What movies are okay for kids to watch?

Newie asks: What movies are okay for kids to watch?

Dogs don’t have great eyesight, but we do have fantastic senses of smell.  So the idea of looking at a movie screen or a television set, that has no smell to it, is BORING to me!  Way more fun to sit on the front step listening and sniffing out the world around me.

But I understand people like these things.   And I see how people react to the movies and TV they see.  So I do have some opinions on this.

First of all, it depends on the person.  I know grownups who can’t handle watching some stuff that ten-year-olds just love.  And everyone has movies they just hate.  So I can’t really recommend any particular movies to anyone (the only movies I ever liked had lots of animal sounds in them.  “The African Queen,” “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,” those are pretty cool).

But there are things that are just wrong.  Childhood is scary already, without anyone making it scarier, right?  So no “Friday the 13th” movies in front of five-year-olds, okay?  No “Saw” or Scorcese, no “Terminator” or Tarantino, till they’re ready.  I’m not advocating censorship here, just common sense.  And when it comes to sexy stuff, also, just think about it:  an eight-year-old doesn’t need to see “The Hangover” or “Knocked Up.”  (And if they do, then don’t come crying to my doghouse about the language they’re using or their attitudes about sex).

On the other hand, movies can help start conversations about things.  Maybe it’s not a crazy idea to show your fourteen-year-old a fun movie about someone getting pregnant, to help them deal with questions about what exactly they want to be doing in high school.  Just make sure you’re seeing the movie with them, or know it well enough, so that it can be used to get a talk going.

The tougher issue is so-called Children’s Movies.  Years ago an international symposium of psychologists came to the conclusion that the three scariest movies of all time were “Snow White,” “Bambi,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  Have you ever watched a kid’s face during “The Lion King,” especially when Scar kills Simba’s father?  It ain’t pretty!

Now I know kids love kids’ movies.  And they get a lot from them.  I just want to emphasize that these movies – especially the best of them – have a lot of power.  “Pinocchio” has terrifying images of whales and birdcages that will last in your kids’ minds for their whole life. “Toy Story” is really cute and silly, until that mean kid next door shows up and gives every young viewer nightmares. “The Sound of Music” is fun and delightful, but it’s also about the Nazis taking over Europe.  And that masterpiece of masterpieces, “Lady and the Tramp,” is all about cute puppies eating spaghetti – oh except for the part about getting locked up in the pound, or the part about the bloodhound getting run over, or the part about the rat trying to murder the baby in the crib…!

So again, here’s my advice:  These movies are not babysitters.  They are powerful, sometimes brilliant, entertainment, that should be treated as carefully as you treat medicine.  They need to be given to kids at the right time, in the right dosage, and with supervision.  Talk about them, use them as a part of your parenting, to help teach your children about the world out there.

And best of all, use them to help kids learn that movies and tv are not reality.  The sooner they learn that, the better the chance for them to become sophisticated interpreters of the media that is more and more a part of you crazy humans’ lives.

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