Does 'The Hunger Games' series feed hunger for violence?

“Catching Fire,” the second film in “The Hunger Games” series, is now in theaters around the world and is already a top moneymaker for Hollywood for the 2013 holiday season. And if you have teens or tweens in the house, you’re probably wondering if you should give in to their demands to see this latest movie based on the works of Suzanne Collins, whose writings are just about as popular among young people as the “Harry Potter” series.

To see or not to see “Catching Fire” has been a hot topic of discussion on my radio show recently. And for good reason. The young adult trilogy centers around a frightening futuristic world where the main characters are forced to fight for their lives in a chilling competition, while all eyes around the nation watch the gruesome spectacle on live television.

I was able to catch the first film when it debuted. Although the plot is no doubt dark and the scenes often violent, it does offer a challenging and chilling reflection on many of the issues we are facing in our culture and political climate today: a loss of respect for human dignity, big government out of control, an unhealthy appetite for violent entertainment, just to name a few.

The question we kept revisiting during my program was whether the average Catholic young person would be able to grasp some of the lessons “The Hunger Games” series is trying to impart. My guest that day was Dr. Meg Meeker, a well-known author, speaker, cultural analyst and pediatrician with a practice in Michigan.

Meeker and I agreed that in a perfect world, the answer to the question would be “yes.” If we lived in a perfect world, parents would take the media usage and influence seriously and control media consumption in the home. But we live in a world that is far from perfect — especially when it comes to our media habits and the habits parents are passing on to their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics as recently as October, released a statement on media and the family. Despite study upon study showing a long list of problems associated with excessive media use, the AAP sadly reported its own research showing most families do not have any type of media plan. Most middle school and high school students have a virtual media center in their bedrooms. It should be noted the AAP says the No. 1 thing parents can do to control the media outlets is to keep the TVs, laptops and other media technology out of the bedroom and in a central area of the home where usage can be monitored.

And while that same organization repeatedly and very strongly keeps encouraging parents to make media usage a family activity, there is very little discussion going on between parent and child concerning what they’re watching. The majority of young Americans, Catholic or not, have few rules when it comes to media usage and content.

The best bet for concerned Catholic parents, we suggested, would be to really think carefully about whether their child is mature enough to handle the film’s macabre and often frightening scenes.

Can we really expect young people who see an average of 100,000 acts of violence on TV each year alone, to get the deeper messages or the moral of the story? Of course, in the end Mom and Dad have to make the final decision and answer those questions for themselves.

But given the evidence, making “Catching Fire” part of a holiday activity might make a bad situation worse by feeding into that hunger, so to speak, for increasingly violent entertainment.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.