7 Movies That Teach Valuable Lessons for Children
There are so many great movies for kids to watch it’s nearly impossible to winnow the list to seven but there are some that are so charming and beautifully done that you absolutely don’t want to miss the opportunity to introduce your kids to them. Movies aren’t just a way to pass the time or entertain children though.
They often offer a chance to introduce ideas about the world more easily understood within the context of adventure or fun. We want our kids to be good people, good citizens and we try to live that example but sometimes these lessons slip into the background of the mundane.
A good movie will depict lovable characters making good choices in difficult situations. These things tend to stick in a child’s mind and can be referred to later on when they’re facing choices for themselves. It’s important to watch movies with your children so you observe their reactions and determine where they are in terms of intellectual development.
If they don’t seem to be getting it or it bores them these messages are probably too advanced for their age group but if they enjoy the fun of the adventure and the voices that’s fine, too. Eventually the rest of it will start sinking in. Kids like to watch favorite movies over and over. It may drive you crazy but this is normal behavior and it’s the way developing brains work.
Many kids can, eventually, quote every line of their favorite movie. Some of these are animated, others live action. A majority of them feature father/son relationships but they also deal with friends and compassion, loyalty and persistence. There are more and more female driven children’s movies now so we have a couple of those also. So let’s talk about what kids learn from some of these stories and why they are important lessons.
There are a number of themes in this story worth noting. We have friends and family working together to save Nemo from an unknown fate. They never give up despite the unlikely success of the mission. In fact, the whole idea of being able to find Nemo is overshadowed by his own father’s lack of faith.
In the very beginning all of Nemo’s fellow eggs and his own mother are eaten by a predator so we start on a bit of a sour note and recognize that life on the reef is not about adventuring or braving the ocean.
Marlin is all about hanging around the coral and finding enough to eat while avoiding danger. All children can appreciate the fact that a dedicated father like Marlin would come and find them no matter what.
Friendship is an important theme throughout, too. Dory proves to be an incredibly loyal and helpful new friend and despite the fact that her short-term memory problems are irritating, she is such a sweet and earnest companion that Marlin manages to be patient with her. On this adventure they meet a lot of fish that might be dangerous but these potential enemies are, instead, helpful.
There are no real villains to defeat since Nemo is safe in the dentist’s office but Marlin is constantly forced to overcome his own doubts and Dory pushes through her inability to remember things eventually leading them to the right place. What children learn from this little adventure is that we never give up on each other and parents will do whatever is necessary to bring our kids home.
There are two heroines, and they’re sisters. Elsa is sadly afflicted with a terrible magical power that becomes the enemy in the story but Elsa considers herself the villain for having them. She makes all the wrong choices and leaves her untrained, naïve sister to deal with the fallout. Instead of sibling rivalry the story is really about using the power of love to heal other people.
This is always an extraordinary thing to teach a child and not easy to get across unless they can see how it works. The other thing that’s great about this movie is that these princesses are more concerned with sisterly love than they are with personal romances. In the end it’s all about empowerment, receiving power and accepting the responsibility of it rather than being loved by the perfect mate.
Initially, however, Anna is fooled by her first love and has to learn to trust the cute but crude young man who eventually becomes a friend and helper so the story deals with deception and trustworthiness, too. Despite the fact that her sister abandons her and cannot explain her affliction, Anna understands that Elsa is suffering and shows Elsa great compassion. This characteristic along with her enthusiasm and humor make her a delightful companion and a great example of a terrific friend and loving, forgiving sister.
She’s not stupid, though, she knows she was duped and she’s not taking it lying down. She’s also a stunning example of courage and perseverance. Impressive too is Elsa’s ability to build a beautiful castle using her handicap creatively. These are all wonderful traits for your daughters (and sons) to develop and to learn to appreciate in others. And everyone loves the music.
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
We recommend the Gene Wilder version over the Johnny Depp film for younger kids as the new one is scarier. Both are a little dark which is consistent with Roald Dahl’s style but this his method of exposing the less appealing side of human nature. The older version is more fun and frothy and truly lives up to the notion of “pure imagination.”
Wilder’s Willie Wonka is also more compassionate if still a little strange. It’s an excellent morality tale without being preachy. The loving, unselfish relationship between Charlie and his grandfather is a wonderful example of generations sharing a bond of affection and values.
Children tend to imitate what they enjoy so this is a very good way for them to learn how to treat an older relative. The idea of generosity is demonstrated between Charlie and his grandfather and repeated on a much larger scale by Willie Wonka. But Willie’s generosity to the 5 contestants also has a price. Again, Dahl is issuing a warning about human behavior.
Willie gives the contestants a wonderful treat but 4 of them nearly destroy themselves with it. Thus the story functions as a warning about how behavior has consequences as every child except Charlie has a serious character flaw which their parents seem either incapable of or uninterested in correcting.
Each meets a fate appropriate to their flaw. This provides great shorthand when you want to discuss reasons to alter your own child’s behavior in life. Willie values Charlie’s good qualities and rewards him for it. Charlie shows good sense, moderation and decency and he wins the big prize. These are the qualities we hope our kids will pick up and this is a fun way to learn them.
Elliot is a bit of an outcast when he finds the adorable alien and their friendship is a bond that will never be replaced. This story defines friendship in a way that helps kids understand the loyalty required to protect friends and help them achieve even a seemingly impossible goal because ET needs to call a spaceship.
Fortunately the alien has a lot of know how and Elliot benefits as he is exposed to his friend’s brilliance. Self-doubt is replaced with self reliance and Elliot begins to trust himself as well. Though Elliot and his siblings hide much of their activity from Mom and the government men we understand that there is a real danger in letting them know that ET exists.
Mom is good and kind but we know that if she finds out about ET she’ll have to tell the authorities so her children protect her from that responsibility. The bond between the kids shows them overcoming typical sibling rivalry to do something good.
Even more important than all that, perhaps, is the fact that this teaches children that there is more in the world than we know about and impossible things can happen at any time. It’s a movie about friendship and love between friends and family and it’s great fun for everyone.
Again we have a princess who must take matters into her own hands but it’s a more traditional story in which a young female defies cultural norms, refusing to marry to strengthen royal alliances.
Unlike most stories about girls, this one allows Merida to change her fate and local traditions, empowering herself. Brave focuses primarily on the mother/daughter relationship in which Merida is an independent spirit who refuses to accept the behavioral standards her mother is trying to push on her.
We’re not trying to foment the contentious relationship we often see in the teen years but the film addresses both sides of the equation and finds a great solution as mom and daughter are clearly willing to risk their lives to save the other.
It’s not often we see a strong minded young woman triumph without completely giving in to the cultural norms but Brave manages to show Merida accepting that what it is her mother has been trying to teach her is not subjugation to a typical female role but adult responsibilities and those duties that relate to her as a royal who must rule.
Instead of feeling that she must give up her freedom Merida accepts that she must grow into a job she will soon inherit. The bond between Merida and Elinor is strengthened rather than destroyed and the understanding between them is not awareness and acceptance of flaws but one of love and respect.
The young heroine is a delightfully energetic tomboy, a smart girl and a devoted daughter despite her rebellion. These are all good traits to teach youth who are growing up in an unpredictable, demanding new world.
How to Train your Dragon
This movie teaches a lot about intergenerational conflict, too as the hero and his father are faced with the same problem – local dragons attacking the village – but they have very different ideas about how to deal with it. A lot of this comes from the fact that Dad is a big, brawny Viking and the boy, Hiccup, is a skinny weakling in comparison.
Clearly they will have to approach the problem from their own perspectives and Hiccup shows a gift for more sophisticated problem solving than his less brainy dad. Fortunately, the boy’s situation allows him to solve everyone’s problem, winning his dad’s approval.
This teaches kids to honor their own gifts rather than trying to be what they are not. It’s also an important reminder for dads to let their kids fully emerge and show their unique strengths, too. But this isn’t just about dads and sons. Hiccup is an outcast with his own age group not only for his lack of physical prowess but because his best friend is a dragon and everyone else hates dragons.
He sees value where others see enemy. There’s also a great lesson here in teaching kids to train themselves, to learn self-discipline. At the bottom of it all, training the dragon is a metaphor for taking personal responsibility in any situation and that’s a great thing for any child to learn.
Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey
Whether your family has pets or not this is the story of 2 dogs and a cat crossing the mountains to reunite with their family teaches loyalty and love on a grand scale. The adventure brings out the best in each of these animals and the dangers of the journey provide many opportunities for bravery, bonding and learning tough lessons. If your kids learn only to respect animals from this one that would be enough but it’s likely they will understand the deeper message of working together and taking care of companions when things get tough as well.