1.) Introduction / 2.) Ratings, Censorship and Negative Criteria / 3.) What SHOULD Children See? / 4.) What SHOULDN'T Children See? / 5.) Children and "Adult" Drama

What Should Children Watch?
A discussion of the question of "age appropriateness" in theatre and other entertainment media.
Matt Buchanan


As a playwright and director deeply concerned with promoting the artistic quality and intellectual depth of Theatre for Young Audiences, I am frequently faced with the question, "Are you sure this is appropriate for children?"  When discussing the upcoming season of plays at a school, I often hear, "I hope you are going to do something appropriate this year."  I consider this an offensive remark, and I am always tempted to reply, "No, actually I was thinking of doing something wildly inappropriate."  I don't ever say it, because I assume the person isn't being insulting on purpose, but that question implies that I might be capable of deliberately harming children by staging a play I believe to be inappropriate for them.  I would never do such a thing.  Of course I am going to do something I consider appropriate.  What the people who say things like that really mean, of course, is, "I hope your idea of what is appropriate is the same as mine."  And the fact is that it never is, because no two people on the planet mean precisely the same thing when they say "age appropriate."  But the truth is that in some ways my own take on what is and is not appropriate for an audience of young people differs even from the prevailing wisdom in most places.  Interestingly, although I tend in general to be a pretty liberal person, I am not more permissive across the board than the average person.  There are certainly plenty of plays I would consider "appropriate" for a given age group that many people would not.  However, there are probably nearly as many that I would find objectionable, while others might think them harmless.  Without presuming to have the last word on the subject, I intend, in what follows, to discuss my own positions on what is "appropriate" for children to see.   In my own writing, and in the plays I program for young audiences I am of course much more conservative than my personal opinion would dictate, since I know enough to steer clear of material which will cause undue controversy, even if I personally think it is harmless.  However, I believe anything I can do to gracefully change community perceptions and improve the quality of the work children see is worth doing.  (And it doesn't hurt to push the limits a little, as long as you don't go overboard.)


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Copyright © 1999 by Matt Buchanan