Family movie night is a joyful time for families to gather and have fun together while sharing some peace and quiet. Hopefully, a good time can be had by all, and mom doesn't have to intervene to calm down sibling rivalry.
Different ages, interests, and moods all conspire against a quick solution to this problem. Add in the fact that some of mom and dad's beloved older movies might not have aged well, and this becomes a conundrum that can take the whole night to solve.
Then there are the times when children come home and ask to watch movies that you may never have heard of. Your children require that you put your trust in so-and-so, because they thought it was a great movie. Inevitably you find yourself thinking that so-and-so's taste in movies borders on the ridiculous or obscene.
So, where does a parent turn to find ideas for family night that balance age appropriateness, fun factor and messaging?
Enter Google! Googling "top family movies" is an obvious start. Google is excellent at making suggestions. For the record, so is Alexa and Cortana and Siri! They can quickly churn out list upon list of 'good family movies.' They can even lead you to websites that feature new and old movies streaming on different movie platforms like NetFlix and Hulu. But don't let those ladies decide for your family. They lack a certain discernment.
In our family, we find ourselves always returning to two websites to guide us. These websites have not only helped us make good choices but have also given us insight on how to talk to our children about potentially tricky movie content.
1. Common Sense Media
Their movie reviews use headers such as positive role models, violence and scariness, adult themes, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, and smoking. Besides a summary of the story, it highlights points of interest ("what parents need to know") and my personal favorite feature, suggestions for discussion points for an after-movie debriefing.
This Focus on the Family website also does a great job in reviewing movies. It describesitself as an "entertainment guide full of the reviews you need to make wise personal and family-friendly decisions about movies, videos, music, TV, games, and books."
Like Common Sense Media, it provides a summary of the movie and highlights any adult themes or content, violent scenes, crude and profane language, drugs and alcohol use, and other negative comments.
What I like most about Plugged-In is that it also proves interesting insights around spiritual content - how if at all, characters talk about spiritual subject matter.
Of course, there are several other sources you can use - other websites, fellow parents, or trusted friends. The good news is that families can create their own rules about what is not appropriate for whom based on a wealth of well-researched information.
In the end, however, the crucial part of movie night happens after the fact: An opportunity to gently probe for thoughts or questions about what your children liked or disliked, things they have learned, ideas that compel them and even possible alternative endings! Should you be so lucky, you might find yourself in the middle of an engaging conversation. Those special moments might happen right after watching the movie, the next day, or even weeks afterward. These special moments are always my favorite part of movie time.