“Parents of young children: Would you say Voyager is appropriate for a 5 year old? What about an 8 year old? I feel like the show has too much techno babble and realistic violence to be healthy for them.”
The Answer Man Muses Extemporaneously…
Wow. You have five to eight year olds that will sit still for Star Trek at ALL? After the jealousy fades, an answer percolates to the top:
Star Trek: Prodigy
If you’re trying to gauge if your children might be interested in Star Trek, might I suggest Star Trek: Prodigy as an entry point to Star Trek.
It focuses on a group of youngsters who are held on a mining planet as prisoners searching for a missing starship. As they seek to escape this prison they discover the ship and are introduced to Federation ideals though the ship’s artificial intelligent support system hologram patterned after, interestingly enough, Captain Janeway.
I think it is a good vehicle because the themes are relatively simple, except when they are not, which is why I recommend you, the parent attend them while they watch. The visuals make sense, the interactions are typically tween-teen, and their behavior is relatable to the age range you mentioned. The command hologram Janeway explains most of what you need to know to follow along, but the motivations of the characters are fairly easy to recognize.
As to the other more adult Star Trek series, I was a precocious child, with far too much alone time. When I started watching Star Trek: The Original Series, I was just shy of nine and intensely curious. Star Trek was just what the doctor ordered. I wanted to know about my own world, and craved to understand what the future might hold for us. I spent my days comparing the world and technology of today, to the technology from Star Trek: TOS’s time and wondering what they might look like between those two periods.
I appreciated that people seemed much like people did today though they did seem kinder and more generous, so I guess the challenges my parents were always talking about were less of an issue by then. (See: Racism) Spock was an alien, every one of the bridge officers was from some country other than the United States and yet all worked together.
Star Trek expanded my horizons more than anything I ever watched then or since. Is there value for your children? Absolutely. But it will best be revealed as you watch it together and talk a bit while, if you can do that sort of thing, or soon after, deconstructing the best ideas and challenges for the characters. Keep it light and fun and let them guide the conversation, if you can get one started.
There have been so many Star Trek series now, each with its own flavor, style, tone and tenor. Some have more adult tones and I might suggest you wait until your children get older.
Star Trek: Enterprise
Or you could do a slow guided tour of the Star Trek Universe starting with Star Trek: Enterprise. The series has highs and lows but it is a great introduction to the Star Trek Universe, even more so than The Original Series. You get to see the fledgling Federation struggle to life against some pretty fearsome odds. Humanity’s first contact with alien life did not go quite a smoothly as history would have you believe. Enterprise is a solid series that was strangled in its crib before it could be all that it could be.
Star Trek: The Original Series
Follow up Enterprise with the Original Series. Captain Hornblower, er, Captain Kirk is a manly man who sails the spaceways heroically, and sometimes with questionable judgement, with his loyal and amazingly legendary crew, foiling alien invasion, confounding cosmic beings, and boldly going where no one had been, before. Except for strange experimental ships which wandered off course and giving members of their crews, what are arguably superpowers. (See: Charlie X and Where No Man Has Gone Before)
Yes, there are silly episodes and some gems, but by taking them in this order, you get a strong sense of what was expected of the Federation officers and how well (and sometimes poorly) they executed the job.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation has great episodes and absolute dogs as well. The first season is, in my opinion almost a complete bust in terms of quality but you can get to learn about the crew and why the next seasons continue to get better and better after that.
Again, with some parental interaction you can get a lot out of The Next Generation in idea building, building strong Human interactions and the benefits of cooperation.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine is probably not a good one for youngsters. Not until they get to about twelve or thirteen. There are great ideas being discussed about freedom, enslavement, brutality, occupation, and so much about war. Of all the series, this one is the hardest to watch because so many of the Federation ideals we have come to love in the series mentioned up to now, are dashed upon the rocks of conflict.
The Federation is as dirty and deceitful as any other interstellar empire when you get right down to it. And it is a bitter pill to swallow. Perfect for teenagers. Lots of angst. Six seasons of brilliance by everyone and nearly every time. Best father/son (Benjamin Sisko/Jake Sisko) relationship on television!
Star Trek: Voyager
Voyager is a strange one. You could introduce a new viewer to Star Trek through Voyager because it mimics The Original Series in its episodic tone. Where Deep Space Nine was driven by story arcs, Voyager is one-shot, one-kill kinds of stories. Rarely did a story carry over, though you may see a particular alien species for a few months before they moved out of range. Unless they were the Borg.
Anyway, Voyager doesn’t have as many awesome episodes as I would like and it has one or two which should be shunned. I am not telling you, there are plenty of people who will tell you which are simply awful. But when they were good, they were VERY good. Like most Star Trek, the first season is usually a bust. But in the second and third seasons it improves and closes out its seven seasons strongly.
Characterization in this series is a bit off. The characters never truly seem to congeal to me but Voyager can work as an introduction series because the crew tends to be the only people who remain consistent, so their adventures are episodic enough to hold young attentions.
Star Trek and Violence
Finally, a conversation about violence. Conflict is a real part of any interaction between sentient beings. One of the reasons I enjoy Star Trek is because the series has tried to set the bar such that any interaction between two people who don’t know each other is fraught with positive anticipation, that meeting new people is good and wholesome.
Yes, people fight. Misunderstandings happen. Sometimes starships will be compared to garbage scows. Or may even be declared to BE garbage. But this doesn’t mean people can’t have a brawl and still be friendly later. Even enemies can treat each other with a degree of courtesy.
Violence Is generally shown to be an undesirable thing. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, it just means other things were attempted and failed.
Star Trek wants to try and teach what I think is its greatest lesson: Making friends is as easy as making enemies. It’s a choice we get to make every day.
And if we choose to make friends, by dint of that choice you may also make enemies. This doesn’t mean they can’t be friends someday in the future.
Star Trek teaches us to maintain the hope in friendship and in adversity that better times are ahead. This is a lesson well worth learning, no matter what choice you make as to where you start watching Star Trek with your children. You are already making a fine choice for place to teach humanity to your children. You couldn’t get them a better gift.
Unless it was the entire Star Trek Franchise Box Set. Yes. It does exist. So much awesome shouldn’t be able to be contained without a magnetic bottle.
Good luck. Share the stories your kids tell you when you watch. It ought to be a hoot. That Kirk/Gorn fight will have them rolling across the floor!
The Answer-Man, master of Comiclore
This question originated in the Facebook group ” Star Trek Wholesomeposting”.
CAPTAIN KIRK VS THE GORN
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.
As someone who’s worked in education with every level from preschoolers to college students, I pretty much agree with this in regard to what it would be good for kids to watch. Personally, I grew up in the day when families typically watched TV programs together, which I think was very helpful for us kids. (Ah, the good old days of the 20th Century. Anybody remember those?)
“Spock was an alien, every one of the bridge officers was from some country other than the United States and yet all worked together.”
I see your point; cooperation among races, nations, planets, and even species was part of Roddenbury’s vision. Admittedly, while Dr. Leonard McCoy, one of the main cast members, was from Georgia, U.S.A., he probably wasn’t technically a bridge officer. I would think, though, that Captain James T. Kirk, born in Iowa, U.S.A., would be considered a bridge officer. But, because Star Trek has been redefined so many times, I don’t know what the “official” designation would be.