Montreal Daily Star 19 November 1919, page 24
“My two girls are eleven and fourteen years old respectively. Should I allow them to accompany me to the theatre or the better class vaudeville houses?”
These words come to me at the end of a mother’s frank letter that contains all the elements of a real tragedy. The anxiety throughout its four closely written sheets is so tense that I can almost catch the half-stifled gasp, just as I can translate an upstroke here and there as the intense longing that so often gives place to fear.
It is hard to advise. The world has changed so much during the last decade or so that our old standards are twisted and out of date. Children of the present day are so exacting about their pleasures. The old call of “come and let’s make believe” falls on deaf ears unless childish minds have been stimulated with grotesque stories and fantastic illustrations. A whole world lies between the age when the circus came to town once a year and the five-reel movie drama of this blasé age.
We keep the children away from the movies, I know would be impossible, and I am not at all sure would be, as a rule, desirable. All the same, I could counsel mothers to be as careful as possible in choosing the houses which their young ones are allowed to attend, and to note the effect of such visits on the child’s mentality. It is unwise to stimulate little brains over much or to frighten little nerves with hairbreadth escapes. Remember that to the child figures on the screen are pulsing, breathing men and women, they know nothing of mechanical effects and they cannot separate the figures of this vague shadowland from the everyday nights in the streets.
But the vaudeville houses are different. The playlists so often seen on the boards are problems of domestic difficulties which are wholly unintelligible to the normal child. Much of the dialogue is incomprehensible and let us say, the jokes as a rule written for grown up persons. The dancing is very often graceful and dainty, but it is not of such a kind as to appeal to young minds.
Yet the dramatic instinct is a valuable possession in a child. A gifted child will seize instinctively on essentials and will not be self-conscious. Moreover in many stage plays the child has an opportunity to learn its history and geography in an interesting way. Yet while I have no fault to find with the vaudeville programs I think that children would better not attend them until they have come to that moveable feast in their lives “the age of discretion.”
Childhood only comes once in every life and, as it is the plastic age mind and character, the responsibility for wise guidance and “big sister” supervision in tremendous. Perhaps the best working rule for any mother do go by in all these matters is “will hearing or seeing this or that help to mould the character of my little one along the lines of healthy, sane, maidenhood?” It is a severs test and it has nothing to do with the false standards of goodness or prudery. But it is better to err on the safe side. The trouble with far too many children is that their minds are ever, rather than under, stimulated.