How Movies Can Build Kids’ Character

Discover the secret to picking movies that strengthen character traits and life skills, from curiosity to courage to compassion.

By Caroline Knorr

Has your kid ever misbehaved like Alvin from the Chipmunks movies? Or mean-girled her friends like the Bratz dolls? Don’t feel bad.

Kids pick up all kinds of things from movies. But they can just as easily absorb positive messages. The trick is finding movies that teach the stuff you want your kids to learn. And, if you know a little bit about how kids learn from movies, you can make sure they’ll get the right lessons.

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Fortunately, you don’t have to look far for character-building movies. Plenty of popular picks have lessons such as gratitude, humility, and integrity embedded in their storylines.

And if you’re concerned that self-absorption, immediate gratification, and lack of empathy seem to be the prevailing characteristics of today’s digital kids, these movies are the perfect solution.

It’s important to choose movies that impart lessons designed for your kid’s age and developmental stage. You can reinforce the movies’ ideas by talking about them, asking questions, and sharing your values.

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These tips can help you spot movies that help kids absorb character-building messages:

 

Little Kids – Two to Seven Years Old

Pick simple storylines. Little kids learn best from movies with one main idea that’s central to the plot and supported by the action.
Make it obvious. If it were in print, the lesson would be in bold, capitalized, and underlined three times. Little kids need it to be that blatant.

Look for human characters. Although animated movies rule the box office, little kids actually learn best when human characters demonstrate the lesson. Think of the 1960 Disney movie Pollyanna, whose lead character was so empathic that her name came to mean ‘someone who finds the good in everyone.’

Try: Dear Dumb Diary, The Indian in the Cupboard, VeggieTales: Madame Blueberry

 

Big Kids – Eight to Nine Years Old

Keep it simple. To learn lessons from movies, primary school-age kids still need to see the basic cause-and-effect sequence of how a character’s motives are connected to actions and consequences.

Find the funny. Kids learn when they laugh. The challenge is finding movies that don’t mock the lesson you want them to learn. Some character traits, such as curiosity, can be dealt with humorously, as in the Curious George series.

Forget fables. While movies with an implied (not obviously stated) moral seem obvious to parents, they’re lost on kids (until about nine years).

Emphasise the positive. Look for mostly positive examples of the lesson rather than negative examples. If you want kids to learn courage, for example, they need to see attempts at courage and courageous acts being repeated and rewarded throughout the movie.

Try: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, The NeverEnding Story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

 

 


Common Sense is an independent nonprofit organisation dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.

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