Parenting Teens on Good vs Bad moviesIt’s an undeniable fact. Some movies are good. Others are, well, bad.

I’m not talking about cinematography, plot, acting or directing. I’m a pretty cheerful critic when it comes to those elements. What I’m talking about is the movie’s merit. Is it a movie worth watching? Does it have enough redeeming qualities to give your teen permission to hit play?

I’d like to suggest that you can’t simply look at a movie’s rating to answer this question. There are PG movies that will unravel a year’s worth of parenting in 90 minutes. And if we put the Bible on a screen, it would surely be rated R.

Ratings are helpful; no doubt. But just because the movie industry says a particular movie is appropriate for your teen, you might not want to take their word for it. Let me share with you a criteria that we’ve used to help our teens and tweens decide whether a movie is good or bad:

Who Do You Cheer for?

If the movie is good, it will make you love what is good and right and true and lovely. You’ll want the characters to do the right thing, and you’ll cheer for them when they do. You’ll also hate the bad guys—the ones who are lying, cheating, and stealing. You’ll be disgusted with their selfishness, lack of integrity, and mean spiritedness.

If the movie is bad, it will have just the opposite effect. You’ll want the bad guys to win. Yes, you’ll see that they have been selfishly looking out for their own interests only. You’ll watch them lying and stealing and bending the rules, but you’ll want them to get away with it. And those characters who stand for what is right? You’ll inwardly groan at their self-righteousness ideals and wish they would just step aside so the bad guy can get ahead.

Coaching Teenage Movie Watchers

As parents, we spend a lot of time teaching our kids what is right. We try to instill character and help them learn to make good choices. But then sometimes we let them watch movies that tug their hearts in the opposite direction, which doesn’t make sense.

Now, DVD burnings and heavy-handed banning probably won’t send the right messages to our kids, either. They’ll start assuming that we’re the bad guys, and either rebel outright or take their movie-watching underground. So what’s a parent to do?

I suggest we get our kids involved. Instead of slapping “good” and “bad” labels on every newly released movie, why not invite our kids into the decision making process? The ultimate goal in parenting is to work ourselves out of a job. So as parents, it makes sense to coach our kids on the art of selecting good movies and passing over the bad.

So the next time your teen asks to go to a movie with his friends or rent a movie at home, here are some decision-making prompts to get the conversation going:

  • In this movie, which side wins—good or evil?
  • Does this movie suggest that we celebrate what is good and right and honorable? Or does it invite us to celebrate what is bad and wrong and dishonorable?
  • Does the storyline make you hope that the characters will do what is right or what is wrong? For instance:

o   As you watch this movie, do you find yourself wanting someone to get away with something wrong? Or do you want the bad guy to get caught?
o   Do you root for the protagonist to be more kind, loyal, and respectful to friends and family members as the story unfolds? Or do you enjoy it when she is disrespectful and tears others down?
o   Does the story cause you to want the stronger characters to protect the weak? Or do you find yourself wishing the strong characters could be rid of or free of the responsibility of the weak?

  • Does the movie tell the truth about inevitable consequences for bad behavior, such as casual sex, drug and alcohol abuse, or bullying?
  • Does the movie portray the idea that human life is precious and death is horrible? Or does it portray the opposite—that some lives are disposable, and death is insignificant?
  • Does this movie make you cheer for something that—in real life—you would say is right and good? Or does the movie make you cheer for the very things you would say are wrong?

Movies make us cheer for something. They cause us to lean forward on the edge of our seats and hope for a particular ending. They cause us to celebrate either good or evil. Parents, let’s coach our kids on how to choose between movies that are good and bad. What we watch and enjoy affects who we become. Next time your tween or teen asks to watch a movie, take the time to consider: What does this movie make me cheer for? And do I agree with that?