Aw, It's Just a Movie!

...or is it Really?

- Joellen Monson

Imagine, if you will, a world where quality children's entertainment exists. One where your child is safe to view age appropriate content and have a good time. Where kids can be kids and not mini-adults! The choice is yours alone. You are invited...to regard the following as a basis for the movies you allow your children to take into their life experience. Consider the 30, 60, 90 or more minutes of their life spent viewing the program in front of them - time they can never get back - at an age where everything makes its impression.

The criteria we will look at for this new way of Parent-Movie -Review will be based on language and attitudes, violence or aggression, and sexual content. Now, with those as your underlying gauge, think about what the characters in the movie are teaching your child (because that is what is happening, they are learning one way or another) so: What is the main message my child will take away from this movie? How will they look at themselves and those around them based on the attitudes they're seeing demonstrated? What is valued by these characters (be cautious to tune into their actions, not the words because at this age children are very visual and literal).

Choose any one of these areas and consider your child's age then ask yourself: If my child isn't doing this behavior yet, why expose them to it? As a prime example, many movies show kids saying "I'll kick your butt." Do you really want your young child to be taught this by a movie? On the other hand, if they do act this way, do you want to reinforce that it's Ok?

What we are talking about here are Reasoning Skills. As an adult you use these skills to make decisions about what you watch and what you let your child view. At 5 to 10 years old, children are not too young to develop these crucial life skills. The famed developmental psychologist Jean Piaget realized the importance of the ages 5-12 in developing a child's concept of justice, equity and moral issues. Studies have proven that the middle years of childhood are a critical time during which conscience is developing at a rapid rate. So what our children watch is taken into the groundwork they are laying for their beliefs and attitudes about their world.

Encourage them to look at what they are watching with an appraising eye. They are not too young to discuss with you concepts of: Message? Quality? What's being taught? Do you agree/disagree? What is their point? Are they just trying to sell you something? One way or another kids will get something out of the images that have just been flashing before their eyes. If you are not present and involved in helping them interpret what they've just seen, you are leaving them to the movie company's view of the world. Do not abandon them to struggle on their own to make sense of what they've just seen. The dangers are that often they don't understand what they're seeing but they may emulate the behaviors anyway, thinking it's cool and acceptable because they are watching it right in front of their eyes. Grown ups wouldn't let you watch something that was bad for you - would they? Help your child think about what they've seen with an appraising eye.

Discuss the movie with them afterward. It is important to watch with them, at least the first time. But if you can't or won't, it is still your responsibility to be aware of the content that you allow your child to have access to viewing. Watch it yourself first…if you can't watch it because it's so bad, why would you let you child? Regardless, at least talk with them about what they thought about it. What did they like the most? What about that did they enjoy? Was there anything they didn't like? What about it had them feel that way? The discussion can be as important or more valuable than the movie experience. Do not loose the opportunity to teach your values, clarify their uncertainties or explain what they saw. This helps them develop their own reasoning skills. It emphasizes your family's values. It takes control back from the media's perspective about how they think the world works.

The companies that are churning out these movies will say that they put these distasteful elements (or in the very least poor taste) in movies because that is how kids really are today. They'll tell you that they are just accurately reflecting what's already happening out there in our children's world and that it is YOU who is out of touch. Well, there is a fine line between reflecting reality and creating it. If your child sees these behaviors they will be more inclined to think that is the way others think and speak and so it is not only OK but acceptable as the norm. Trust me, those businesses don't care about what values you try to teach your child. The companies that are willing to expose kids to rubbish don't care about your family. They don't care about your child. They don't care about what impact their actions have on the rest of us. What they care about is money. Plain and simple and keep it coming! They will say it's up to you if you don't like it. And you know what? It is! As long as we minimize the impact the impression these images make on our children and keep taking them to these movies, they'll keep making them. So take it seriously. Take back the guidance your child stills needs at this crucial time in their lives!

There is a huge market today for children's movies. In our culture going to a movie has become an Event. We observe the ads, we see the products in stores and fast food restaurants even before the movie is out. Marketers want to be sure we aren't missing out on the latest phenomenon. Part of the problem with falling prey to the hype is that we may not get a chance to really know much about what we're exposing our children to watching. Some parents may check the ads in the paper, some may scan movie reviews which are usually written by adults who are used to reviewing adult movies with adult criteria. So it's difficult to know ahead of time if it's going to be not only a good movie to watch but one with quality material and minimal offense.

Once in the theater many parents cringe at what they see on the screen while sitting next to their young child. The crassness of Rug Rats, or South Park-watching what they thought would be a kid's movie, after all it's a cartoon! Others think it's OK to let the kids watch the sexual innuendos of Jim Carrey, the bad manners of Adam Sandler, or the wise cracking and violence of Arnold Schwartzeneger. "It's just a movie," they'll tell you, "don't take it so seriously. The kids don't even get it." Child development specialists will site study after study - children do get more than you think though not always in the way we, as adults, may think. Again, the dangers are that even if they don't understand what they're seeing they may emulate them anyway because they will take what they've seen at face value - without your help.

We have been lulled into trust by the names Disney or Speilberg and assume that the content will be appropriate for our young children because those groups have made kid movies in the past. We can Not automatically trust that these conglomerates will protect our kids from unacceptable sexual stereotypes and behaviors, from gratuitous and graphic violence and language that is heard in the backrooms of smokey bars but is not suitable for pre-teens!

Will this involve more work on your part than just dropping the nine and ten year old kids off at the multi-plex for the latest hit or going in but falling asleep from boredom (as was reported by many parents who took their kids to see Pokémon)? Yes, you bet it will. But, once you begin you may be surprised at how much kids will want to share their thoughts with you. After they're done rehashing plot details with you, begin slipping in some of the questions we suggested. You'll be amazed at how much they have to say and how easy it is to get a dialogue going with them.

You may not ever choose to stop letting them watch the latest Hollywood fad movie but at the very least, if you discuss it with them, develop their critical thinking skills and spend valuable time talking with them - then something worthwhile will have come from the experience.