Film and Parental Discretion

“How do you help your children to be discerning and pick up themes and messages inherent in the movies, books, and visual arts?” Thank you, Cindy Gould, for another great question.

Just today I was talking with a screenwriter friend of mine about the kinds of movies producers like to make. For the fast buck, they favor films for teens. And let’s face it, most films targeting the teen market aren’t all that “intellectually meaty.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that teen films are ideologically vacuous. And some teens actually like sophisticated movies intended for a more specialized audience. Is it possible to equip them to be reflective about their film experiences without ruining their enjoyment of film? Absolutely.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start young. Be selective about the films your children see early on. Watch them together. Afterward, probe with questions about what they thought or felt. To get specific answers ask specific questions. Remember that one scene in Shrek when the princess is singing and, just when she hits a really high note, the bird that was singing with her literally explodes? Here are some questions to ask: “Was it funny when this happened? Was it tragic? Was it both? How could it be both?” In The Lion King, the treacherous uncle looks the part. You could get some good discussion about that. “Do the bad guys always look like bad guys? How can you tell when someone might be trying to trick you into doing something you shouldn’t do? How do you know when to trust someone?”
  2. Let children express themselves fully. Ask questions about what they say. Show sincere interest in their answers. But be careful not to “cross-examine.”
  3. Affirm them for the good ideas they have and the reasonable ways they come up with those ideas. If you love the way they think, tell them, “I love the way you think!” If we’re going to raise a generation of thinkers, they have to know we value thinking. This brings us to a final point.
  4. Share your own ideas with your children. If you’ve asked for their point of view, you’ve earned the privilege of sharing your point of view and there’s a real chance they’ll listen because you’ve listened. Be careful about the tone of your contribution, though. Try not to sound too dogmatic and authoritative. Be a model of intellectual curiosity. Encourage your children to respond to your ideas with their own evaluation.

This is pretty general advice. Much depends on a child’s age and the relationship you have with your child. I hope readers will share their thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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