Children are sponges, they are great at taking things in and terrible at interpreting those things. That’s why advertisements work so well on them. Suddenly they just HAVE to have that new LOL Doll. How can you as a parent teach your child to be wise about what they watch?
I was in love with Christian Bale. Don’t laugh, we all had a childhood crush… or two. At least mine grew up to be Batman!
I badly wanted to watch Swing Kids starring Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s not a kids movie…at all. It’s based on true events in Nazi Germany where swing music was banned. Underground swing clubs sprang up as young people rebelled against the strict Nazi Regime. Swing Kids is about friendship, betrayal and sacrifice. Needless to say my mother was not keen.
I was persistent. So my mother agreed that I could watch Swing Kids only if I watched it with her and discussed it after. She planted the seeds for all my future movie watching experiences. She taught me to not just be a consumer but be an evaluator.
Here are 3 ways I’ve learned to evaluate what I’m watching and be a wise consumer. These are great ways to open up conversation with children of all ages about the films and TV that they are watching.
- How did it make me feel?
All movies are created to make you feel. Think about a classic one; Titanic, it recreated a real life event but wanted you to actually experience that event. To walk away feeling like a survivor, to feel the sadness of loss and the nostalgia of the past. One the other side of the spectrum, John Wick, a revenge movie about a retired assassin who has lost all his reasons to stay retired. They want you to walk away feeling empowered and avenged. If movies didn’t make us feel we wouldn’t be interested in watching them. So think about what feelings did the show create in you, were there several different feelings, what did you walk away feeling?
- What is it trying to make me believe?
All films have a premise, an idea that they want you to believe. It’s often called suspension of disbelief. It’s easiest to note these in fantasy, sci-fi or superhero films. It’s the out of this world thing that you have to believe in order to take the world they have created seriously. If the film does its job well you won’t even realize you have agreed to the belief. In the Star Wars universe the belief is that the Force is real and those who wield it can do so for good or for evil. But what about a movie like The Green Book (last years Oscar winner) The Green Book is based on a true story… and that idea is also part of what they want you to believe – They are hoping that you trust them to tell a true story truthfully, but it’s still a story, and so needs to be changed to fit the parameters of what makes a good story. You can use to discuss how a film was made and what they are trying to make you believe.
- What have they used to manipulate feelings?
This is where you take the other two questions and start to learn about filmmaking. What did they do to make you feel and believe?
You don’t have to have filmmaking knowledge to find some manipulation techniques. Music alone can be a huge manipulator of emotions. Some basic questions you can ask are; What kind of music are they using, upbeat, instrumental, popular songs, etc. Think about what you like to listen to depending on your mood. Another basic technique is who is the camera focused on in the scenes? In Captain Marvel they want you to strongly identify with Carol Danvers so they are going to move in close during the emotional scenes and show you her face in close up. Another fun way to manipulate is in the use of color. M. Night Shyamalan is really good at this technique. In his recent film, Mr Glass every character has a main color that is used to show their character or how they are feeling. Color can make you feel certain things and he uses it to the extreme. There are other more technical ways a filmmaker can manipulate. This is where some knowledge of filmmaking techniques can really open up the conversation. You can look up some basic editing videos on YouTube to help you get started. Or check out the ones I’ve included below.
How Alfred Hitchcock toyed with your emotions – A little longer but worth the watch!
What do you think? Do you have questions you like to ask your children to get them thinking? Share them in the comments.