The Art of Watching Movies With Our Children

What if we treat movies as a simulation of what every child will face in the real world? A testing ground, as we stand by their side, to prepare them for when we will not be beside them.

I love fairytales. So it is not a surprise, now that I am a parent, I love watching movies for children.

Growing up, I had limited exposure to them except for a few cult classics like Jungle Book and The Lion King. But when I became a parent, my two daughters introduced me to a new world of entertainment for children.

Recently, we contracted Covid and confined ourselves to our home. We watched Encanto to distract ourselves. The distraction grew into an obsession. In that one week, we watched the film four times. It was hilarious, magical, moving, and endearing. Each time I watched, I learned something new.

Production houses like Disney, Warner Bros., Pixar, Dreamworks, and Illumination that churn out movies for children have evolved drastically in the last few years.

Their films have moved from traditional themes like family, honor, and sacrifice to personal expression, autonomy, identity, and satisfaction.

The Joy of Watching Movies With Children
Watching Over the Moon on Netflix opened the door for me to have a meaningful conversation with my daughters about death.

Good movies provide children with food for imagination and pique their curiosity to ask intelligent questions. They introduce us to new cultures and foods and open the minds of our children to a new world.

Good, clean, and fun movies can give parents a break as children watch them. As a family, we also enjoy singing and dancing to the soundtrack of these films. It brings us together.

However, despite everything good about these films, they are not perfect. Just as dark currents lurk beneath every beautiful ocean, so it is with movies for children.

Unhealthy Subliminal Messages in Movies for Children
Some movies for children glorify breaking the law and going against authority to get what your heart desires. Often, there is a rebellious streak in the protagonist.

Both Moana and Mulan disobey their father, undermining the credibility of their parents. Just like Adam and Eve take a bite of the forbidden fruit, these protagonists do what they are told not to do. These movies show children it is okay to bend the law to get what you want.

Just as dark currents lurk beneath every beautiful ocean, so it is with movies for children.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his 3-part series on Disney films, details how Disney’s fairy-tale storytelling is problematic. Listening to the podcast made me aware of the subliminal messaging in these stories.

Some movies blur the lines between good and evil. They encourage little thinkers to assume that there is no such thing as right or wrong. Even the lines of gender and sexuality are blurred in pursuit of “my rights.”

In Turning Red, Mei Mei says to her mother in a defiant tone, “My panda, my choice, Mom.” I could not help but feel this line echoes the slogan, “My body, my choice.”

It subtly reinforces the message our body belongs to us, not to the Lord who gave it to us and to whom it actually belongs.

The Supremacy of Desire in Movies for Children
Stories have the power to shape how children think before they learn how to think. As Christian parents, movies for children are telling them to give their desires ultimate value.

At the end of the credits in The Mitchells Vs. the Machines we realize the female character Katie Mitchell has a girlfriend in college.

The message is clear, “Don’t question your desires but explore them. If your heart desires something, give in to it.”

Movies for children subtly seed the narrative that we need to “follow the heart” to find ourselves and be all that we can be. But as the prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

It has often made me question movies, music, and other art forms that promote the idea of uncritically “following your heart.” Can our hearts be trusted when they are so fickle?

Children often do not have the knowledge and ability to completely discern between what is right and wrong. If we are honest, quite often, neither do we.

The heart of God revealed in Scripture is the only wisdom we can trust. We need to teach and model for our children that God’s creation design for our hearts and our bodies is absolute.

The Temptation to Idolise People in Movies for Children
For a child, movies can distort their sense of reality. In The Incredibles, there is a character Edna who designs costumes for superheroes.

While conversing with a former superhero, she says, “Supermodels. Ha! Nothing super about them. Spoiled, stupid, little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves. Feh! I used to design for gods!”

As we watch movies with our children, we must also invest in long, loving, patient, probing, wise, and discerning conversations with them.

Cartoon characters and make-believe heroes do, in fact, become like “gods” to little minds. They can teach them how to live, love, and find fulfillment. Without a biblical lens, it is easy to get trapped in the narrative of these movies.

Edna’s line got stuck in my daughter’s mind. It led us to talk about Jesus. By God’s grace, she saw these characters are fictional and recognized Christ as the only true “superhero.”

Christians face the tension of being in the world, but not of the world. As a parent, I do not have all the answers on how to resolve this tension.

But I can be aware of it and teach my child that the biggest enemy they will face is not some evil monster but anything that undermines their confidence that Jesus is the only Saviour they need.

The gospel always provides a true and better reality.

The Opportunity to Disciple Our Children
Parents can swing to two extremes about movies for children. We might ban our children from watching them or give them a license to watch anything without oversight.

Either we never talk about movies with our children or join them in idolizing their heroes. We might embrace the good in movies and overlook the bad or only see the ugliness and ignore any beauty.

The gospel, though, is a true, third way.

It frees us, disciples us, and empowers us to see truth, beauty, and goodness even in the midst of darkness.

God’s word helps us see God’s common grace in all of creation, however, broken it may be. It disciples us to trust, believe, and rely on the power of redemption in every hopeless situation.

Our children need to know and experience that they are not the heroes of their stories. The only true hero is Christ.

As we watch movies with our children, we must also invest in long, loving, patient, probing, wise, and discerning conversations with them.

What if we treat movies as a simulation of what every child will one day face in the real world? A testing ground, as we stand by their side, to prepare them for when we will not be beside them.

Of course, this should only supplement our daily and consistent conversations about God’s Word—to shape their dependence on the gospel and teach them to discern what is godly.

Parental training starts early by engaging our children with the word of God and disciplining them to see the world through their eyes (Prov. 22:6).

Our children need to know and experience that they are not the heroes of their stories. The only true hero is Christ. He is the only way to eternal goodness.

When I see everything my children find inspiring in these animated characters, I hope they can see that Christ is better by far.

Jesus is the true Saviour who offered himself to rescue people who were his enemies. In dying on the cross, he gave us wrongdoers a chance to cross over to the true and real “good side.”

Christ is reliable, caring, gentle, and compassionate. He is the perfect hard worker, the one who never gave up. Jesus alone solved the world’s biggest problem of sin and ties us together in him to be a united family of believers.

May our children find their healing, growth, and new birth in Christ alone.

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