Parenting: Kids and movies

David Murphy says movies equal cheap entertainment for parents and kids, and can be something especially shared and valued as kids get older.

David Murphy says movies equal cheap entertainment for parents and kids, and can be something especially shared and valued as kids get older.
September 28, 2011 6:28:25 AM PDT
Like a lot of American families, the Murphy's were raised on movies. The seeds for this were planted as far back as the 1940s when my parents and their friends had little else to do on a Saturday night in Leavenworth, Kansas, than truck out to the Hollywood Theater on Delaware Street for a look at the latest Clark Gable flick. There's a great old family story of my dad climbing on top of his car a few years later in Garden City to re-arrange the letters of The Wayward Bus on the movie marquis (I'll let you guess at his clever new title). In the 60s, when drive-ins were still common and my parents were stuck with me on a Saturday night in Drexel Hill, they used to haul me along to the movies in my pajamas, hoping I'd fall asleep in the back seat of the family sedan, which I almost never did. In this way, I got a great, early introduction to what is now classic film history, screening titles like the original True Grit with John Wayne. It was pretty exciting for a 9-year-old.

Later in life, I tried my hand at acting and even had the chance to hang around Hollywood movie sets a few times, waiting to deliver a handful of not-very-memorable lines to the likes of James Coburn and Harry Hamlin. That career came and went, but I never lost my interest and passion for a well-written, well-acted script. My wife and I even followed my parent's example, bringing my daughter in her pajamas to the old Bel Air Drive-In outside of Baltimore in an attempt to see films like Bull Durham (and having about as much success with her falling asleep as my parents had with me).

To this day, I still love the Oscars and I try my best to see all the nominated films every year prior to the awards ceremony, which is becoming quite the assignment now that they nominate ten pictures. Along the way, my kids have picked-up on this habit and as they've gotten older, we've been able to get into some nice conversations about great films, the not-so-great, and which are our favorites. I feel sorry for guys who date my daughter with only the Friday night slasher movies on their resumes; she forces them to watch the classics, from Casablanca and It's a Wonderful Life to more modern fare like Forrest Gump and all six Star Wars epics. The come away from the experience beaten and subdued.

Getting kids into movies at an early age is easy. Matinees are inexpensive and built for kids. I'd recommend sticking with films from companies like Disney, though, whose products are generally better reviewed. There's no sense in suffering through garbage for your kid's sake. As they get older, it's up to you to decide what parameters to follow. We try to use the MPAA rating system as much as possible, or we at least wait until a more adult-themed film is out on Pay-Per-View before we let the younger kids get a look at it (so that we can tell them to bury their head in the couch when something undesirable is coming-up). My older kids swear we're a lot less intense about this with our third child than we were with them, and they're probably right!

But in the months prior to their 13th birthdays, I built each of the kids up, telling them that not only were they becoming teenagers, they were going to be old enough to go to PG-13 movies with me! And away we've gone. My daughter is probably the most into this, which has worked out very well. An avid fan of film and history, she has no qualms with almost any subject matter, and has been interested in seeing films like The Pianist and Saving Private Ryan, which my wife has started avoiding as she's gotten older, having seen enough film violence for one life time. My daughter and sons also are more willing to check out the big productions like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings, which means I get to see those now, too.

The family also has a few favorite DVDs that we all watch, huddled together on the sectional sofa, which has become a nice chance for some mutual laughter and horsing around. What's Up Doc, Funny Farm and Young Frankenstein are included in this list. I'm pretty sure a family that laughs together is generally happier in each other's company, and movies provide plenty of opportunities for this. We also enjoy the big spectacles like King Kong or Titanic (although the 13-year-old is still ordered to hit the couch cushions on occasion for that last one).

Movies can offer some uncomfortable moments for families, given the wide range of subject matter involved, and each parent has to chart their own path for their kids. But in general, for a shared family night at home, or a parent-kid night out, movies offer a pretty attractive option. Just like they did for my parents.

---David Murphy

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