How Do I Say No to a Movie My Kids Want to See?

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mother talking with son

We live in a culture of yes. If something makes you feel good, our permissive society encourages, then go for it. No limits. No right, no wrong. Just do it.

Raising children has never been easy. But in this indulgent culture, I’m not sure that saying no to them has ever been harder. Especially when they say, “But Daaaaddddd, all my friends get to go!”

Kids have been trotting out that golden nugget for decades. These days, though, it might be more true than ever. So when our children ask to go to a movie, stream an album, play a video game or watch a YouTube channel we think is inappropriate, how do we say no so that they can hear us?

Now, yes, I know a parent’s prerogative—our job—is to set limits and define boundaries. Sometimes the reason why we say no really does come down to that equally maddening old saw our parents used that we swore we never would: “Because I said so.”

But as kids get older, they usually need more than that. They need, I believe, a greater understanding of why we’re choosing to limit them when it comes to something all their friends are, in fact, probably doing.

I had one of those conversations with my son this week. He was asking about whether he could go to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. My son knows, of course, that I help families make discerning media decisions. He knows that he’s 10 years old, and that Guardians is a PG-13 film. He likely knew what my answer would be, but he asked anyway, perhaps hoping that in a moment of lapsing weakness I might spontaneously give him an answer other than the normal one.

“Dad,” he asked as he got ready for bed, “do you think I could go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?”

Now, my first response was probably in the ballpark of what he was expecting. “Bud, you know it’s PG-13. It’s just not an appropriate movie for you.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He wasn’t pushing back, but I could tell he was dejected by my response (even though it couldn’t have come as a surprise). I was tired, but I knew that I needed to do more than offer the standard line. And so I said something about like this:

“Son, I know that you want to see that movie. And it’s not that it’s a terrible movie, really. At some point when you’re a few years older, you’ll probably have the chance to see it. But it’s rated PG-13 because there are some themes that really aren’t what you need to see or hear at this point in your life.”

My son was now looking at me, and I could tell that he was actually listening. I continued.

“It’s not that we don’t want you to have fun, or we want to be mean or harsh. We’re not intentionally trying to make your life miserable. We just want to give you space to be a boy and not have to worry or think too much about all that adult stuff. We want to protect you from things you may not be ready for yet. You’ll get there soon enough. But right now is a great time in your life to be 10, a time that will never come again. When you’re a teen, you can do teen things. For now, stuff for 10-year-olds is awesome.”

I reminded him that we also try to look for things that we can say yes to as well, that we don’t always say no. I suspect we’ll go see the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, for instance, even though it definitely isn’t my favorite kids franchise. (And I’m sure there will be some after-movie discussion about that one, too.)

At the end of our conversation, my son’s countenance had brightened, and I could see that the slumping resignation in his shoulders was gone. “Do you understand what I’m saying and why we make this decision?” I asked him. “Yeah, Dad, I do,” he said a bit more cheerily. “Thanks for talking with me about it.”

Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that it’s always going to be this easy, like a 21st-century episode of Father Knows Best.

But as we take time to help our children—especially tweens—understand the why behind our values and choices in the realm of entertainment, it accomplishes a couple of important things. First, it models critical thinking and discernment. And second, it builds relationship, fortifying that parent-child connection for moments in the future when conflicts aren’t so readily resolved.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sometimes its just a question of maturity. If you know your kid can handle something like that let yhem watch it if not ju st don't 
Sonny H More than 1 year ago
The movie industry is controlled by Satan with the intention of subverting God's plans and principles that lead to a "blessed life".  The propaganda and "mind control" agendas are numerous, and kids need to be taught to have discernment of when someone is trying to influence them.  This is done by teaching them God's principles and commands which all derive from love.  Also teach them about Spiritual Warfare and show them examples of marketing, advertising, propaganda, mind control tactics used by entertainment, main stream news, and other corporations.  Watch some Disney movies and teach them to recognize all the many ways that God is discredited, maligned, and ignored.  The kids quickly start to pick up on all the demonic imagery and anti-Christ dogma promoted by this world.  There are many youtube videos demonstrating these subversions and testimonies from "insiders".  It's not easy, but war never is.
Inkfeather1 . More than 1 year ago
You're giving Satan waaaay too much credit :) There are lots of people in the movie industry, and I hardly think he's controlling every single one of them like little marionettes. I think it would be helpful if people would realize that just because someone makes something that you dislike/disagree with doesn't make that thing Satanic. Or even wrong. You're not right all the time you know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm right this time only because I'm just repeating what God tells us.  Satan is the god of this world in 2 Cor 4:4.    Satan is  called the "prince of the power of the air" in Ephesians 2:2. He is the "ruler of this world" in John 12:31.  Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms and industries of the Earth because it was given to Satan in Luke 4:5.   Satan is the father of all unsaved people and these lost people are slaves to sin.  God is sovereign, but God has allowed Satan to have authority over certain things.  Christians have authority over demons because of the Holy Spirit in them.  Satan has been defeated, but the "day of reckoning" has not come yet.  In the meantime, we see Satan's work in practically every Disney movie out there.  Do your homework, so you can teach your kids "discernment"or the devil will fill their minds with false doctrines that teach them to rebel against God by seeking their own desires ... first.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ps 32:9
"Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding"
God created us to be rational beings to think, inquire, and make decisions based on the understanding that He's given us. If we didn't share reason with them then they may feel as though we deni they are intelligent and thus search for them selves what is best for them, while disregarding our advice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even harder is to say "no" to an inappropriate R movie being shown in a 9th or 10th grade classroom.  Even 15 years ago, I was meeting with a local principal giving the rationales for why various movies were inappropriate (besides there being better video material, or that R movies ought not be shown to those under 18 as a general rule).  Rather than a conversation of give and take, the principle stated, "you're the only parent that feels this way," and "all the schools got a copy and it's being shown around the country."  Really?  So what? lol  

I always found dealing with movies at school far more difficult to say no to than any movies my kids wanted to see with friends... at least with friends, a parent can have a conversation with their teen, and the teen can give an excuse to friends as to why they are not available.  At school, saying "no" makes them stand out sorely, pitting school against parent, and making the teen do some alternate research-related assignment (rather than kicking back watching a movie), solely because the teacher could not be bothered to seek out more appropriate films/documentaries.  Sorry, you do not have to show my kids Schindler's List or even Amistad to convey the horrors of Hitler or slavery.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bobed, I agree we should remember the horrors that happened, but we'll have to agree to disagree on this regarding age-appropriateness, because to me, it is way too graphically horrific, even abusive, to inflict such fare, especially as a requirement for a grade, on the eyes of children, and I consider a 10th grader to be still a child in terms of needing some filtering. I say this with respect for your opinion; my mom, as a Veteran, thinks all students should see "Saving Private Ryan." I disagree with her, too, for the same reasons. Peace to you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Posted by the Other Anonymous


My dad took me to see The Passion of the Christ in theaters.  I was five years old.

Inkfeather1 . More than 1 year ago
Yeesh. And are you mad about that? Or just not really care? (I personally would be mad :P)
seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
Something else I was going to mention was that these kinds of explanations, going far beyond "because I said so," can also go far beyond "because this movie/game/comic has such-and-such rating," which doesn't always tell the whole story.  Some movies and games have had their ratings changed, for example, and in other cases those ratings (whether PG-13 or whatever the case may be) don't actually fit all that well, so it behooves parents to actually understand what kind of content they and their children are consuming.
seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
I like this approach--it delves into the details of *why* a decision is being made, rather than simply expecting the child to naturally be willing to accept this restriction simply on grounds of authority.  This kind of full explanation, in turn, also has the potential to educate the child on what sorts of things he should be attracted to in his personal choices, both now and when he is older, as well as on what sorts of expectations he can someday give his future children--what kinds of values does he want them to model, and what kinds of information sources does he want them being exposed to?