Life lessons from movies
Janine shares what her son learned from classic movies.
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Here are some of the life lessons my teenager has learned over the past few weeks:

• Don’t walk alone in the dark. 
• Follow your dreams. 
• Don’t skip school, because bad things can happen, like crashing your dad’s Ferrari. 
• Get to know people before you stereotype them. 
• Saturday detention can be a blessing in disguise.
• If someone asks for help, it’s morally right to help them.

When you have more than one child, or in my case, three, ranging in age from 8 to 15, what tends to happen is that most activities get brought down to the lowest common denominator. What this means is that if the youngest wants to play with his Legos, the others should join in. If the youngest likes macaroni cheese, that’s what I’m cooking. And if the most challenging thing the youngest can watch is Shrek, the others have to follow suit.

It was when Kid1 turned 15 recently that I realized this isn’t sustainable. Apart from the occasional outing with his friends, he’s experienced almost nothing of the world outside of his little playgroup of three.

I believe books and movies can be an ideal opportunity to introduce basic concepts of life to children. Conversations can ensue after reading a book or watching a movie that might never have happened otherwise. So, what better way to introduce Kid1 to life than to show him some movie classics?

It took some weeks to pick out the movies and to agree on which ones we’d watch. We settled on a variety of genres and chose movies that dated from the 1970s to the 1990s.

After we’d watched each movie, I asked four basic questions to start a conversation about it: 

1. What did you think of this movie?
2. Did you relate to any of the characters?
3. Was there anything you didn’t like about it?
4. What did you learn from it?

The first movie we watched was Alien, a classic science fiction thriller. Kid1 thought that this was an interesting movie and decided that he wouldn’t mind experiencing outer space at some point in his life. He found it more surprising than scary and didn’t like the “unnecessary swearing”. He learned from Alien that you should never walk alone in the dark.

Dead Poet’s Society was next. He liked it, but found it very sad towards the end. Mostly, he liked Mr Keating and said he’d love to have a teacher like him. I questioned him about the topic of suicide, which comes up in the movie, and he told me that this wasn’t the first time he’d encountered it, as he’d heard of friends of friends who had committed suicide. Although he was familiar with the concept, he was surprised when Neil was found dead. He didn’t like Neil Parry’s father: “Parents shouldn’t control every aspect of their child’s life,” he said. This movie taught him that you should follow your dreams. 

Our next movie was a comedy: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Kid1 loved the abundance of silly jokes in this one. He related a bit to Ferris, “for thinking he deserved a day off school, because school can be a bit much sometimes”. The thing that surprised (and delighted) him most about this movie was “when the Ferrari shot out the back window”. He learned that you shouldn’t take a random day off school, because bad things can happen, like destroying your dad’s Ferrari.

Next up was Sixth Sense, a drama/thriller. Kid1 gave up on this one, partly because he found it too creepy in parts (there’s some fairly gruesome imagery) and partly because he found it a bit “boring”.  He found it disturbing that the kid could see dead people. I think he missed out big time by not seeing this movie all the way through, so maybe we’ll revisit it one day in the future.

The Breakfast Club was next on our list. Kid1 loved this movie “because it showed how five people who were nowhere near alike ended up being friends because of the similarities they never knew they had.” He related somewhat to some of the characters and believed he was a bit of a mixture of Brian and Andrew. He could definitely see things from their perspective. He learned from this movie that you should get to know people before you stereotype them, and sometimes, a problem can be a blessing in disguise.

Our last movie, Scent of a Woman, is a coming of age drama. Kid1 especially liked Al Pacino’s acting in this movie and his favourite part was Pacino’s character driving a car. He could “sort of see what Charlie was going through”, and recognized that the other characters were looking to him to help them both directly and indirectly. He was taken with the fact that Charlie helped them regardless of whether it would risk his school career. He learned from this movie that it’s right to help people out of difficult situations.

Even though our little experiment is over, I think I’ll continue with the occasional mom-son movie night. What I gained was some valuable bonding time with my teenager and some thought-provoking conversations. 

What classic movies have you introduced your teenagers to?

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