Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games From A Youth Ministry Perspective

If you read my blog/follow me on Twitter/are friends with  me on Facebook - you probably know that I love The Hunger Games, bawled my eyes out the first time I read through the trilogy, and saw the movie at the midnight show on Thursday.

The fact that I'm a fan of The Hunger Games is not a secret.

However, I have noticed some debate in churches, schools, and around the internet about how appropriate it is for kids to be reading. I felt like it would be good for me to address The Hunger Games from a youth ministry perspective.

Please take note: these are my personal opinions, do not take this as gospel truth, or that everyone I work with has the same opinions. There are several perspectives people can have with this story and all of them are worth considering. This is simply my two cents.

Some things to take note of as you read/watch The Hunger Games:
  • The books are aimed for teenagers and older, and the movie is rated PG-13. There is a reason for this, and I say this about most books and movies that are aimed for certain age levels. There are reasons why book sellers have different sections for different age groups and there are reasons why there are movie ratings. Granted, as a parent/guardian you are the only one who really can tell what your child can handle and understand. However - like Harry Potter - while it may appear to be a "children's book" it is not. Don't take your five year old to see The Hunger Games
  • Yes, there is a lot of violence in the story. In the movie there were moments I had to cover my eyes because I didn't want to see what was happening. (Granted, I'm a bit of a wimp.) However, the violence is not exploited or glamorized. Suzanne Collins does a fantastic job of showing how the Games are wrong and the effects violence has on people physically and emotionally. By the end of the third book (Mockingjay) it is obvious the emotional toll it takes on the main characters and how they will never be the same. 
  • Yes, in the books there is some nudity. The movie however does not show this, and in the books it is not in a sexual way. If someone has to undress it is because they need medical attention and the main character Katniss is actually embarrassed by it.
  • There are several stories in the Bible that are more violent and explicit and scandalous than you'll find in The Hunger Games - but we aren't going to tell our teenagers to stop reading the Bible, are we?
The Hunger Games is about the Games... but it's not about the Games.

The Hunger Games is a story about peace, commercialism, fighting for justice, life in an oppressive society, standing up for what is right, unconditional love, and having to learn how to make tough choices. 

Katniss (the main character) is probably one of today's best role models for teenage girls. While we are coming out of and wrapping up the Twilight craze where the main character Bella wants to kill herself because her vampire boyfriend broke up with her . . . Katniss is a breath of fresh air.

Yes, there is the whole love triangle plot line. However, this plot line is not the main focus and actually adds to the themes Suzanne Collins portrays in the trilogy, and Katniss does not let wanting to have a boyfriend control her life. 

Yes, Katniss is a bit of a rebel, hunter, and has several flaws. However, she does know how to stand up for herself, take care of her family, and do what it takes to survive. In this society where so many teenagers have life given to them on a silver platter, they need more role models who have a backbone and think beyond what outfit they are going to wear that day. Katniss is clever, resourceful, and time after time portrays sacrificial love for the people she cares about. (Sounds like some traits God wants us to have, doesn't it?)

Peeta (one of the other main characters and a love interest for Katniss) is also one of the best role models I have seen in popular teen literature lately. Peeta is strong, smart, and tougher than he seems. What guy doesn't want to be those things? But he also is noble, kind, artistic, and loves unconditionally. When I look at popular TV shows and movies that teenagers are watching, it makes my heart sad to see how relationships are portrayed and the types of male characters that the girls are swooning over. Peeta is another breath of fresh air for me. He shows that being a real man is not about being a "ladies man", getting into a girls pants, taking whatever he wants, and acting like a jerk. He shows that being a real man is standing up for what is right, not turning to violence when a problem arises, having respect for the people around him, but still having a backbone. 

My suggestion with The Hunger Games - read the books and watch the movie for yourself. It's a fast read, and if your teenager wants to go see the movie with their friends you can always sit somewhere else in the theatre. Then, take the time to really talk about it with your teenager. Talk about violence in the media, oppressive governments, justice, war, peace, relationships, tough choices, nobility, etc. This trilogy is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness and to think about these issues. From my experience, many teenagers are already thinking about these topics and/or dealing with them on a day-to-day basis. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about it.

Other articles that I found useful in dealing with this topic are:

I hope you found this useful and I am willing to talk to anyone who has questions, comments, or opinions!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! There has just been a lot of talk about it and if it's appropriate for kids or not around here lately, and I figured I should probably share my opinion.

  2. I think you have the right idea about it. With all of the violence on television in the first place, I don't see why watching a movie which has meaningful violence in it, as in it's a part of the story and a part of the message.

    I hope all the buzz from the movie really sparks a conversation about society and where we're heading.

    1. That's what I hope for as well, because that's what made me really think as I read the trilogy. The culture she creates in the story is so similar, yet distant, from our own it's scary. You can really see our world heading in that direction - and in way we already have. In the "Original Hunger Games" link I shared he talks about the Gladiators. Panam is in many ways a futuristic Rome. It's the whole idea of history repeating itself.

    2. They say that America is the New Rome. We have our own versions of Bread & circus: McDonald's dollar meals and UFC.

    3. We pretty much are. Hunger Games just takes it a few steps further - so it's not that far from what we really could be. I feel like that's part of what makes it so powerful/frightening.

  3. What an excellent post! I will point people to this if they want to talk about The Hunger Games as being at odds with a Christian faith.

    Seriously, people don't seem to remember how much sex and violence is in the Bible...

    1. That's one of the things which drives me nuts sometimes. If someone were to create an accurate movie based on the Bible... it probably wouldn't be "appropriate" for church-going types. Yes - I'm all for age appropriateness. (I'm not going to talk about Lot and his daughters to a five year old for example.) But at the same time, as people get older we need to share with them truths about life - even if it is gory. Teenagers can handle it if we approach it the right way. I think that's what's so great about The Hunger Games. She shares the brutal, ugly, truths about life and humanity, without exploiting or glamorizing it.


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