It was my husband who first noticed how Star Trek affected our sons.
Already well-versed in Star Wars lore, Zarf and Klaxon (then 4 and 6) frequently played elaborate games acting out and expanding the plots of movies and tv shows. There were periods of frenzied action (running! shooting! yelling! fighting!) and lulls in the action as both Zarf and Klaxon concocted detailed narratives to move the story arc along. Prior to watching Star Trek the solutions to their various fictional dilemmas were phaser battles or lightsaber duels. After, the solutions were more likely to be based in science and engineering (recalibrating! scanning! realigning! diagnosing!).
I don't think that every child can handle Star Trek at such an early age. But Zarf and Klaxon are even-keeled, steely-nerved types who aren't prone to nightmares and have no problem distinguishing reality from fiction. Even knowing this, I was -- and continue to be -- very conscientious about selecting episodes of Star Trek for them to watch. They prefer the episodes that feature children and involve special effects. Here are my suggestions for suitable episodes to watch with young kids1:
Star Trek The Orginal Series:
Trouble With Tribbles -- The tribbles are really cute. But some of them die. Warn your kids.
Journey to Babel -- Lots of freaky looking aliens. Some violence.
Spock's Brain -- It's sexist. But fun.
Assignment Earth-- I'm so glad I didn't live in the sixties
The Way to Eden -- SPACE HIPPIES! SINGING SPACE HIPPIES! Buncha freaks.
The Animated Series:
The Next Generation:
Rascals -- The first episode Zarf and Klaxon watched. Picard and other crew members become kids again. Best scene: when Picard calls Riker "Daddy."
Disaster -- A ship wide disaster leaves Picard stuck with three children on the turbolift and they help save him.
Where No One Has Gone Before -- Not my favourite episode, but Wesley saves the ship so my sons love it.
Qpid -- ROBIN HOOD! And Q!
Deep Space Nine:
Defiant -- This one is good only if your kids have already watched the Next Generation episode Second Chances.
Explorers -- Sisko and his son build a solar powered sail ship. Sets the bar for father-son adventure kinda high.
Little Green Men -- The source of my sons' fascination with Area 51
Trials and Tribble-ations -- Great if have already seen the TOS episode about tribbles.
In The Cards -- It's a funny caper episode.
The 37s -- Alien abductions in the 20th century were real! The mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance is finally revealed.
Bride of Chaotica -- A campy send up of fifties movies.
Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy -- Very clever episode with a lot of goofy plot twists.
The Haunting of Deck 12 -- I thought this was spooky, but Zarf and Klaxon liked it. To distract the ship's children, Neelix tells them a story about a ghost who lives on the ship.
Q2 -- The teenage son of the original Q (all the Q are called Q so it gets a smidge confusing) visits the ship.
Enterprise:None of the episodes are good for young kids. The show is pretty violent and there's frequently sexual content. Even more so than with Deep Space 9, there is frequently moral ambiguity that I think is not appropriate for children.
Amongst the many complaints I have about this series (and don't worry I will resist the urge to vent. For now.) is that the captain has a dog. What the fuck? It's so cloy.
• • • •
1 If you think your kids might not be old enough to watch Star Trek, they're not. Don't second guess that instinct.