Picking the Best Movies for Your Kids

Picking the Best Movies for Your Kids - Parenting Like Hannah
Photo by Kathleen Dagastino

My family is always amazed at some of the movies our daughter’s friends have been allowed to watch. From pre-school on, some of these children have been regularly exposed to movies rated “PG”, “PG-13” and even some “R” rated movies. The parents are either unconcerned or exposed the child to the movie themselves.

The conversations I have with some of these parents intrigue me. The parent begins talking about a disturbing movie they just watched with their young child in the room. The conversation switches topics and usually within ten minutes, the same parent is expressing concern and wonderment about their child, who is “suddenly” having a lot of nightmares or acting out in other ways.

I know many of these same parents believe our family is over-reacting to movies with mature themes or more adult ratings. We are viewed by many as naive or over-protective. So, out of fairness, I reviewed the academic research on children and how their behaviors are affected by what they view. I expected to find mixed study results, as often happens when various studies focus on a particular topic.

I must admit, even I was shocked. The data is overwhelming conclusive. A study out of Johns Hopkins reviewed all of the studies (conducted in a ten year span) about children, their viewing habits and the connection (if any) to subsequent behavior.  The study analyzed research about movies, television, video games, popular music and advertising.

What they found should stop you in your tracks. The more exposure a child had to negative material in ANY of the above categories produced the same negative behaviors. The more exposure the child had, the greater the risk of negative behaviors. The more “sophisticated” the material was (i.e. violent, sexual, etc.) also resulted in a greater risk of subsequent negative behaviors.

I know many of you are rolling your eyes and saying “My child isn’t any more violent than I was at his/her age. We watch ______ movies and tv shows all of the time and I haven’t noticed any problems.” Here is what you need to understand and what surprised me: The negative behaviors included increased violent and aggressive behaviors, but many additional negative behaviors as well. These included: increased chance of tobacco and alcohol use (all illegal for children) and earlier onset of sexual activity. The researchers concluded that as children are exposed over time to the increasingly sophisticated media available to them and for more hours, the results of future studies will become increasingly negative. The study did not make note of any difference in subsequent behaviors for children who “had been taught” the behavior was wrong and those who had not received such instruction.

It is so incredibly important for you to limit your child’s exposure to “sophisticated” movies, television and music. My husband and I have noticed a distinct loosening of movie standards since we were teens. Movies that were rated “R” are now “PG” or “PG-13”.We have even found some “G” rated movies full of ugly “humor” that really doesn’t reflect my daughter’s favorite Bible verse “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Need help deciding whether or not to expose your child to something? Check out the website PluggedIn or download their App. This site has been our “go-to site” for years. Not only does it explain the plot, but it tells you specifically what may concern you about the movie – including themes and plot-points. We may not always agree something is a concern for our family, but they are by far the most accurate sight we have found. PluggedIn reviews not only movies, but tv, videos, music and games as well.

Protect your children from unnecessary negative influences. Make informed decisions about what your children see, listen to and play. Involve older children in family discussions about what is and is not appropriate for Christians to participate in – for their own good and to influence others. Make it a point to protect your children from having unnecessary worldly things placed in their brains at such impressionable ages – especially since the underlying themes are often anti-Biblical as well.

P.S. Don’t assume just because a movie is labeled “Christian” it is appropriate. We were recently exposed to a “Christian” movie coming out next Spring. It was even touted by a Christian group. After a little research, we found the director/writer was not portraying the project in Christian circles the way he was in secular media. In fact, in secular media, he admitted large parts of the movie were positioning the story in such a way that it did not reflect the event or the purpose of the event anywhere close to the original Bible account. He is currently under pressure by the studio to make edits after negative early viewing reactions.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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