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13 parenting tips from 'The Hunger Games'

By Ryan Jardine

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20 2013 12:02 p.m. MST

From left, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" at Nokia Theatre LA Live on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press

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On Nov. 22, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" debuts in theaters across the county.

This movie, based on the stories of Suzanne Collins, is not steeped in frivolity. In the arena, it is life and death, and I take it exceptionally seriously, as should you.

Every day I wear my Mockingjay pin on the lapel of my suit with pride, and I conclude each and every conversation with an austere, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Stories such as "The Hunger Games," resonate because, as Mary Bateson observed, “The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.”

Metaphors and life lessons abound in "The Hunger Games."

With that in mind, here are 13 parenting tips from the first "Hunger Games" to get you ready for the premiere.

1. When the family is hungry, especially on a road trip, watch out. Hunger-induced stress can plunge any family into chaos, especially when traveling America’s highways and byways. Think upon "The Hunger Games." The shortage of food and supplies saps the strength of the Tributes as they travel within the Gamemaker’s wilderness.

Family travels that open with songs and happy-family-forever-togetherness instantaneously morph into your own version of the "Hunger Games" when bellies start to rumble. Parents, heed this warning and make sure everyone is well fed, especially on a trip.

2. Support your children's interest in cake decorating — because it might just save their lives. Who knows how your children’s intensifying interest in some niche activity will contribute to their future success. Take a moment and consider crazy-like-a-fox Peeta Mellark and his superior cake-decorating skills. Such a benign interest saved his life as it transformed into the ability to craft superior camouflage. With each sunrise, your children will vacillate among different interests. As you maintain malleable expectations regarding your children’s hobbies and interests, they will gravitate toward certain activities. Encourage them to pursue those interests because they may instinctively know better than you what skills they will need.

3. Don’t underestimate the importance of well-manicured facial hair. We are currently in the wilds of Movember, and hair of all varieties has appeared on typically clean-shaven faces. Take a cue from Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane. If you sport a beard or mustachio, consider shaving it into some kind of design. Your teenagers will love it, and you will be the most popular of parents. Don’t be disconcerted if they insist you drop them off a block away from school — they don’t want other kids' parents to be jealous.

4. Everyone needs a good fashion consultant and well-tailored clothing. Parents are an example to children in so many ways, and might I suggest that includes health and personal style. Cinna, one of Katniss Everdeen's closest friends and allies, was also her stylist. He leveraged her innate couture and revealed to all of Panem her real worth and identity. Parents, prioritize your personal style, health and wellness. Take pride in looking put-together and embrace styles and clothing that are both cool and age-appropriate. Show your kids that at any age, your appearance is an outward demonstration of an inward confidence and self-respect.

5. Don’t disregard your quietest children because their hidden strengths and talents will inspire generations. Katniss is not an extrovert. Yet, in dire circumstance, she survives and thrives. The loudest on the world’s stage, however, often get attention, while the quiet are relegated to the periphery. If your child is shy, you don’t owe the world an apology. As Susan Cain observed in her book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking," "We make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions — from the theory of evolution to van Goghʼs sunflowers to the personal computer — came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.” Embrace your children’s innate personality.

6. If your child hasn’t asked for a bow-and-arrow yet, don’t worry, they will. Just a quick tip: Katniss and her prowess with a bow-and-arrow “helped to give archery a hip factor it’s just never had before,” said Teresa Iaconi, USA Archery spokeswoman. She continues, “No disrespect to Kevin Costner, but he was an old guy in tights.” Archery is on the upswing, similar to the bump martial arts enjoyed alongside "The Karate Kid."

7. Carefully exercise power and authority within your children’s lives. The Capitol and the Gamemakers attempt to levy and maintain absolute power. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end up well for either one of them. As a parent, you also possess a certain degree of power in our children’s lives. Be careful how you use it. Set thought-out rules, and then be measured in your response to disobedience. A warning: Your children will take arbitrary rules that are subject to change and use them in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

8. Kids are capable of more than you may think, both for good and bad. In "The Hunger Games," the Tributes faced challenges in both positive and negative ways. Virtue and sacrifice clashed with wrath and brutality. As a parent, never forget that the best and the worst adults were once children. Your influence and sacrifice for your children will have a deeper impact than you realize, as will neglect and indifference.

9. Your child’s generosity and kindness will surprise you. Whilst competing for survival, many Tributes found opportunities for kindness and generosity. For all the bad press and time immemorial lamenting “kids these days,” they are, as a whole, far more kind and thoughtful than they get credit for. Look for the kindness and you will see it. Acknowledge and reward it, and you will see it more often.

10. Children do not appreciate you making them your parents. Katniss’ was forced to be a mother to her sister, as well as to her mother. Don’t make your child suffer a similar fate and rob them of their childhood. Create consistency in your life and within your home. Be the responsible one who makes the smart decisions. Don’t relegate that role to your children. Give them the freedom to experience life and make mistakes.

11. Excitement and a magnetic smile turn a minor character into a star of the show. Ceasar Flickerman, the always-positive host, is one of my favorite characters. Even with limited screentime, his energy and magnetism were highlights of the movie. You can be that character in the lives of your children — especially as they enter adulthood and spend less time with you. As your babies become young adults and then parents themselves, make each moment count. Despite your decreasing screentime in their lives, maintaining a positive energy will bring you and them joy and happiness.

12. Avoid distraction and pay attention to your children, or they may demand it in counterproductive ways. Katniss taught the distracted Gamemakers a lesson with an arrow threaded deftly through their group. Parents in this technologically driven world constantly face distraction. Don’t let that distance you from your children. Your children need your attention, especially when demonstrating some skill they worked to perfect. By ignoring them, or being distracted after a failed attempt, you encourage behavior that will demand attention.

13. Don’t underestimate the importance of a supporting cast of extended family and friends in your child’s life. The proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” might be rephrased for today as, “A village will raise your child.” Whether you like it or not, your children will be influenced by a host of people including parents, extended family, friends, teachers, celebrities, the media and religious leaders. Katniss and Peta only survived "The Hunger Games" with supporting friends, mentors and sponsors. As a parent of young children, make every effort to create a village that is supportive and kind. But, more importantly, as your children grow, teach them to seek for a village filled with people who support them in positive and productive ways.

There you have it: Thirteen tips, one for each District. Now I’m headed off to wait in line for opening-night tickets. And may the odds be ever in your favor. We might need that more in parenting than in any other aspect of our lives.

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