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Movie Watching: Something to Share with the Grandkids

You're on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand. The lights are dimmed, and you're settling in to watch a favorite movie. What's missing? Your grandkids.

Movie watching rates two thumbs up as an occasional activity that is easy, affordable, and fun for every generation. Whether you're introducing your grandchildren to cinematic classics or discovering some of their favorites, watching films together is time well spent.

Movies can be used for learning and connecting. They are a springboard for discussions that you might not have otherwise — such as coping with bullies or problems with friends. Grandparents can help put these issues into perspective for kids.

Watching and discussing movies and other activities in which you offer your undivided time and attention can make a real difference in your grandchild's life. The grandparent-grandchild relationship is one of the most important bonds, because it can offer unconditional love. We all need people who think we are number one — the most important person in the world. Grandparents can fill that role for children, helping them feel safe, secure, and accepted.

Keep in mind that many children already watch plenty of TV at home, as well as spend time working at computers and playing video games. Make sure your joint movie watching isn't adding even more sedentary time to your grandkids' day. If your grandkids get plenty of daily exercise, an occasional movie with you is fine.

Prescreen your choices

Before you invite the grandkids over to watch Gone With the Wind or The Bridge on the River Kwai, think about the film through a child's eyes. Classic films are great, but just because you love a movie doesn't mean it's the best thing for a child to see. With old movies, the tendency may be to forget what the content is. If you haven't seen the movie in a long time, it's a good idea to preview it first alone to make sure it's appropriate.

Experts say that children between ages 2 and 7 don't understand that movies are staged, not real. Scary-looking monsters, witches, or other creepy characters are especially frightening for this age group. Even older kids — ages 8 to 12 — can be upset by tense or violent scenes, especially if children are threatened or harmed onscreen. Because kids tend to imitate what they see, think about choosing movies where characters solve problems in a positive way.

If a disturbing scene catches you off guard, remember that the pause button serves a useful purpose. Stop the movie briefly and ask your grandkids, "What do you think about what just happened? Could this happen in real life? Was this the right thing to do?" Talk can turn a negative message into a learning experience. Always take the opportunity to discuss what has happened, so children have some perspective on the images they see.

What if the worst happens, and your grandkids can't stand your all-time favorite movie? You may not agree, but respect that they feel comfortable enough with you to speak honestly. You can always say something like, 'That's an interesting way to look at it. That didn't occur to me.'" In doing so, you show your grandchildren there is room for many opinions in this world.

Lights, camera, action!

Here are some tips to help make movie viewing with your grandkids more successful and enjoyable.

  • Check the rating. Unless your grandkids are in their teens, stick to movies rated G or PG, which contain very little violence, nudity, sex, or drug use. Be cautious about movies rated PG-13. These contain more intense themes involving violence, nudity, drug use, sex, or profane language. Movies rated R should be off limits for all kids under 17. Do your grandchildren's parents have rules about movie ratings? Be sure you know their preferences.

  • Think outside the box office. For younger children who love to sing or jump around, consider "sing-along" movies or age-appropriate movement videos, from dancing to yoga.

  • Let the experts help. Where do you find these hidden gems? Many libraries offer movies in VHS or DVD format, both classics and newer titles. Ask a children's librarian for recommendations.

  • Venture beyond the screen. A movie can spark a child's interest in history, nature, or many other subjects. Don't pass up the opportunity to learn more about a subject in books or on the Internet. Visit libraries, museums, or related stores for an up-close look at what interests your grandkids.

  • Create art projects or have children write a story about the film.