On more than one occasion our Holy Father has urged parents to “waste time with your children.” I think we need his wise guidance. Some of us may be sacrificing family time because we worry or assume that if our kids aren’t busy with extra-curricular activities or our own calendars aren’t filled every hour of the day, we’ll all be left behind. We need to give ourselves permission to leave whole days open for “doin’ nothin’” with our kids.
In the Cameron-Smith home, one of our favorite ways to waste time together is with a family movie night! I talked about this recently on Greg & Lisa Popcak’s radio program More2Life. Their show was about ways to connect meaningfully with our children and movie night was my 2 cents. Nothing signals my brain that it’s time to relax than when my 8-year-old grabs the popcorn maker and the other kids start dragging out their pillows and blankets so they can get cozy in front of the television. Aside from movie night being just good ol’ fun, here are three practical benefits:
1. Fosters communication between kids and parents
Laughing and joking around together during and after a movie builds rapport and a sense of solidarity. Movies also provide opportunities to communicate with our kids about morality and the consequences of our choices. Every story, including the story in a movie, has a basic conflict that the main character must face or resolve. After the movie, ask your kids what they think the main problem was in the story. How did the protagonist try to solve their problem? Was she/he successful? Ask your child how she might have done things differently. We ask these questions in a non-judgmental, casual way so that everyone feels comfortable joining in the conversation.
2. Provides an opportunity for us to train our children in compassion and empathy
Human beings are born with a capacity for empathy, but it’s only a capacity: children need particular experiences in childhood in order for that capacity to unfold. One of these experiences is gentle mentoring from parents about what other people are thinking and feeling. Movies provide an easy, fun way to do this mentoring. When a person in the movie is frightened, sad, or angry we can talk to our kids about that character’s perspective and experience. We can ask questions like, “What do you think John was feeling when he couldn’t find his dog?”, “I wonder if Jane was sad or frustrated when her friend called her a name?” This gives kids an opportunity to exercise their empathy muscles in a non-threatening way.
3. Requires us to define our family values (if we want to use media intentionally)
Did you know that the Church has actually affirmed that movies are “a gift from God springing from human intelligence and industry” (Miranda Prorsus)? Like any gift, movie making is a talent that can be used for good or for destruction. Some movies are clearly inappropriate for family viewing, but beyond the clear stinkers, we have to practice prudence to discern which movies are right for our particular family.
If we can define clearly what our family values are – even write them out formally in a mission statement – we will be way ahead of the game when trying to pick out good movies. When you know “what you are about” it helps guide discussions about which movies to watch. Are the movies we want to watch strengthening or weakening our shared values? Every movie has a “bad guy” or some struggle: what is the underlying message in the movie about the dignity of human beings, how we should treat one another in conflict, how we respond to those who are weaker than ourselves? After you watch a particular movie, talk with your kids about which Christian virtues were present or lacking in particular characters and their choices.
Don’t feel limited to watching only Christian movies. Some movies we might have dismissed on the surface have proven to be very meaningful and surprisingly edifying for my family. For us, old classic movies often have timeless stories about the struggle between good and evil, the little guy struggling to rise above bad circumstances, or an outsider proving his value to his new community. Ty Burr’s book Best Old Movies for Families is absolutely essential for every movie-loving family.
Because we have a wide age-range of kids in our home, we try to pick things that appeal to everyone, which is a challenge. In addition to classic movies, we’ve enjoyed all the Wallace and Grommit movies by Nick Park, Benji, and the original Herbie the Love Bug movies. If you’re looking for good movie suggestions, check out www.decentfilms.com – it’s hosted by a Catholic film critic.
Let us know some of your favorite family-friendly films!
If you’d like to listen to my segment with Dr. Greg and Lisa, here is the audio file for “Family Connections Jan 30, 2015”. My bit is about 25 minutes into the show, but the whole show was great!