The best piece of advice my husband and I received before the birth of our first child was fairly simple:
Trust your instincts. This advice was given in the context of when to pick up a crying baby, but we
have found it just as effective and useful in many other aspects of parenting as well. While plenty
of studies, guidelines and groups exist that are ready and willing to tell parents how to raise their children,
I believe nothing trumps parental responsibility, engagement and instinct. That said, I'd like to offer a
little more advice -- advice about movies suitable for families with small children.
I have been a movie lover far longer than I have been a parent, and many of the films my mom shared with me when
I was a child are the same films my children and I enjoy watching together today. The movies that never fail to
entertain us all are musicals. The range of topics within the genre is practically limitless, and some of the
musicals that have been hits with my children from the time they were about three years old through the present
(they are now aged 12, 10 and six) include
Mary Poppins (it's "practically perfect in every way!"),
(it's funny, has great dancing, fun songs and memorable characters),
An American in Paris (remarkable choreography, amazing music,
visually arresting, 's wonderful!),
Brigadoon (mysterious, magical, beautiful),
(silly story with catchy, quick lyrics, Kevin Kline as the Pirate King and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel),
(delightful, fun, and featuring Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show),
(funny, good music, great choreography), and
(what better way to introduce your kids to Frank Sinatra?).
I quickly realized that even if the kids didn't understand the musical's storyline upon the first viewing, they generally enjoyed the songs, costumes,
dancing and characters enough to want to watch them again and again and again. Each of these pictures
provides not only good clean fun and exposure to remarkable talent and craftsmanship, but also a cultural
education from which they can only benefit.
A possibly more obvious choice for family films would be animated features, particularly those produced by
Walt Disney's Studios and, increasingly, Pixar. We own copies of and have seen many of these films more times
than I care to recall. They, too, are part of our cultural heritage and I would argue that
a childhood devoid of
Fantasia 2000 (personal favorites of my tribe)
and Finding Nemo, among others, would leave a gaping hole in one's
cultural education. However, I would also suggest that allowing a child to watch any of these films unsupervised,
particularly for the first time, would be a mistake. In case you haven't seen them yourselves or have forgotten,
most of these features involve at least one dead parent and mortal danger for the heroine or hero. This is the
stuff of nightmares and phobias -- not to mention many tears. These may be
classics, but they can also be scary.
If you seek the kind of video fare I fondly refer to as
the pickings are rich. PBS produces numerous shows, many of which are available on video in addition to their daily programming, which are
not only educational and suitable for even the youngest viewers; they are often tolerable for adults, as well.
We are our children's first and primary teachers. I firmly believe that if we introduce our children to the best we
have to offer, be it films, books, food, music or personal habits, they will naturally develop a taste for quality.
Deciding what "high quality" means to your family is where instinct, judgment and responsibility come into play. While
it can be helpful to consider movies ratings, the only one really qualified to decide what is right for your children
and your family is you. So, if you don't have time to pre-screen a film, talk to the clerk at your local video store
or your friends or family, or check out a title on line. But remember, just because the company marketing a film
declares it to be "fun for the whole family" doesn't make it so, anymore than a picture's lack of an MPAA rating (most of the above mentioned musicals are not rated) makes it "inappropriate" for kids -- trust me. Or better yet, trust your instincts.