How can you teach discernment to your teens, help them develop critical thinking skills, and do it in a format that, well, makes them want to participate?
Host a Questionable Movie Night
Typically this has been referred to as Family Movie Night or something similar, but anyone who has at least one teen at home will attest to the fact that, more often than not, there comes a time in said teen’s life when anything that has the word “family” in it becomes anathema. With its double entendre usage, the word “Questionable” creates a certain edginess that will draw in even the most aloof teen!
Our kids attend a monthly Questionable Movie Night at a local church. The evening starts with a simple hot dog or pizza supper, a short period of fellowship and then a movie screening. Afterward, there is a discussion time with prepared questions presented via Power Point. They have a faithfully attending group of kids that is constantly growing, and it is quite the event to attend in our circle! I think one thing that keeps ‘em coming is that the movie is never announced in advance. Of course, this requires an immense amount of trust on the parents’ part (and is totally optional; parents are able to learn it in advance), but thankfully, the gentleman who leads this up has a solid history in our community and maintains accountability with his church.
How Do You Get Started With Hosting Your Own?
Many years ago, Focus on The Family published a book called “Movie Nights For Teens,” which presented plot summaries, Scripture references, a bunch of questions, and more on a range of movies that would engage teens. This is how our friend Gary got started. More recently, they have developed some excellent guides to more current movies, and these are all available as free downloads on their site. But if you want to get started teaching discernment and critical thinking skills while watching TV or a YouTube video, here are some basic questions you can ask today:
• What would you say is the main point of this movie? Do you agree or disagree with it?
• Which character did you admire most? Why?
• Do the themes in this movie reflect reality? Do they reflect truth?
• How do the morals onscreen compare with the values you’ve been taught at home, in school or in church?
• Do you think movies like this have any effect on how close you feel to your family, friends or God? Explain.
• How might you imagine God reacting to this movie? Why? Would you feel comfortable if Jesus sat watching it with you? (See Matthew 28:20)
• Beyond God’s opinion of the movie, does the movie have an opinion of God? What is it?
• What would happen if you imitated the lifestyles or choices of the characters?
Regarding What To Watch…
Take a look at the guides on the Focus website, or the movie list in “Family Movie Nights” and consider those. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can look through this list from Parenting magazine of 20 Best Family Friendly movies or this list of 50 best movies to watch as a family and see what you might find there…
This resource was shared by one of our faithful Coffee and Conversation friends, Misty, from YearRoundHomeschooling: 100 Movies That Build Character. She also writes about a helpful book to better use the shows on her list.
Putting It All Together
If you’re serious about making this a small group or church-wide event, or even opening this up to your community, there are a few things you may want to consider.
- Start small – Experiment with your own family, or invite one or two others to get your groove as you get started.
- Enlist the help of your church – Even if it’s just to sponsor or fix and then clean up a simple supper, many hands make light work, and it helps to divide responsibilities.
- Keep the costs down – Charge $1 or $2 so the kids have some ownership in the evening but don’t make it cost prohibitive. The church my kids attend consider it a part of their ministry and subsidize the majority of the expense.
- Be consistent but not-too-often – Once a month is great to shoot for…consider something like the 1st Saturday, or something like that…
- Don’t stick to “religious” movies or those with an obvious message – While you might seriously need to think about R-rated movies, part of the reason we need to teach discernment and critical thinking is to apply those skills to situations our teens will find in the world. There is no better time or place to tackle real world issues and big concepts than with a mature Christian adult/s, in the presence of a group of peers they are comfortable with.
- Have fun – One thing that attracts people of any age is the fun factor. Hosting an event where there’s fun and laughter draws in adult help and teen participation!
Take a look at the collection of Questionable Movie Night resources referred to above…and more!
Mr. Tyler Hogan, the President of Bright Ideas Press, recorded a short (19 minute) interview discussing how we evaluate media with our children. While he does approach this from a Christian worldview, this is information that ALL families (not only homeschoolers) can use!
Clicking on the image below leads to the recording as well as a summary of the key points he presents. You can download useful questions to use when discussing things with your teenager there, as well.