Asking the Right Questions: 6 Ways to Determine if a Movie Is Appropriate For Your Older Child
By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher
*Editor’s Note: This article is part of our parenting series. For similar stories, click here.
Viewing Summary (ages 7 – 11):
Stories with many characters who solve their problems together
Strong characters with real life dilemmas and solutions
Information that helps them bring clarity to the world and non-fiction
Stories that ask important questions about life with positive resolutions
Storylines that involve the audience, such as mysteries and game shows
Plots and settings that challenge their sense of real and imaginary
Nature HOMEWARD BOUND, DOLPHIN REEF, BLACK BEAUTY
Biography I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, THE YOUNG MESSIAH, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM
Detective THE CASE FOR CHRIST, HUGO, JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS
Drama SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, LITTLE WOMEN, SOUL SURFER
Historical GETTYSBURG, SERGEANT YORK, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, SQUANTO: A WARRIOR’S TALE
Media Awareness: Can you hear?
While watching a scary section of a program, point out the sound that accompanies the scene. Then play the scene again alternating the scary music with recorded happy music instead.
Discuss the differences.
Count the number of times music changes in a video.
Eye (and ear) witness news
News stories and information are presented differently by newspapers, television and radio stations. To learn the ways information is presented and what we learn from the media, compare the different methods.
Choose a current news story. It can be local, national and/or international, but should be something that interests your child and you. Read the story in the newspaper, watch the evening news and listen to the radio together.
How are the stories different?
How are they similar?
Is more or less time devoted to the story in each media method?
Compare the different styles of learning information. Compare the journalist, the anchor and the radio newscaster.
Who is easier to understand?
Who do you remember better?
What method do you prefer – listening, reading or watching a story?
Do you remember the broadcast news stories better than newspaper stories?
Discussion: Prime-time worldview
Since older children make more decisions, be prepared to discuss the values and worldviews of what is presented as acceptable behavior on mass media of entertainment productions. Movies and programs claim to have no particular agenda, but the characters must have personality and three-dimensionality to be a dynamic element of a sitcom, drama or made-for-streaming-movie.
As you view a favorite evening family show, watch what compels characters to make certain decisions. Do they want to help those around them or help themselves? Are they careful about what they say to another character or do they enjoy ridiculing others?
These two differences reveal two very different worldviews. Characters who are selfish and enjoy humiliating others are based on humanist principles. Characters who are selfless, watch what they say about others and seek to help people regardless of circumstances are based on Christian, biblical principles.
What’s in & what’s out
Older children enjoy being given the ability to make their own decisions almost as much as they do not like being told to do what they do not choose to do. Now is a wonderful age to discuss the family standards and allow your children to show you what they have learned as well as participate in making decisions that affect the whole family.
Use the family guide to devise acceptable standards and actively evaluate programs for family viewing. This can become a regular practice for programs, movies or videos shown in your house.
Invite a group of your child’s friends over and let everyone participate. Then, when your child goes to a friend’s house for an evening, they can take their family standards with them and show other parents.
At the concrete stage of development, your child will be able to internalize principles that you establish through repeated practice and participation. As your child develops into adolescence and adulthood, they will take these principles with them as a habit and then use discernment to choose the good.
Listening: The telephone
The game of telephone or gossip promotes good listening when you are with a group of children. Whispering a word, phrase or sentence to one child’s ear, then allowing the “secret to go around the circle,” can produce some varied and strange final products. Encourage children to pronounce words or phrases carefully.
To strengthen vocabularies, talk about words they hear in mass media of entertainment productions – big, little, funny, and interesting-sounding words. Good listening is a skill that requires continual practice and reinforcement for children to become active watchers and critical viewers.
This skill will enhance the child’s cognitive ability to focus and to learn.
Advertisers use music and repetition to create a memorable commercial. These jingles are attractive to children because they have musical rhythm and lyrical repetition.
Children, particularly, pick up on the sing-song quality and in effect memorize the product name. As your family watches entertainment, ask your children to listen for a repetitive chorus and melody during the commercials.
What kinds of products have catchy tunes?
How are the products being used?
What are the words to the songs?
In addition, ask your children to remember other commercial jingles they have heard.
What do they remember about the commercial?
About the product itself?
Are there products in your home that have commercials with a memorable jingle?
Plot: Say when
Before watching entertainment together, use a stop watch or a smart phone clock so your older children can write down the time if something occurs in the story they found interesting. Everyone should find at least one scene in the movie or program they thought was good or bad or scary, etc.
After the movie or program is over, the family will be able to review the plot and check the family’s understanding of the story by reviewing their point of interest. Everyone presents their point of view and why they choose this scene. This gives them a chance to share their opinions with the family, then other family members can add their impressions of what happened and how the scene was different. Various opinions are good for discussion.
It isn’t recommended that you stop the movie or program too often in the middle of the story, because this distracts some children from thinking about the storyline.
Together, the family can outline a sequel to a recently viewed movie or program. Have your children pretend they are the director and/or producers who must choose one section of the movie or program to recast in a different manner and style.
Be certain to include some elements of the original plot (conflict, resolution and theme), characters, and setting (history, season and place). They can change one of these elements which might change the outcome of the story as well. Encourage new characters and places which might take more investigation and a trip to the library.
This is a very motivating way to read books and to see the immediate results of your work.
Older children can still enjoy acting out creative scenes and having everyone guess who they are.
Start by making a list of different topics and ask children to list as many specifics as they can, such as characters, settings and situations. Then, have each child write the detail on separate pieces of paper which are wadded into little balls. Place all the pieces in a hat and have the actors/actresses choose one to act out.
Where am I?
Imagine Spider-Man in Gotham City.
Would he be considered a criminal or a friend of Batman?
Where would he eat or spend the night?
It’s fun to imagine how well-known characters from different programs might interact in a different setting.
Have your children imagine a favorite character from one program making a guest appearance on another favorite show. Or, they can invent a new story where famous characters meet in different locations, such as in a science fiction story or a western.
Can they predict what would happen?
What problems could these characters solve together?
Superheroes and cartoon characters lend themselves easily to this type of character sketch, and you can use characters your children relate to, such as a child their age in Gotham City.
Costumes can tell a great deal about a character’s age and position in history. In a dramatic production, costumes help set the tone of the story and tell the audience elements of the character that aren’t directly spoken in dialogue.
With your children, decide on a particular character and look for things around the house and design a costume. You can use fabrics, sequins, craft supplies, and pictures to build your costume. Try to develop a speech style and physical characteristics for your character.
What else does the costume tell about a person?
Advertising: Maxim -um
Advertising slogans make strong impressions on our minds as we passively watch programs. The color combinations, rhyming words and powerful images attach elements of emotion to a product. Slogans like “Just Do It” and “No Pain, No Gain” can become significant parts of our everyday adult speech, even become clichés with a proverb like quality.
Have the family think of as many slogans as they can. You can use magazines, radio broadcasts and viewing time to add to the list.
What slogans do you like the best? Why?
What do they make you think of?
Is the phrase accurate for the product?
What other product could use the slogan successfully?
How does the slogan make you feel?
Who is telling you the slogan?
A sports hero?
Someone like you?
Ask older children, even teenagers, to design a program for a movie or entertainment program they have seen. Their advertisement should include the title, the characters, elements of the story, and some images or drawings that illustrate the advertisement’s theme. In this way, your children can discover what the theme of the story is and express it in written form.
Does the story teach a lesson?
What is the lesson?
Is the lesson true to life?
Does this lesson apply to you?
Are there any parts of the story that don’t make sense?
Whose line is it?
Suggest that your child’s entry be “written” by one of the characters in a favorite video or program. He will need to think about the character’s “voice.” The child can use phrases or vocabulary to make the entry sound like the voice of the character. This can be especially fun with movie characters from other countries, such as England, Europe, India, Africa, and Asia.
How can the story’s setting help you know the character’s voice?
What words did the character use that you remember clearly?
What did the character discuss?
What interested the character?
Tell your children not to write the name of the character with their journal entry, then try to figure out about whom they are writing.
Write your response addressed to the character they are playing.
List all the movies or programs that children can remember that include a similar central theme, such as grandmothers, animals or people from other countries. See what comparisons can be made about the movies.
Try to recall videos and movies that have the following plot elements:
The character has a huge task to accomplish
A hero learns great things from an older person
A protagonist wishes for a more exciting life
A character must find particular objects to solve a mystery
One of the characters defeats some sort of monster
The entertainment industry doesn’t try to monitor the moral content of their productions the way Christian parents do. Since the mass media presents conflicting values, parents can use this platform to teach their children what is good and to refute the bad.
Ask your child to recall values that are respected in their home, church, school, and community. Such a list might include:
Write about the characters you have seen in movies and other entertainment who display these qualities.
Can a character’s values get in the way of a character’s wants and desires?
How did the character’s value system determine their actions?
What values do you personally honor?
Do you ever have a conflict between what you believe and what you want?
What do you do? Give an example.
Ouch! that hurts
Violence takes many forms in a program and movie, including realistic and unrealistic, justified and unjustified, and even humorous, thrilling and evil. Help children identify the elements they’ve seen and discuss why the violence was present.
In order to sensitize your children to acts of violence, have them describe how they might feel as the victim.
If they saw a person who was hurt, what would they do?
Would they stop to help the person as the good Samaritan did on his way to Galilee?
Why is violence funny in cartoons, but not in real life?
That didn’t hurt much
Special effects and video technology are becoming incredibly hard to discriminate from real action, particularly in movies. Computer generated images, demolition teams and stunt men are mainstays on Hollywood sets.
To help your children learn to identify these effects and enhancements, have them list the sound effects, props, special effects, and makeup used to create the feeling of violence and pain.
Is violence always a necessary part of the story?
How does the audience react to violence?
How do you feel when you see these images?
How would you feel if you experienced these acts?
Publish Your Review
Movies and other entertainment programs can use nature and natural disasters to give the audience a mood or particular feeling. Older children can learn about the weather and elements from the setting in stories and in documentaries.
When a movie focuses on a characters struggle with nature, use the weather section of the newspaper to follow weather patterns and changes in the movies location.
Your child will be able to learn about the world from the interest point of the mass media of entertainment.
If the media can strike a chord of interest in a child, then we can use that interest to teach them.
Wild life explorer
After your child views a movie or program with a lion or a monkey, rent a video on the animal, visit a museum or wildlife refuge. This is a great time to introduce them to the facts about wild animals, such as their habitat, what they eat, how they mature.
Instead of simply knowing how to recognize this animal, older children can write about the lifestyle and dangers this creature faces.
Who done it?
A mystery story is a great way to motivate your child’s thinking skills. Create an information gap with your child to spice up the review writing activity.
Tell your child to rewrite their favorite review of a program or movie again, but this time change the characters’ names or the title or the setting (the plot should remain the same). When parents read the review, they have to figure out “Who Done It?” “What is it? Or “Where is it?”
Rewrites can be entertaining for children, and this practice will help children remember good stories well, as well as be fun for parents.
Letters: What’s your anchor’s answer?
Older children are more interested in their surrounding environment, and they are better prepared to formulate critiques and personal opinions. After critiquing several news programs for their news-worthy content and style, your child and you can select a favorite anchor. Then, your child can write his or her opinions in a letter to their pick.
The letter should include your compliments and genuine examples of what you feel are good qualities in a news program, as well as suggestions for improvements.
Parents can follow up the letter with a phone call asking for a response from the anchor or station manager.
Video Production: Memory maker
Make a memory album for an anniversary or birthday. Begin at least two months in advance by secretly asking friends of the honored person to write a short note expressing some trait they appreciate or some experiences together. Dress up the setting anyway you can imagine with things the special one likes. Use photographs of the recipient to illustrate a brief history including captions and dates. Find out what kind of music they like and play it in the background, while you read a special message.
A day in the life
Take a movie or pictures of the family waking up in the morning, brushing their teeth, making their bed, eating breakfast, working in the yard, and playing with friends. Follow a member of the family (with their permission) through their day on video and/or pictures. Then, you can complete your documentary with commentary from the character with narration dubbed in during or after the filming.
At a later date, follow another member of your family through his day. Perhaps, interchange scenes with family members.
This activity is easy enough to create and master, while your children learn how to use a camera and develop a sense of dialogue and scripts.
It is even more fun to view with the family together.
Our news network
Seventh and eighth graders can produce a cable television news show. This will make them wiser consumers and viewers. Children at this age are learning to be critical and not accept everything they see on television as a fact.
Because they’re asking questions about their own work first, they’re better prepared to ask these same questions of the news media in authority.
Many parents don’t realize that it’s not just the content of the news to which we react, it’s also the way the content’s presented.
This sample schedule is only one way to successfully guide students through complex news-gathering and production process, and it may not work for all grade levels or classes.
00:00-00:30 Show opens with music and opening credits
00:30-00:50 Overview of show topics
00:50-01:00 News Segment
01:00-06:00 National, Local, International
06:00-06:10 Living Segment
06:10-10:00 Sports, Science, Health and Nutrition
10:00-10:10 Critical Review Segment
10:10-14:00 Movies, Books, Television Programs, and Personal Interest News Programs (Who’s Telling Me What?)
14:00-15:00 Show close and closing credits
What better way to teach children about choices than to put in their hands the power to create the kind of program they and their peers should be watching.
Story selection is one of the most important aspects of the whole project. It’s a wonderful time to show students how to choose stories that will appeal to their intended audience, both in terms of timeliness and subject matter.
Developing stories also calls for good research and interviewing skills as well as writing and editing skills. Students have to write and read the script, so children should use proper grammar and vocabulary aimed at an appropriate level for their audience. Because of the program’s time limits, concise writing that focuses on the story’s most important aspects is essential.
Understanding “slant” is just one of the many media-literacy skills students acquire while creating their news program.
New technical skills and team work, two important aspects of news production, are now emphasized. There are tasks to learn, such as operating a video camera and adjusting sound levels. The anchors learn presentation skills, such as articulating words clearly and speaking at the right speed and knowing when to face the camera or to look at a fellow anchor. Producing a news program calls all kinds of skills into play, including carpentry to build sets; hair styling and make-up; and, graphic-design skills. All these skills and more are needed at one time or another for a successful broadcast.
Special Technologies: Sounds of music
Discuss the role that sound and music plays in a mass media of entertainment production.
How does it affect the way people respond to the movie or program?
Watch a movie or other entertainment for a minute with the sound turned off, then turn up the sound and turn off the.
How are these experiences the same?
How are these experiences different?
You could play audio tape stories and have the children describe the characters in the story.
Does sound ever prepare the viewer for what will happen?
In a dramatic video, often music is used as a warning to prepare the audience for something that’s about to happen.
Rip Van Winkle
Visuals can not only distort the picture in the entertainment, but can also distort the time an image takes to make.
Before computer animation, cartoons and animated movies took years to complete because the artists drew each frame of the film. The animators may have worked on a segment for six months, while the segment might only run for one or two minutes.
Now, your older children can use time lapse to their advantage.
By adapting Washington Irving’s tale, “Rip Van Winkle,” your children can make a short video which will teach them about time and the media. You need one character or more and several props from different time periods.
This may take some study to get the setting accurate. Start videotaping the character(s) sleeping, then stop the tape, change the scenery and props (but not the location), and wrinkle the character’s clothing. Continue to do this three or more times, until your character has aged greatly.
Then, play the tape for family and friends and watch their surprise.