Star Wars has never seemed all that “violent” to us — what’s a blaster here or there when you have fifteen minutes of peaceful (albeit incredibly sarcastic and, at times, borderline rude) droids roaming the desert? In retrospect, the films are chock FULL of all kinds of violent behavior, and it’s kind of embarrassing that we didn’t catch it sooner.

So for now, it’s goodbye to Star Wars — for all of us. In solidarity with our young Padawan spawn, Sean and I are doing our best to abstain. I have no doubt that the Force will re-enter our lives again, but hopefully at a time when our son is a bit older and can understand what’s happening.

Or hey. Maybe we’ll just let him join the Sith Academy with this awesome little lady:

Comments on My son’s flirting with The Dark Side: why we’re evicting Star Wars from our home

  1. I had a similar experience with my little one! I use to often pick her up and do flying full body attacks on her dad for my entertainment, and though it’s awful cute to watch her little tiny fists go pow pow at her Dada, it wasn’t so cute when she started to do it on her own. How I didn’t see it coming, I just don’t know : /

  2. May the Force be with you – cuz y’all are gonna need it for the withdrawal.

    All kidding aside, though, props to you guys for making the sacrifice since you know it’s what’s best for your kiddo right now. And reintroducing it all when he’s older and able to process things and understand that there are some things in movies you just don’t try in person will be all the more fun after the break!

  3. Parenthood is a learning curve, and sometimes the things that seem SO OBVIOUS in hindsight are difficult to figure out right away. You guys are doing a great job!

  4. I don’t think it is that big of a deal. Violence in children isn’t all about imitating what they see, it can also be about the reaction they get once they do it. As your child gets older, he will do even more things you find alarming. That is why parenting never gets easier, just different, as they grow. I think that introducing your child to many different things is important. While Star Wars has violence, it also has redeeming qualities as well. Your child is not seeing it the way you do. Plus, exposing your child to things you enjoy enriches them, as opposed to censoring them because you are scared of what they might act out. My daughter chokes me too, but it is not because of Star Wars, it’s because she is an exuberant child. She doesn’t have to be perfect because each mistake is an opportunity to teach her.

    • I definitely agree with this: “She doesn’t have to be perfect because each mistake is an opportunity to teach her.” and neither of us expect Jasper to be perfect. We’re just doing what feels right to us.

      Plus, I should point out that since we stopped watching the movies, he’s stopped choking us. This also leads us to believe that the movies were directly influencing his behavior. It’s almost impossible to describe what a BIG DEAL we made about Darth Vader once we knew Jasper loved him. It was kind of a runaway train.

      • We had to do something similar with the documentary Babies of all things. We though what a great benign thing to let her watch and she loved it. She would mimic many of the scenes which we thought was cute. Then she started whacking us in the face. Part of it was her age and part of it was the reaction she got from us. She thought it was funny. One day when we were watching Babies with her we realized that she was mimicking the scene where one brother is hitting his baby brother in the face repeatedly. The hitting was just one more thing she was mimicking. Babies is now banned for the time being and the hitting has stopped completely.

        It can be totally surprising what they’ll pick up from stuff you thought was completely “safe” and non violent.

        • See, we had the complete opposite reaction with Babies and my 3 year old niece. It actually made her behave more, and cut back on her temper tantrums. So strange what kids pick up on or don’t, isn’t it?

  5. If you and Sean are looking for a “fix” when the baby is napping or what not, you can always watch Fanboys. It’s an awesome comedy chock full of jokes that Star Wars fans (and even those not that familiar with the franchise) can appreciate.

    Best of luck to you! My nephew loves Star Wars (he’s seven), and he loves Darth Vader, but he always calls him Anakin. We took the opportunity to use Anakin & Vader as a way to explain to him that there is a little good in everyone, and it seems he’s taken it to heart!

    • We definitely plan to use Anakin/Vader for that as well! Nicely done. 🙂

      Thanks for the suggestion! We’ll look into it! I remember when that came out, and I meant to see it.

  6. you can still have star wars in your life. just don’t let your son watch the movies… it is as simple as that. you don’t have take anything star wars out, it is not the toys, the clothes, the references, the decorations, or any of that that is causing his violence or promoting it. it is caused by only watching the movies and wanting to imitate what he sees. watching violence on tv promotes violence in children… you can fix that by not watching it. that doesn’t mean you have to end your love affair with star wars or your son can’t be apart of it.

    • Ah,but you see — when he sees a character, he wants to watch it. Homeboy LOVES some Star Wars. We haven’t said the words around him in a few weeks, and I accidentally did today and his whole face lit up in a gigantic grin. He saw a Yoda pillow at a store the other day and pointed at it repeatedly and cried when we went away from it. This kid definitely doesn’t forget things easily.

      • Isn’t the toddler memory SO AMAZING?! Weeks and weeks can go by, and they still hold on to things! It’s spooky.

        Props on recognizing the issue and doing something about it.

  7. I took Star Wars away when our son was pretty young, much to my husband’s disappointment. Our son’s nickname is Chewi, and my brother in law really pushed to get him named Chewbacca Skywalker. I’m not the massive fan my husband and brother in law, and most of their friends and family are, but I enjoy the movies, so it wasn’t out of disdain for the Star Wars universe, but out of something I noticed very early on. Whatever my son watched, he emulated, and there is a LOT of violence in these movies. My husband was horrified when even the cartoons were banned from my son’s sight. As a compromise, he gets some of the children’s movie books, and he does know plenty about aspects of Star Wars, so he still plays lightsaber with daddy’s phone (there’s an app for that) and gets to be a padawan and play with ewoks. We even let him watch the ewok adventure movies. I don’t mind watering down what there is so he can digest it easier later when the harsher stuff is added in. That’s kind of the take we have with the whole world.

  8. Related story, (my parents are SciFi/nerd/hippy types):
    When I was 6 and my sister was 8 my dad got us each a pet bunny. I really wanted a bunny, but after I got it I was afraid of it. I was certain it was going to go jump up and attack me. Bizarre right?

    time passed,
    the bunny died,
    and more time passed

    Then I was 13 a friend wanted to give me my first showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the whole time I was thinking, this seems vaguely familiar… then the bunny attack in the scene with the Holy Hand Grenade. BINGO! That’s what bunnies do!! They look cute and then they attack your throat!!! Vicious creatures!

    After talking to my folks they said a friend of theirs who used to baby sit us when we were 3 +4 loved the movie. I must have seen that scene as a wee little one and imprinted it. I’m still slightly freaked by my best friend’s pet bunny, she weighs @ 3 pounds. (Yes go ahead and laugh, it is ridiculous.) 🙂

    • See, I watched those movies around the same age and went around making cracks about our female family members’ “huge tracks of land.” This wasn’t different for me, it’s a running family joke topic as we are all very well endowed, I just had snarkier language for it now. I’m also a complete wimp when it comes to violence/ gore/ horror of any kind, but in that particular movie… I guess it was just the way it was presented. It must have just clicked with my personality or something in my brain.

      The other awesome things I emulated?
      When I was about 4, my mom let me watch “Young Frankenstein” for movie night one night. She tucked me in after in my loft bed (where we would be about eye to eye). The next morning, she stood near my head and woke me up as usual. I looked out the window for a moment, then whipped my face around to hers and said, “HE VAS… MY BOYFRIEND!”

      I would go on to play at my aunt’s hilly backyard, rolling down hills as usual and singing, “Roll, roll, roll in ze hay.” Or to begin games of follow-the-leader/ Simon Says with Igor’s limp and a, “Walk this way.”

      The other difference is that I really knew what I was doing and why, because my mom had a policy with me that if I was old enough to ask, I was old enough for an answer. She’d start with the G-rated answer, but often I’d press for more, which let her know that I was cognitively ready for more. It was very “organic,” and I’m eternally grateful for it. It’s so vastly different than stories like the ones in “I was 12; my mother slapped me” from The Vagina Monologues.

      So, once again, hammering home that each child is different, and that’s part of what makes parenting so difficult.

  9. I’m about to take TV and movies completely away from my kids. I’m a TV-holic, self admitted, & unfortunately have passed this habit on to my daughters, ages 4 and 2. Recently my 4 (soon to be 5) year old has started acting like a serious teenage “mean girl.” I was so baffled as to why she was acting like a 16 year old being told “no” after asking to go to a party where there would be college boys and alcohol! She is getting extremely mouthy, doing horrible things to get attention, bullying her little sister to extremes, etc. I’ve just realized it’s because I’ve allowed her to watch all the older kids Disney and Nickelodeon shows like Victorious, ICarly, Wizards of Waverly Place, etc.. She’s taken on the persona of a teenage girl! She’s 4 and thinks she can just walk out the front door and go find “something to do” without even letting us know! I’m anxious to see how quickly her bad girl behavior is going to change once she doesn’t have the TV in reinforce her behavior!

    • My sister, a young adult now, was just like this, AND IS STILL LIKE THIS. Every single bratty comment that comes out of her mouth today, I can tell you which TV show or movie it came from when we were kids. She’s a total nightmare (has been arrested for violent behavior that’s funny in movies, but not in real life). You’re doing the right thing.

  10. While I am pretty much a pacifist myself, I have to say I really disagree with the way it is being taught/ modeled here.

    For one thing, by restricting something you are giving it value/power (as you saw with the face lighting and crying at the Yoda pillow). Also, it sort of implies that violence is so powerful and so attractive that the only way you can trust that he won’t want to be violent is if he never sees violence. I would think that this is a long way from the truth – many people who are opposed to violence became that way because they had the opportunity to see both violence and non-violence and decide which held more power for themselves.

    Star Wars seems like a great way to talk about violence vs. non-violence. There’s a lot of great stuff in there about there about the good and evil within and the choices people make that cause them to be “good” or “evil”. There are all kind of important lessons about what it means to be human. http://moongadget.com/origins/myth.html

    It seems like the mistake you made (at least from the stand point of not encouraging strangling was to that you seemed to place value on things that you don’t really value. Sure, you love Star Wars but do you really love Vader and what he’s all about? Couldn’t you talk, in an age-appropriate way, about why Vader is scary/bad/evil etc. at the same time you are enjoying the movies and talking about how cool they are? Talk up the values in the movie that you do agree with, point out the people doing things you think are good or appropriate, etc.

    Side Note: As a Star Wars fan and a pacifist, do you prefer the original where Han shot first or the remake where he didn’t? 😉

  11. I really think you are doing the right thing. Kids are masters of imitation, it’s amazing! I’m 20 weeks along in my pregnancy and I’m already worried about my husband’s hockey addiction. The other night we were watching a playoff game and two guys were punching each other in the head while two kids in the stands (they couldn’t have either been a day over 9) were cheering them on. It made my stomach turn. What happens when these kids bring that behaviour to the playground?

    In my experience it is next to impossible to have a reasoned and meaningful discussion about violence with a three year old let alone a five year old, that’s not to say that you can’t start the conversation now. But why should a child have to grapple with this stuff at that age unless they have to? I never really started watching films and T.V. until I was about 6 but I was still exposed to things that made me uncomfortable and sad; like a dead bird in the street, or my best friend’s alcoholic parents, and my parent’s and I talked about these things. It wasn’t until much later that I came even close to understanding them. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with all the world throws at us we really don’t need to pile on violent television and movies as a learning tool.

    Thanks for sharing your learning experiences! Parenting involves so much trial and error and the pressure to get it right the first time can be really stifling.

    • My daughter has been watching hockey virtually since birth. She likes the fights and the hits, and I like the fights and the hits. But she’s also always known – because I made sure that I told her repeatedly – that a hockey game is not real life, and things that can happen there can’t be allowed to happen anywhere else.

      Even young children can learn the difference between real and pretend. Their baby dolls and toy cars aren’t real, and neither is TV. But it’s up to their parents to make sure that they know that.

      • I could see telling a kid that Star Wars isn’t real life, but telling them that hockey isn’t is just outright lying. Try telling that to Steve Moore or Don Sanderson’s family.

        My biggest problem with watching hockey in front of our kid in the future is that it becomes a do what I say not what I condone situation and I am so not comfortable with that.

        • I completely agree with you!! My husband LOVES hockey to bits and I can’t stand it because it really is all about fighting. It’s built into the framework of the game and there’s no way around it. We’re trying to make babies at the moment, and I worry that he’ll want our future kids to play hockey like he did.

        • It might be real, but it’s not real life. People do not go around checking each other into buildings on the street. (If they do, then perhaps you need to find a new place to live.)
          Just like so many other things in life, what can be appropriate in one place or situation is not in another. Children who are quite young can learn this, indeed they must learn this.

          Violence in hockey has boundaries, rules both written and implied. When those rules are broken there are consequences. (Quite an important lesson in itself.) There are entire books written on the subject of violence in hockey. This isn’t the time or place to get into it, except to say that I believe that it has its time and place. It’s a subject my inner anthropologist is fascinated by, actually.
          To say that hockey is all about fighting is akin to saying it’s only about skating. A gross misunderstanding of the subject.

          Anyway, back to the subject actually being discussed. I do believe that children are capable from quite a young age of learning time and place appropriateness for a range of behaviours. But it doesn’t come naturally, they have to be taught. You can’t just turn your kid loose on the TV, you have to watch with them and discuss with them what it is that they’re seeing. (Then you have to do this again, and again, because children are like dogs and they learn by repetition. ;))

          • Maybe people don’t often check one another into buildings on the street, but what about the lockers in junior high/ high school? I’ve been checked at least a few dozen times in my life.

            As an adult, I’ve also seen minorities (homosexuals, races in some case) get checked into buildings when the bullies think nobody’s looking.

            I cannot sit here and deny that this crap happens in real life. It does, and it’s a parent’s job to teach kids how wrong it is. I personally have seen plenty of hockey in my life, and have never EVER seen an instance of the checking/ fighting where it was called for. Ever. It’s ridiculous that it’s allowed.

            Now… if you want to teach your kid through karate or other martial arts or something… That’s another story. Perhaps there are other “controlled fighting” sports that can be useful as well. Hockey is just not one of them.

          • Replying to CJs comment: I really dislike boxing or other martial arts as a spectator sport, because I feel as though they take the violence completely out of any context and make it the entire focus. Which has never made any sense to me.
            To each their own, I suppose.

  12. When we were kids we used to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon until my brothers started re-enacting the moves they saw in the show and my mom put a stop to it pretty darn quick.

    • My mom didn’t want me watching them when I was a kid, but I’d never change the channel on Saturday morning. The violence was never the issue. I was born anti-violence–even more so than the rest of my family. It’s strange. Anyway… She caught me one day, turned it off and said, “I don’t want you watching that. There’s no girl turtles, and that’s not fair.” I said, “Yeah, but there’s April. She’s a reporter, and she’s a girl. Plus, mom, girls are not dumb enough to live in the sewer.”

      From then on, it was KAWABUNGA, DUDES!

  13. this post gave me genuine lols. i hope you guys cope without those movies for the next couple of years – it’s not going to be easy!
    meanwhile, that tee shirt is the coolest item of kids clothing i have ever seen – can i ask where you got it?

  14. Think of it this way: if you’re removing Star Wars completely from your home, imagine his reaction when he’s watching this movie when he’s older and learning all these things for “the first time”. Imagine his reaction when he finds out Vader is Luke and Leia’s father. “NO WAY OMG WHAT A PLOT TWIST!” That, I think, would be pretty awesome.

      • Yeah, but with all the “Luke, I am your father” jokes and what not that are so commonplace even in TV shows & sitcoms, he may not get that genuine reaction like moviegoers got way back in the day. *:P

  15. I think that I disagree with removing the movies… I understand the logic behind it – if your son can’t see it, he can’t learn it. I just think that it’s a parents’ responsibility to teach a child that just because we see it in a movie, or even in real life, doesn’t make it acceptable behavior. He may be young, but he’s surely old enough to understand, “We don’t do that, because it hurts people, and we don’t hurt people.” Parenting is very much a to-each-his-own, though, and we all have to decide what’s best for our own kids. 🙂

    • I think in this situation it’s just such a strong force (pun) for him that it’s best to remove the stimuli for a bit until he’s more capable of discernment.

      I think it can also be confusing for such a little one to hear that something is fun and forbidden at the same time — like we love Star Wars, but while we will quote it and wear things from Star Wars, doing this thing the character does is bad. Some kids might be okay with the logic, others might need to be a tad bit older for that level of discernment. So you have to do what’s best for your particular kid, just as you said in your last sentence.

      • YES YES, this comment exactly. Thank you for putting this in words the way I couldn’t figure out how to!

    • We will definitely show them to him when he’s older — right now he’s two. I love him and think he’s brilliant, but speaking as the mother of the child, I can tell you that while he can UNDERSTAND “we don’t do that, it hurts people” it doesn’t always stop him from doing it. He would choke us, we’d tell him almost that exactly sentence, and he would LAUGH and continue to choke us.

      • An alternate method for dealing with behaviour like this (call it an ‘it worked for me’). If the fact that his choking causes you discomfort doesn’t phase him, he might respond if it causes him discomfort. “If you can’t control your hands yourself, then I will have to do it for you.” and then *gently* hold his hands at his sides for 30 seconds or until he starts to fuss – whichever comes first. Then let go, and remind him why it happened (“It hurts mama/daddy when you choke me, we can’t let you do that.)
        This works for all kinds of situations, not just violence. I once saw my then-preschool daughter literally tell her hands “no” when ‘they’ wanted to do something that she knew she wasn’t supposed to do. TOO adorable.

        • We’ve actually been doing this with his latest thing: pinching. It’s kiiiind of working..maybe. We’ve been trying it for a few days.

          • Some of the best advice I was ever given about raising toddlers is that it’s a lot like training wild animals.
            You have to show them over and over, and then show them again, and sometimes even after they learn it they need to be reminded every so often because they forget.
            I’ve discovered that teenagers are similar. lol

  16. So I talked to my brother. Turns out that the same 7 year old nephew I mentioned earlier has been taking his 3 year old sister’s baby dolls and making them do flips off the couch and yelling “JACKASS!” while he does it.

    Guess what he saw at a friend’s house where he stayed the night, last weekend?

    *facepalm*

  17. Vader makes perfect sense as a favorite character along with R2D2 and C3P0. They’re all basically robots, at least from the munchkin’s point of view.

    Good luck!

    • Yeah, and we also..REALLY played up the Vader thing. We thought it was HILARIOUS. I mean, he would blow kisses to Vader when he saw him.

      • THAT is adorable. How do you not laugh at that? There is a Darth Vader violinist who busks downtown in my town – I wonder if he gets kisses from kids?

        • AAHAHAHA! I may live in the same town! I doubt there are that many Darth Vader violinists out there! It makes my day whenever I spot him … unless he has his mask off and is smoking … then it’s just weird.

          • I’m in Victoria, BC. I wonder if there is more than one Darth Vader violinist? For some reason that just makes it even more awesome. Now, I am tempted to blow kisses at the guy next time I see him.

  18. I don’t see the need to remove Star Wars from your lives. Truly I don’t. The author of the article positively re-enforced the child’s behavior in terms of all other mimicking of Darth Vader. Children as so smart, he understood he pleased you and brought you joy when he acted like Vader. However, what he needed to learn is that as cool as Vader may be, fiction should not be a basis for reality.

    I admit I really can’t say what would be a good way to help him understand the situation better (since I have read above telling him doesn’t seem to stop him). Maybe it’s just the “terrible two’s” and in another year he will understand much better.

    • As the author, I can say that this: “However, what he needed to learn is that as cool as Vader may be, fiction should not be a basis for reality.” is something I agree with. Since Jasper is two, we’re going to wait until we feel like he’s demonstrating that he has a greater capacity to understand this.

    • Also, this was obviously a mistake we made, but allowing him to watch the movies isn’t something we want to do — we’re limiting his media intake in general anyway, so there’s no reason to throw super long movies his way anymore.

  19. Oh my god, I just spit out my food when I saw that little girl bow to Darth Vader – too funny!

  20. We are also huge Star Wars fans here! My second son strongly associated at that same age with Obiwan. By the time he was 3 he would introduce himself as Obiwan to strangers and only respond to being called Obiwan when he was being stubborn. It passed and he is a brilliant, and slightly eccentric 9yo now. (He still plays in his Obiwan costume occasionally….)

  21. Yep, been there. Matilda got shelved in my house growing up for a few years when my little brother started imitating Miss Trunchbull. A sad choice for you to have to make, but the best one for now, I think.

  22. i don’t know, dude. darth made it quite far in life, and, though i wouldn’t call him ‘happy’, he certainly didn’t seem unhappy.

    being a sith lord is something i could probably get behind for my children.

  23. I think you’re doing the right thing. As the mommy of a boy who’ll be three in a few weeks and being a very verbose person, I can tell you from my experience that there’s only so much talking and explaining you can do to a toddler. Remember, they have very short attention spans and abstracts like right and wrong are difficult to learn. Blur the lines with a ‘good’ movie that has a ‘bad character’ that is at the same time ‘cool’, it’s just too much to process. You’re doing the right thing to let your son develop without the movies for a while. Plus, at this age they can be so, so sweet. They won’t be like that forever; why let movies they can see later in life spoil that? 🙂

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