Why Your Daughter Should Be at Least 17 to See the Twilight Movies

The Twilight Saga tells the ever-evolving story of a 17-year-old girl, Bella, a 17-year-old vampire, Edward (chronological age 103), their turbulent road to falling in love, and the consequences of their young, romantic relationship. The huge success of the Twilight Saga movies has been a result of the popularity of the books by Stephanie Meyer, which have been causing youth, young adults, and adults to flock to the bookshelves by the masses. The fourth film installment of the series was just released on the big screen this November 18. Watch the trailer below:





I became interested in the Twilight Saga as a consultant to (and trainer of) professionals who work with girls and women. Admittedly, I was also personally interested in what all the media hype was about, and as a mother, I was curious to find out whether I would want my own daughters to read these books or see these movies. So, as everyone else seemed to be doing, I spent the summer of 2010 reading each of the four books in the series. I would be lying if I did not say that the books held my attention. I found the science fiction and romance combo to be interesting, and I very much appreciated Stephanie Meyers’ detailed exploration of the supernatural world. She thought out every detail thoroughly and threaded the idiosyncrasies of the world she created with great consistency through the plots of all the books. To my surprise, I even developed a “stomach” for the sci-fi genre after reading the books.



And then my sci-fi bubble popped.

And it wasn't because I was suddenly seeing Twilight differently as a thirty-five-year-old adult. It was because I started seeing it through the eyes of the thousands of young girls flocking to the bookshelves and theaters to experience it. I am stunned that it has somehow become acceptable for girls of all ages to read the books and watch the movies. The plot’s themes are not only very mature, but they may—however unintentionally—convey messages that actually reinforce negative stereotypes of females as weak, in need of protection, and worthy only if they are on the arm of a desired male. Mature adults have the capacity to edit these themes and apparent messages while reading—young girls do not. Assuming that they do is akin to expecting a toddler to ride a two-wheeler. They are simply not there yet developmentally. In fact, adolescent girls are neck-deep in the process of figuring out who they are. Exposing them to such mature themes while they are moving through a significant developmental phase is irresponsible and harmful.


  • Learn more about what to expect during the teenage years.
  • While I am not suggesting that parents (whether aware of the potential harm these movies can cause, or not) are intentionally risking harm to their daughters by allowing them to read these books and see the movies, I am making the case that doing so introduces an unnecessary risk to their daughters’ construction of a healthy female identity. Consider the following examples:


    In the first movie of the series,Twilight, Bella’s entire life is Edward, and her obsession with him occurs almost instantly. After she falls in love with him (and he with her) he becomes her entire world. She makes it clear that she would rather die than be without him. In the second movie, New Moon, after Edward breaks up with Bella, she falls apart for months, disconnects from peers, and relies on another male character, Jacob, to make her feel whole again. She believes she is nothing without Edward and engages in risky behaviors just to feel close to him. Subsequently, when she and Edward reunite, Bella is focused on only being with Edward. Her education takes a distant second to being with him and she speaks of no other life goals outside of being with Edward forever. In the third movie, Eclipse, Bella is willing to give up everyone and everything, including her mortality, to be with Edward by becoming a vampire herself.


    As is the case with any series, the Twilight plot thickens with each installment, and new twists and turns are introduced that makes the series even more captivating. The fourth installment, and recently released film in the series, Breaking Dawn, includes themes that are particularly concerning for girls. For example, Bella marries Edward with no discussion of any other future goals. When they have sex, Bella ends up with bruises because Edward cannot completely control his own strength. And, when she becomes pregnant with a half human, half vampire baby, she experiences a violent pregnancy and birth. These themes are received and interpreted much differently by the psyche of girls and young women (versus a mature adult). Exposing girls to these types of themes can inevitably introduce unnecessary risks to their development of a strong female identity. For example, Edward sneaks into Bella’s room to watch her sleep without her knowledge. “Wow,” our daughters think to themselves, “He must really love her.”


    Do we want our girls engaged in obsessive relationships? Do we want a male to be the center of their universe? Do we want them to justify physical harm from their romantic partners in the name of love just as Bella justifies the bruises she receives from Edward?


    “C’mon,” you say, “Edward is a vampire. It’s different. It's make believe.” But is it, really?
    Is this where we are in 2011—justifying risky themes because they exist in a vampire world that our daughters are infatuated with? As thousands of girls continue to flock to the books and the movies, they continue to fuel a sad cycle of life imitating art.

    Parents: what are we seeing happen in the plots of our daughter’s lives?

    Abusive relationships where their partners violate their boundaries, a lack of deep exploration of and excitement about who they are and what makes them valuable, and an emergence into adolescence with what female development expert Carol Gilligan calls "a loss of voice.”

    Research continues to show that in comparison to boys, girls are more anxious and stressed, experience diminished academic achievement, suffer from increased depression and lower self-esteem, experience more body dissatisfaction and distress over their looks, suffer from greater numbers of eating disorders and attempt suicide more frequently.


    We have to be intentional with our daughters. They are making a host of decisions every day as they navigate the ups and downs of life and its complicated relationships. Do we want the Twilight Saga to be their reference point? With the plethora of research on the challenges girls experience as they grow up, is this series the best choice for them during this phase of their lives?


    I am not concerned that the Twilight Saga exists. Like countless other stories, it wrestles with the complexity and rawness of human emotion and behavior. I am, however, concerned with the ease with which we allow our daughters to read and see it. Research shows that learning positive messages about oneself is an important protective factor for girls. I would imagine that virtually all parents would love nothing more than to see their daughters cultivate a strong sense of self, meaningful connections with others, and clear sense of independence and ambition.


    Have the courage to stand apart from other parents!

    Be thoughtful about what you allow and when you allow it. Read the sentinel works that tackle female development and how you can best support your daughter’s journey such as Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia and Peggy Orenstein’s Schoolgirls. Empower yourself with knowledge, and you just may see your daughters do the same.—Alyssa Benedict


    Alyssa Benedict, MPH is the founder and Executive Director of CORE Associates, LLC (Creating Opportunities through Research and Education) and provides training and technical assistance to schools, agencies, programs, institutions and systems that work with girls and women. Having worked for over a decade developing and implementing programs and interventions for females who have already exhibited risky behaviors, Alyssa has become a staunch advocate for the creation of “optimal early development” opportunities for girls and boys in their in homes, schools and communities. She continues to study the impact of early experiences on healthy psychological development, including those that impact gender identity formation. She can be reached at COREassociatesLLC@comcast.net.

    ______________________________________________________________

    Sources:


    1. American Psychological Association, "A New Look at Adolescent Girls".


    2. Jill McLean Taylor, Carol Gilligan, and Amy Sullivan, Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls: Race and Relationship (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1995).


    3. Image via COMAS on Flick'r.


    1

    Oh shut up! Its not like girls are gonna run around trying to find vampires to depend on. So just leave these girls alone, the movies are rated PG-13 for gods sake! How many times did you take your kids or nieces or nephews to a PG-13 movie and completely ignore the rating because it wasn’t rated R, so shut up and leave these girls alone!

    5

    This was an excellent article which really opened my eyes. I am a 19 year old female, I have watched all the films. As you quite rightly pointed out I can understand this is a film and not believe this is the way it should be. However, if i watched these films 4/5 years ago i cannot confidently say i would not want to find my own Edward and re-live the Twilight movies. young girls are do impressionable and want to be like evrybody else their age. our world is still a male dominated world, its slowly changing and equality is bliss. But are films like this sending our next generation of women backwards, needing men to get through life and feeling inferior to men???! its scary

    I just cannot believe that we are letting girls who are too young to date read about intense love affairs, not to mention love affairs that involve bruising during sex. How do you explain that to a 12 year old? Our answer will either confuse our kids or justify the violence. This film should be rated R. The only reason it is PG 13 is because that rating allows more viewers and more money. It’s a shame really and parents are as brainwashed as their kids.

    I just cannot believe that we are letting girls who are too young to date read about intense love affairs, not to mention love affairs that involve bruising during sex. How do you explain that to a 12 year old? Our answer will either confuse our kids or justify the violence. This film should be rated R. The only reason it is PG 13 is because that rating allows more viewers and more money. It’s a shame really and parents are as brainwashed as their kids.

    My plan for my 13 year old is to have her get the hang of “normal” before she watches 8 hours of “paranormal.”

    It’s just too bad parents are allowing this. I am a school counselor and I hear what girls are saying about this series and I see how they act with boys. Their parents would be shocked. These kids just need to be kids. They have their whole lives to watch this stuff. What’s the rush? Let them watch movies that show kids their own age!

    Well my 12 year old daughter has seen it, she has seen all of them. Well it may be true for some young girls, but you can NOT group all girls in the same catagory. Sorry, i’ve seen girls who weren’t allowed to watch movies like that, listen to certain types of music..etc..didn’t make a difference. They still fell “in love” as teens, became obsessive with their emotions. It has more to do with personalities and how WE as parents talk to our daughters. The examples we set for them with our spouses OR partners. So with some young girls, this movie could give them the wrong ideas about how relations should be…(although i’ve never known a teenager capable of having a truly adult relationship, but I suppose it’s possible) with other girls, like my daughter, it was nothing more than a fun paranormal movie.

    5

    Coming from a similar professional background as Ms. Benedict, I couldn’t agree more! With so many negative influences that are next to impossible to protect our daughters from, why expose them to avoidable media that can be so harmful.

    I agree and will not let my12 year old watch it, even though all her friends have seen all the movies. I willl watch it with her when she is ready to explain it all. I do think that, however it is the parents responsibility to teach their kids what is wrong and right and do not expect movies, books, video games to assume that role as that is just wrong on so may levels! I have seen the T> movies and enjoy them as pure entertainment (the six pack Jacob lol) BUT I am mid 40s and think that the female in this movie is seriously does look pathetic, and I am not exactly a Libber myself. No one should be married as a teen as we all know the rate of divorce in this category , nevermind all the other issues that ensue at that age!! Also, to have a guy the center of your life whether you are 18 or 80 is equallly just wrong as it would be for a man to think the same. There are so many issues I think the film should be restricted to adults. Just saying…..

    5

    It is heartening to read your well-thought out and presented arguments. Wow it’s hard to deny our children access to pop culture – especially in book form!

    There is a major advantage to waiting however. We do not have to let our girls (or boys!) line up to ingest messages of gender stereotype. These messages are everywhere. Far more important, in my point of view) than avoiding food dye or non-organic food, we need to avoid cultural acceptance of damaging roles.

    Thanks!

    5

    Everything about Twilight being read by young women terrifies me. In what world do we not think it’s not absolutely, terrifyingly creepy to have an (old) man sneak into your room to watch you sleep??? I got the drift that Edward really only liked Bella because he couldn’t hear her thoughts. Because if he heard her thoughts she’d come off like every other girl- completely insane because of her rampant obsession over her. And he’d be just as disgusted with her.
    And why do those kids going to high school over and over and over and over again not ring strange to anyone else? Like they don’t have anything better to do than repeat high school dozens of times? They couldn’t pretend they’re homeschooling? Where are they getting their social security numbers from to sign up for all these high schools? Is it not creepy that these teen vampires keep going to public high school?
    I feel like Stephanie Meyer has set the feminist movement back fifty years.

    5

    With the opening blockbuster weekend for this movie, I wondered if there are many others who have the same concerns that I have as a Mom. This article was a breath of fresh air and challenges us to be mindful of the messages that are being conveyed to our daughters in a time when so many girls lack a sense of true worth about themselves. Ms. Benedict’s observations are keen and hit at the heart of our concerns for our daughters as they make their entry into the social arena as teens.

    5

    What we know about child and adolescent development suggests that the themes in this movie are not those we want to use as a means to hone our girls’ critical thinking skills. There are far more appropriate ways to cultivate critical thinking without adding the burdens of mature and complex themes that can be confusing and scary. Our girls have enough media to digest without Twilight. We already have a great deal to process – things they are not ready for. We and our girls already have our work cut out for us. Let’s not add fuel to the fire. Finally, why not challenge their critical thinking in an age appropriate way with books and movies that tackle subjects they are ready for?

    4

    Before I read them for myself as I have a preteen daughter, my girlfriend warned me because she only got half-way through the first book. Her disgust with the storyline was the idea of it being acceptable for Bella to be in a potentially abusive relationship. Yes, both Edward and Jacob “love” her, but both could potentially kill her, even if it’s merely by accident. I did read all four books, and found them mildly entertaining for myself; but I do agree with my friend and don’t think it’s appropriate for my daughter.

    I think this article sells girls and young women short. Not because Twilight is a paragon of great young adult fiction (...no), or because the characters or themes present a strong, independent view of young womanhood (... definitely no), but because it assumes that girls and young women aren’t critical thinkers and can’t gain that skill until a certain age. The teenage years are ideal for learning critical thinking skills, and we do young people a disservice to neglect this area of their education. Whether or not the read/see Twilight, they still have access to media (including most romantic comedies, magazines like Seventeen… the list could go on) which builds an unhealthy image of girls and women. Rather than banning Twilight, why not read it with your teen, if they’re interested in reading it at all? Work with them to tease out the ways in which the characters in this book and their relationships are problematic, and work with them to think through what they would do in Bella’s place.

    5

    Thank you for posting this timely article. I hope all parents of young girls read it carefully.

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