"Children watch too much television" is a commonly heard cry.
There is so much bad content on television and in movies that it would be easy to assume that shielding our children from television and movies would be the action of a responsible parent.
We need to regulate both the time spent watching television, and the content of the programs and movies that both children and adults watch, but there is also a need to recognize the good things that watching movies can bring to our children's lives and emotional development.
As children (and adults) read stories, there is a dialogue which takes place that enables a child to explore issues and beliefs in a "safe" place — a place that is outside of their concrete experiences.
For example, as a child reads the Lord of the Rings he is able to explore the importance of commitment and seeing a task through to the end. As you read Harry Potter with your children, you are able to help them explore how it feels when someone dies. Most people would recognize this kind of dialogue and exploration as important for a child's development. When I read my children a bedtime story the questions I ask about the story are almost as important as the story itself.
So why is it different for movies? After all movies are just dramatized stories.
When we watch movies with our children various discussions can be developed because of a storyline, or a character's actions. Movies can become informal and unplanned teaching moments. Making every movie a teaching moment, however, might make your children less likely to watch movies with you. It is more about responding to their questions and comments.
There are many movies that model good characteristics for children to develop. Although slightly wearing at times, when children describe a situation as being like one in a movie, rather than groaning we should welcome that as a way to explore the situation in the safe place of fiction or someone else's life.
There is not a prescriptive list of movies that can teach children things. Every child is different, and different movies will have polar opposite effects on different children — what is important is that parents are there to help the children navigate what they are learning from movies.
It may not be the greatest task in the world, but it may mean that parents have to sit through the movies that their children watch just as I read the books my children read. It serves the dual purpose of knowing the content, but also being able to hold intelligent conversation with our children about things they have seen.