My daughter saw that scene of E.T. sick by the riverbank and it broke her

All parents make mistakes. The best we can do is try not to make the same mistake twice

A few months ago I made a terrible mistake. We were trying to pick a film to watch. As in, we were trying to pick a film we could all watch together and actually enjoy. Over the past year we have sat through our fair share of steaming cack (take a bow, Back to the Outback) and we just wanted to watch something good.

There wasn't even a sniff of consensus flicking through Netflix and Disney, so an executive decision was made and we took a punt on E.T.

Expectations were quite low that our two young kids would be sufficiently entertained by this 40-year-old film about a boy and his botanist alien friend, but what unfolded could only be described as a Christmas miracle. They were rapt. They couldn’t take their eyes off it. They absolutely loved it.

This confirmed in my mind two things: E.T. remains one of the greatest films ever made, and big studios such as Netflix and Nickelodeon consistently and repeatedly underestimate the emotional intelligence of young viewers.


But here’s where I made the mistake. Towards the end of the film, E.T. becomes very sick. If you saw this film as a child, you can no doubt recall the scene I’m talking about in vivid detail, because it is utterly traumatic. We see his lumpy little body lying by the bank of a river, chalky-white and decimated. The earth’s atmosphere is killing him, and through his tortured, laboured breathing we know he will surely die.

I had it in the forefront of my mind to skip this upsetting scene and spare my kids the ordeal of having it seared in their memory forever. But then I forgot. Classic.

The details of my own actions are sketchy. Maybe I left the room at the wrong time. Maybe I was too slow to the remote. Who knows? The only important thing here is that my young, innocent daughter saw E.T.’s lifeless body by the river and it disturbed her about as much as I expected it to. She didn’t sleep that night, or the night after. The aliens were coming down to get her. There followed weeks of questions and nightmares.

The age certification of E.T. varies wildly from country to country. In Ireland, it's rated G, for general viewing. In the States it is rated PG, for parental guidance. In Sweden, for reasons quite ridiculous, it was originally banned for all children under the age of 11. In Denmark it is recommended that no one under the age of seven watches it. But really, with young kids all films fall under the "parental guidance" umbrella.


Being responsible for your daughter’s nightmares does not feel good, and I wish I could say that was the only mistake I’ve made. But, no. I’ve made some doozies in my time. About a year ago I managed to make the elusive two-mistakes-in-one. This is actually pretty hard to do, but somehow I managed it.

First of all, I placed a newly purchased solid wire shoe-basket in the hall at the bottom of the stairs. I remember thinking: “I’ll make space for that somewhere else; could be a nasty accident if someone trips down the stairs.” But then I forgot about it (are you sensing a theme?). That was mistake number one.

The second came a few weeks later when I was coming down the stairs with two armfuls of laundry and I saw a sheet of A4 paper lying on the third step from bottom. What I should have done was kick the paper off the stairs, or put the pile of clothes down and pick the paper up. I absent-mindedly recognised the danger, but I said to myself I’d come back for it. What were the chances of someone getting hurt in the meantime?

I felt his pain so deeply and physically that all of a sudden I became a believer in the sort of psychic links you hear identical twins describing in a Stephen King book

As I was loading the washing machine I heard the answer: a scream, a thump and a glass-shattering roar. My son had run down the stairs after me, slipped on the paper, and flew down face-first on to the edge of the wire shoe-basket. It was horrific. As I held him, blood streaming from his lip, I felt his pain so deeply and physically that all of a sudden I became a believer in the sort of psychic links you hear identical twins describing in a Stephen King book.

I couldn’t tell where his pain ended and mine began. I mean, obviously his pain was worse. Maybe what I was feeling was just the physical manifestation of my own guilt and stupidity. Either way, it was a dark day in Dadville.

All parents make mistakes. You can read all the books in the world, and soak up all the well-intentioned advice thrown at you, but in reality this is very much a learning-on-the-job type role. The best we can do is try to not make the same mistake twice.

So, for the rest of my life I’m going to militantly monitor the stairs for stray sheets of paper, and no one in this house is watching E.T. again until they are at least 40 years old.