It’s that time of year again: Game of Thrones is back on the air with new episodes, which means that the pop culture phenomenon is all over our social media feeds, watercooler talks, and dinner conversations. And – despite the show’s MA rating – it’s likely that your kids will either be watching or hearing about it, as well.
Technically, the show is geared for audiences over the age of 18. However, due to its fantasy themes and action-packed storylines, a lot of teenagers and even younger kids are getting in on the action. Some teens are especially mature and can handle the show’s violence and sexual themes, while others are just going to watch it anyway.
Because of this, it’s important that you’re a part of your children’s GoT watching experience to make sure they learn from the positive messages and know how to deconstruct the negative ones.
Takeaway: Powerful Female Role Models
One thing is for sure, Game of Thrones has a bunch of smart, powerful women in leadership roles – especially in later seasons.
For instance, Lady Brienne is the epitome of a tough female character – she easily beats men in combat, is extremely loyal and intelligent, and saves the lives of main male characters multiple times in the series. Even better, she discusses how she used to be teased for being unattractive, but moved on by becoming extremely powerful.
This kind of representation is great for kids to see in this day and age, when many female television roles involve being a passive, conventionally attractive character who acts as a sidekick to a central male one. As women work to overcome certain disadvantages in today’s society – women held only 14.7% of company board seats in 2015, for instance – seeing them being represented powerfully on a popular show is a good message to send to audiences.
Be Careful Of: The Show’s Treatment of Women and Assault
On the other hand, not all female representation on Game of Thrones is positive. In fact, the show has spurred a lot of controversy over how it treats women, especially in regards to sexual
assault. With the fact that there are about 320,000 victims of sexual assault in the U.S. each year, it’s important to teach your kids that despite the arguably irresponsible depictions of women on the show, glorifying rape isn’t something to emulate or consider acceptable.
GoT has angered some viewers by its arguably flippant or unnecessary depictions of sexual assault, such as Khal Drogo’s rape of Daenerys or Jamie’s rape of Cersei. Since those rapes didn’t occur in the original books, audiences wondered why they were shown on screen other than to shock people or suggest that it was normal for the time.
When watching GoT with your kids, it’s important to talk about sexual assault scenes after they happen. Instead of letting them think that rape is a normal and acceptable part of society and warfare, break down with them why it isn’t normal, why it isn’t acceptable, and its purpose as a plot device on the show. Let your kids know that to like a show you don’t need to like all aspects of it, and that scenes with rape should be treated with the seriousness that the crime affords.
Takeaway: Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
GoT does a solid job of creating characters that defy expectations, showing audiences that you can’t always judge a book by its cover – a great way for kids to learn about the harm stereotyping can bring.
The story of Tyrion Lannister is the perfect example of this. A self-proclaimed “dwarf,” Tyrion undergoes ridicule by almost everyone he meets, even his own family members. However, he’s extremely intelligent and charming, and uses that to work his way up into positions of power – such as being Daenerys’s main advisor.
With up to 1 in 15,000 Americans having dwarfism, seeing a little person depicted in a positive light is a great way to break down stereotypes. In this way, Game of Thrones effectively shows that despite how a person looks, they can be smart, strong, kind, and successful; this is a great lesson for kids to learn.
Be Careful Of: Negative Racial Stereotypes
There are certain groups, however, that the show stereotypes within its storyline and marketing. You’ll need to discuss these issues with your kids to make sure they don’t simply accept those stereotypes as truth.
For instance, the show’s treatment of Daenerys and her army of the Unsullied has also generated a lot of controversy. Arguably, it reinforces the stereotype of people of color as being helpless to defend themselves until a white, Western person comes to save them. This idea contributes to the many problems associated with “voluntourism” – on which people spend about $2 billion a year – and other pursuits.
When entire groups of brown and black people are stereotyped as being helpless without a white savior, it reinforces negative stereotypes about the unintelligence and lack of power of those groups. Although it’s arguably not as bad as other racial stereotypes we see on a daily basis, it’s still unfair to depict an entire race – especially when that race goes relatively unrepresented throughout the rest of the show – as having no self-sufficiency without the
help of a white leader. As a result, it’s important to talk to your kids about how stereotypes, even supposedly benign ones, can harm the groups they’re being applied to.
It’s not necessarily Game of Thrones’ responsibility to ensure that kids take away positive messages and avoid negative ones from the show – it is, after all, here to entertain – but parents should make sure that their children understand some of the show’s more troubling aspects. Luckily, there are many positive characteristics that kids can learn from, as well. Will you let your kids watch GoT this season?