Movies were a key part of my childhood. Nearly every weekend, my parents would pack the family into our brown Toyota minivan and head to the local video store to browse aisle after aisle of VHS tapes. (Yes, it was the early ‘90s, when places like that existed on every corner.) Each sibling would get to choose a video, which we’d take home and watch from the floor of our rec room until we fell asleep next to a bottle of 7-Up.
Nowadays, the concept of a VHS rental store is laughable. Our kids stream movies from Netflix, and watch them anywhere from their iPads to the car. And even though it looks like they’re watching a lot of singing snowmen, singing animals and singing trolls, it’s not actually all that wholesome. In fact, movies are basically lessons in what your kids should NOT be doing. Don’t believe me? Here are some life lessons taken directly from our kids’ favourite films.
1. Love is instantaneous.
Where do you even begin to give examples of this? How about EVERY. MOVIE. EVER. Name a Disney Princess – any one of them – and she’s almost definitely fallen in love with a dreamy-eyed stranger who passed by on a horse or fell off a ship. They usually don’t talk much, if at all – it’s just a look, then a wedding. This isn’t lust, kids, it’s love – true love!
2. Romance is more important than family.
The Little Mermaid abandoned not only her family but the ENTIRE MERMAID SPECIES to be with a man she barely knew, and had essentially been stalking. Princess Anna was totally ready to run off with terrible Prince Hans before Elsa put an end to that nonsense. Bros before actual brothers and sisters, I guess. Because, again – true love conquers all!
3. Looks are everything.
What makes a children’s movie heroine special? Her beauty, usually. It’s a defining characteristic of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine and Belle. It was a fixation of Princess Fiona in the Shrek movies and the reason the evil step-sisters couldn’t land a man. Beauty is value, whether you’re a princess, a superhero or an animated lion cub.
4. Boys are mischievous idiots.
When they’re mean to you, they like you. When they ignore you, they like you. When they lock you up in a tower after almost murdering your father, they REALLY like you. Who wants to teach girls OR boys that this is how society works? Just be nice to people and knock it off with all the Stockholm Syndrome craziness…we’re over it. Our girls are smarter and our boys are better than this.
5. You should totally run away from home.
Have a problem with your family? RUN AWAY. It’s a sure-fire way to solve all your problems. I mean, Dorothy ended up in a coma, but you didn’t realize it until she’d had a magical adventure in Oz and was safe at home with her forgiving, not-so-terrible family.
6. Bad words are fun!
Old school movies are awesome for teaching your kids to say shut up and call each other idiots. Newer movies are full of bathroom humour and butt jokes (I’m looking at you, Minions). You can’t win.
7. Your parents are going to die.
Not like, eventually…any moment now. Children in movies are not allowed to have two parents. You’ve either lost your mother (or father) tragically or are a full-blown orphan. See: The Wizard of Oz, Despicable Me, Bambi, The Land Before Time, and every Disney Princess movie ever made.
8. Guns for everybody!
The children’s movies of our youth were awesome, but also, there were SO MANY GUNS. Whose idea was this? WHY? Honestly, between the pistols, the muskets, the exaggerated fist-fighting brawls and cartoon characters chasing each other around with pitch forks and knives, I’m done.
9. Smoking is cool.
What’s the deal with all the smoking in children’s movies? And it’s not just the villains! Plus, when you throw in charming images of Ariel trying a pipe, or that 101 Dalmatians guy puffing away as he writes songs, or a movie dad relaxing with a nice cigar, it’s confusing. Is this smoking thing really that bad? It seems sort of charming. (Spoiler: it’s not.)
10. Smoking is a rite of passage.
Remember in Now and Then, when the kids try smoking on a hot summer day? Like many other coming of age films, trying a cigarette is presented as a rite of passage – a stepping stone to maturity and adulthood. There’s no mention of the poison, addiction and eventual cancer. Nice one, Hollywood.
So what do we do about all this? Well, mostly, we trust that we’re raising decent human beings who won’t grow up to speak exclusively about poop, kidnap their love interests or abandon their family for a sketchy dude they just met. ONE CAN HOPE. We teach them that movies are fantasy, discuss the good and the bad things that they see on screen, and let entertainment be just that.
But when it endangers your children’s health, you can do more.
Since smoking in films isn’t seen as typical advertising, it doesn’t draw the same skepticism. Which means that 86% of movies with smoking were rated ok for kids and teens in Ontario to watch. It’s estimated that 185,000 children and teens will start smoking due to their exposure to it onscreen, and 37% of Ontario youth smokers are recruited to become smokers due to seeing smoking in the movies. But tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year! So, what the heck are we doing about it?
There are many, many statistics from across the globe that have demonstrated that the more kids see smoking in movies, the more likely they are to start. Yet it’s totally preventable.
If we reduce children’s exposure to on-screen smoking in movies, we reduce their likelihood of trying a cigarette. And by reducing children’s exposure, you’re protecting your kids from the tobacco industry’s evil, nasty tactics. And while we all parent differently, none of us want our children inhaling toxic fumes because they think it’s harmless, or even cool.
So, as parents, we have the opportunity to make all new movies smoke free. By signing this petition, you can be part of a huge movement that seeks to end smoking in all new movies, starting with those approved for teens and children. Why not spend 30 seconds working toward #smokefreemovies for all kids? It’s a great place to start.
Next up? All that other stuff.
This post is brought to you by the Region of Peel and is a part of an ON-wide Smoke-Free Movies initiative among public health units.