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 or click here.