The History Boy

Bloody Sword

It’s only 9am and already my son has seen hundreds of people being slaughtered, a few public executions, children experimented on and general torture and persecution.

No we don’t live in Hull, he’s watching last night’s Andrew Marr’s History of the World, and when he asks me what garrotting means I begin to question whether it’s entirely appropriate viewing for a 9 year-old.

Obviously I don’t let him watch gratuitously violent movies, but given the subject matter of most historical documentaries, am I providing him access, in fact encouraging him, to watch substantially the same thing?

He loves history and has exhausted the wonderful Horrible Histories output which is why he’s moved on to the hard-core adult stuff. He will watch pretty much anything including the bizarre tabloid/CSI- style archaeology programmes on channel five – “Could this tiny scratch on a 4 thousand year old skeleton, when matched with a few other pieces of spurious evidence be conclusive proof of a murder which irrevocably changed the entire course of the whole history of the world for ever?” And the dry, monotone programmes about the minutiae of battle strategy which run on the Yesterday channel – “But the Nazis had not suspected that the allied tanks would choose to take the North-north east route as opposed to the anticipated the North-east route. A mistake which would force them to alter their dinner plans”.

It’s not like we’re propping his eyes open with matchsticks to watch this stuff, it’s hard to discourage him. I suppose I could tell him to stop with the educational programming and go play on the DS, but I’m not sure there would be much point; his favourite game is Age of Empires.

As a species, we’re sort of despicable, so it’s inevitable that there’s a fair bit of violence in these history docs. I’ve generally been ok with that because I’ve never really understood the argument for hiding the true horror of war from children.

From what I can gather they must be protected from having nightmares, and the possibility of becoming inured to violence and death. So is the concern that they’ll get too upset or not upset enough?

For the time being, I’m taking the knowledge is power route, and letting him watch pretty much any documentary he wants, while keeping an eye on the situation and barring anything too strong. So far I have to admit, most of the programmes I’ve banned, I have done so because they contain bad language.

Go ahead and massacre as many villagers as you like tyrants, but no potty mouth.


2 thoughts on “The History Boy

  1. That’s a very funny dichotomy with violence and “bad language”, but not an uncommon one. My 8 year old daughter has an affinity for old sitcoms and “how it’s made” shows, which has led to discussions about the Nazis (from Hogan’s Heroes) and the dangers of electricity. It’s nice to be able to rationalize TV as a “teaching tool”!

  2. I think an interest in history is an excellent thing, it is through (accurate) history telling that we learn about ourselves, from what has happen before, but I know what you mean about too upset or not upset enough. The violence of the past can become “cartoon voilence” unreal and therefore doesn’t matter. Tricky balance, reckon you’re doing the right thing though, keep an eye, explain and answer questions. It’s weird what children find scary and what they don’t!

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