When it comes to movies, my husband Tripp and I are very protective of our children - though it sometimes feels like we're alone in this endeavor.  After decades of hearing, "But all my friends are seeing it. . . " sometimes I grow weary.

But as a mom whose raised two generations of teens (12 kids 9-40), I have a different perspective. And I know that while many parents think PG-13 means a movie is okay, the envelope has been pushed for so many years that PG-13 in many cases might as well mean Pure Garbage-13.

Today our job as parents is more complicated than just guarding kids from graphic sex.  We really need to research each movie our kids want to see to determine if the themes and humor are something that we want to become part of their personal baggage.

If we want our children to be pure, we need to focus not only on the body, but on the mind and spirit. Do we really want their perspective on love and relationships corrupted by coarse jokes and sick humor?  Or will we stand against the culture and do the job God has called us to do - to raise children whose minds aren't so corrupted by "entertainment" that there is little room for God, leaving Him just a little compartment, making Him irrelevant to the choices they make.

This came up for me a couple months ago when Maddy wanted to see The Proposal with friends. That's right - The Proposal with Sandra Bullock. PG-13. Miss All-American Sweetheart. What could be objectionable about that? And, as Maddy reminded me when I said, "Let's check it out first," she's 16 and next year she'll even be able to see R-rated movies.

First let me make clear that I do not let the MPAA do my thinking for me. Not only would I not want my kids to see most PG-13 movies, but there are some R-rated movies Tripp and I regard as family treasures - like The Mission, Glory , and The Last of the Mohicans - and some we might watch at home together, fast forwarding sketchy parts so that our kids can benefit from worthwhile themes.

So yes, this parenting thing - if you want to do it well - requires a little extra. Because Maddy is right - next year she will be 17. And even when she is 16, I don't want to forcefully impose my will on hers - which could make her prone to rebel. I want instead for her to understand how and why I have made decisions about movies before - and how and why she might want to begin making them herself now.

What I am suggesting here is something that's a hard transition for many loving and righteous Christian parents to make: at some point before our children leave home, we must begin to pass the responsibility for decision making in this area - and in many others - on to them. While we must be there to guide them, we must begin to treat them like fledgling adults, responsible for their own decisions and their own relationship with God. We must allow them to make mistakes.

It's a more nuanced approach than "While you're under our roof, you will do things our way - when you move out you can do what you want." When it comes to some issues - drugs, alcohol, destructive relationships - you can create strict boundaries. But issues like what movies to see are an area where we are not doing our teens any favors by making arbitrary decisions. They need to see how our decision-making process works in order to respect it.

And another angle you may not have considered: you are building future parents who need to be equipped to raise their own children. They need to see the behind-the-scenes of your parenting.

When Maddy wanted to see The Proposal, I pointed her to the review at PluggedInOnline - a source I respect - which mentioned the director wanting to channel the charm from classic black and white comedies.  But though there are some Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn moments, the reviewer warns:

In this misguided attempt to update the time-tested screwball comedy formula, Fletcher and her team have taken their contrived but potentially charming premise and tarted it up with layers of "contemporary" comedy rouge. That means bare bodies. A bizarre Mother Earth ritual. A wince-inducing bachelorette party striptease.

The latter scene was so embarrassingly repugnant that it was one of the few times in my PG-13 movie-going experience I've found myself hoping someone would leap up and yell, "Fire!" or maybe, "I've gone blind!" just for an excuse to clear the theater. I feared my retinas might be permanently scarred.

Since Maddy adores old movies, I'm sure the comparison to Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn movies resonated with her.  She might have thought, why see the cheap (and corrupt) imitation, when you can rummage through our old VHS collection or turn on TCM (her favorite channel) and see the real thing?

Or it may have been the thought of being subjected to watching a male stripper do his thing. All I can say is, I thank God for the Internet - and thank God for Unplugged for being so hip and relevant and real. Because Maddy decided this wasn't something she needed to see.

One way to prepare your child for this kind of decision-making is to fill them with good entertainment. If you have a TV, use it very wisely - watching it with them when you can.

If you are not that familiar with old black and white movies, I promise you will enjoy exploring them with your children. You can find them for free at the TCM channel or your local library.  Many are available for little more than a rental fee. And you can join Netflix - which seems to have every movie ever made - for as little as $8. a month.

The thing is that Hollywood keeps grinding out this stuff which is often entertaining, but usually embedded with insulting or obnoxious material.  When we let some things go, we become like the fish in the proverbial pot: as the temperature increases gradually, he allows himself to be boiled to death.  Likewise, as parents as we let "small" innuendoes go, we become desensitized and soon our kids are being exposed to stuff we might never have dreamed of when we began raising them.

On the other hand, if we fill our children up with the good stuff - timeless movie classics and those which do not challenge our family values - they will grow into teens who will be able to discern for themselves what's worth seeing and what isn't.

Sometimes it's hard to be different than the crowd.  But that's probably when it's most important.


Some movie review sites:

Plugged In
Movieguide
Screen-It
Crosswalk.com's Movie Reviews

Common Sense Media


Barbara Curtis is author of 9 books, including Mommy, Teach Me! and Mommy, Teach Me to Read!  She is also mother of 12, including several pursuing careers in music and theater.