Obvious attempts at parenting annoy me.
I think it annoys kids too, because they always choose a public showcase for their transgressions, almost as if to say, “Go ahead and just try to manipulate me like your schedule.”
So when the ecumenical Beliefnet’s Nell Minow recently released a list of the top ten movies for teaching family values, my reaction was a shrug and a “feh.” Even Minow admits that children learn values mostly by observing their parents. But there is something about lists like these that organizations find irresistible. Look for the Top Ten Movies that Corrupt the Lessons Learned in the Top Ten Movies that Teach Values. We just love parenting whittled down to a tidy little list.
But these are huge concepts: responsibility, loyalty, integrity, courage, courtesy, tolerance, the value of education, fairness, peace and helping others. It takes more than an afternoon of movie viewing to teach responsibility when your gold fish is swimming in three inches of sludge and the air filter on your heating system is older than that bottle of Worcestershire sauce in your fridge.
So, thanks Nell Minow, but I’ll pass, in spite of the satisfaction and relief from guilt I would get from putting a check mark next to the word “integrity” (“Did Little Finster watch all of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Didn’t he nod off just after Veruca Salt fell into the bad egg chute? He never did see Charlie return the Everlasting Gobstopper. Does it still count as a lesson?“).
I don’t want to dismiss movies as a teaching tool, though. I think there are some very down-to-earth lessons to be learned from them – tangible, useful lessons.
For instance, every young girl should be forced to watch Peter Pan, the earlier the better. She needs to know what she will be up against for the rest of her life when dealing with men. Because it’s true: they never grow up and they run with a pack of Lost Boys just waiting to spill beer on the sofa in the Wendy House. And then, of course, there is that memorable line at the end: you know – when Wendy admits to being “so ever much more than 20″ and Peter deems her too old and opts for her daughter Jane instead. Remember the line Jane says as she goes flying out the window? “He wants me to always do his spring cleaning!” she cries wistfully.
So there ya go: You just found Neverland.
From a practical standpoint, I’d recommend Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. It’s probably going to strike most kids as rather boring in that it’s in black and white and usually falls under the classification of a “romantic comedy.” But, if viewed an ample amount of times before the age of 30, your child will know that, instead of attempting to build himself a dream home, to simply beat himself over the head with a board until he is declared brain dead and sent to an institution for a long rest.
Then there is Inherit the Wind. I only throw this in my mix because it stands about as much chance holding a kid’s attention as Minow’s choice of A Man for All Seasons.
My favorite movies, though, are ones I can have them watch that benefit me also. They may not be the standard “family movie” fare, but – hey – aren’t I part of the family?
Want to enjoy your vacation and rest on the beach without having to worry about your kid drowning? Jaws.
Got a kid who just doesn’t appreciate all you do for him or her? Mommie Dearest.
Got a little tyke who won’t stay in his bed at night? Poltergeist. You don’t even have to watch the whole movie. Just fast forward to the spot where the kid checks under the bed and the evil clown doll grabs him and drags him under. You won’t have to worry about little Britney toddling into your room and spoiling Mommy/Daddy time until she’s 25 and firmly entrenched in therapy three times a week.
Sometimes, though, the lesson may need a little help, as I learned from my mother, who needed to teach me not to fidget while she combed my hair. She chose as a teaching tool Alfred Hitchcock‘s classic The Birds. At that pivotal moment during the birthday party scene when several ravens attack Veronica Cartwright and Tippi Hedren tackles her and pries them off, my mother whispered in my ear: “See, Jeanne. That little girl wouldn’t let her mother comb her hair either and now the birds want to build a nest in it.”
For a month she had to pry me out of the house. Which is a lesson in and of itself: be careful your lessons don’t backfire.