Children experience a handful of formative moments: the first sleepover, the birth of a sibling, joining the Boy Scouts, getting kicked out of the Boy Scouts … the list goes on. But, today, our offspring are increasingly shaped by the media we subject them to. Parents face a constant stream of decisions about the shows and movies their children watch, the video games they play, the music they listen to, and the websites they visit. These are not decisions that should be taken lightly. They may ultimately determine whether your child grows up to be a Ron Howard or a Clint Howard.
I’m here to show you how a list of hand-picked movies shown in the right order will shape my children. When my baby boy is fresh out of the womb, there is little chance he will remember any of the movies I show him, and their only real presence will be in the subconscious. So why not start out with some Star Wars? The original trilogy will obviously be shown multiple times before he gets his first glimpse of Jar Jar Binks, and an Ewok baby costume will be his outfit for his first Halloween.
Next, I’m going to need to develop his sense of comedy from an early age. (Let’s say between two and four years old.) To get his silly muscles going, he’ll be spoon fed some Mel Brooks (with Spaceballs as an apt introduction to satire), a little bit of the Holy Grail, The Princess Bride, The Blues Brothers, and some physical comedy from the old Pink Panthers. One of the most important responsibilities of parenting is getting your kid ready for your secretions of pop culture references and, since we tend to pull our references from comedies, this exposure will let you quote Austin Powers at the dinner table without leaving your youngster in the dark.
Between the ages of five and eight, I’m going to assume my son will have an appetite for movies with a little more edge. This is where parental discretion is key, since my kid will have more independence in the media he is exposed to as soon as he is strong enough to pick up a remote. Some required action/adventure movies include Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Independence Day, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a few James Bonds, and The Lord of the Rings. This period of movie watching may not have the most noticeable impact on a child, so think of it as a tool for inspiring imagination. When I see my son reenacting scenes from Back to the Future with his Lego set, I’ll know I’ve done my job.
As soon as my son turns nine, I’ll be on a mission to show him as many genres as possible. Between the ages of nine and 13 is the last time I’ll have a significant amount of control over his movie choices, so it is essential that I educate him on the overwhelming selection of movies he will face as soon as he is out of my hands. Really, this is about telling him what he should like, but more importantly, telling him what he should hate.
I’ll introduce him to some of my favorite directors suitable to his age, such as Stephen Spielberg, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, and possibly the Coen brothers. Then I’ll show him movies by some of the filmmakers I despise, like latter-day Tim Burton, Baz Luhrmann, the guys who made Date Movie, Diablo Cody, etc. And I won’t be disappointed if he likes the movies I hate. There’s nothing I like more than arguing with well-versed movie fans.
After he hits the big one-three, my teenager will probably have made up his mind on what he likes or doesn’t like, and I won’t be able to force him to sit down and watch movies with me. However, I know exactly what he’ll want to see: anything stamped with an R-rating. This trend marks the dirty phase in his movie education, the part I most look forward to. Assuming he hasn’t already seen Gladiator, Apocalypse Now, Superbad, Eyes Wide Shut, and some of my other favorite movies only suitable for “mature audiences,” I’ll have him bingeing on raunchy comedies, violent war dramas, and gory slasher movies. If he’s thirteen and asks me to take him to the newest Quentin Tarantino movie, I’ll do as he commands. Lars von Trier? We’ll be first in line. Judd Apatow? I’ll forge his doctor’s note.
By his freshman year in high school, he’ll be out in the real world. He will no longer defer to me for opinions, and my only input will be used to maintain his interest in films. But goddammit I’ll have my belt out in a heartbeat if he calls James Franco’s newest 10-hour performance art a masterpiece.