I want to take a different approach then you might expect. I am about to show you examples of poor parenting. Learn what not to do from these famous film characters!
For decades, filmmakers have deconstructed the relationship between parents and children. Most of the time, they look at nature vs. nurture. What does the environment and parenting style have to do with the child's development? Does it inform the child's development more than the child's genetics? They've also taken this much, much further, intertwining childhood with magic, fantasy worlds, the occult, and superpowers.
Mainstream movies, like Meet The Parents, Mrs. Doubtfire, and The Incredibles, give audiences a heartwarming feeling. The children and the parents make up. All is well.
Let's take a look at some specific examples of parents in film that serve as lessons to all those young parents out there.
17 Meet The Parents
De Niro, as Jack Byrnes, takes pure, pure pleasure in torturing his daughter's new boyfriend, Gaylord "Greg" Focker, played by Ben Stiller. The writers really didn't give Greg a chance with that name, did they? Nor did they when they created such a secretive, paranoid father character. The only affection Jack shows is to his cat, which Greg loses.
The premise is this: Greg and his girlfriend, Pam, are in a relationship. It's going really well! Pam wants to introduce Greg to her parents. Greg is nervous, like anyone would be before this kind of a meeting, but what he doesn't realize is he's stepped into a situation he can't come back from. Jack Byrnes has it out for him. What can go wrong does go wrong.
What this film teaches you: Don't give your daughter's boyfriend the third degree, otherwise he'll accidentally lose your cat, burn your backyard, and crumble under the pressure and let loose the family's greatest secret... You're in the CIA.
Also, don't join the CIA.
16 Risky Business
Oh, Tom Cruise. How young you once were! How charismatic! No Oprah, no couch in sight. I don't even think you were a scientologist at the time. You were a generation's poster boy, and it all started with this movie, Risky Business.
In the film, Cruise's parents leave him alone for the weekend. He lets loose. His buddies come over. They party. Cruise slides into his living room and dances in his underwear. He does everything we would do, but then he takes it one step further, and ends up in the sort of uncomfortable trouble you would never want your child in, even if they looked and acted like 1980s Tom Cruise.
You don't just leave your child at home. He's not charismatic in the way Ferris is charismatic, wanting to show his friends a good time. No, he's a danger to those around him. He acts innocent, but he's not. Once those floodgates are open, he's gone.
The first thing you should do is curb his use of swears. Maybe when you stop that, you stop things from snowballing (we hope).
15 Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Okay. Here's a fun-loving type. He means well. He wants to show his buddy, Cameron, a good time. He wants to take his girlfriend, Sloan, out of school for a good time. It's a sunny day. Would you really not take a trip around Chicago? Wouldn't you sing Twist and Shout on a float in the middle of a parade? This movie is a dream for a teen, and a nightmare for a parent.
The problem is, Ferris' parents don't pay enough attention. He invents half-baked ways of avoiding school and fooling his parents. At one point, he advises the audience to bend over, out of your parents' sight, and lick your palms. This way, when your parents feel your hands, they seem clammy. No! Bad trick! There's no way your parents wouldn't notice this unless they were completely neglectful.
Do not neglect your kids or they will turn against you, turn against the school hierarchy, and have way too good a time downtown.
14 Kramer vs. Kramer
Now we're into more serious territory. This is a pretty emotionally draining movie, and not just because Meryl Streep stars.
Ted, played by Dustin Hoffman, works too much. He neglects his wife and his son. He comes home one night to find his wife, Joanna (Streep) on her way out the door, packed bag and all. He tries to stop her, but fails. She leaves them. Now it's up to Ted to look after his cute, silent son, Billy. He makes all the wrong decisions. He yells at Billy. He spanks him too hard. He messes up the french toast. He doesn't do things how "mommy" does them. Ted just doesn't understand how fragile Billy is at this age. Of course, he ends up mastering french toast and doing things better than mommy ever could, but Joanna returns, and wants custody of Billy.
It's a mess, you guys, but you'll learn a lot about what not to do (and what to do) from Ted.
13 The Parent Trap
Seriously, who doesn't like this movie? It's Lindsay Lohan's breakout where she plays twins who try to force her divorced, long lost parents back together. It's a rom-com, a family comedy, and a kids movie. It's perfect to watch with your own, and to teach them there's a right way and a wrong way to deal with trouble like this.
A major issue for the twins in the film is their dad's new girlfriend who they see as, essentially, a gold digger, so they treat her extremely badly. One example of this comes when the girls put a lizard on her. It's tiny, but it's still pretty messed up. This is the wrong way to deal with conflict, because it only creates more. Lizards are also kind of gross, so I get it.
One thing you shouldn't do as a parent, however, is ignore your children. It's clear the twins are uncomfortable with their new potential step-mother, and unhappy that their parents aren't together. It doesn't mean you have to reconcile a broken relationship, but separating the twins at birth so each of you could have one to raise and mold in your own fashion is pretty messed up... more messed up than the lizard thing for sure.
12 Home Alone 1 and 2
In the first Home Alone, Macauley Culkin happens to be left alone during the holidays as his massive family goes on an exodus from the place. It's fair. It's a big family. I can't completely blame the mother and father (we'll get to that in number 2), but really... he has to fight off intruders. That is so scarring. If they made a film about the aftermath of this (that wasn't the existing sequel) it would be dramatic Oscar-bait. Meryl Streep would star.
My big beef comes with number 2, where his family leaves him again. This time he winds up in New York. At first it seems incredible. There's huge pizzas. There are limousines. 90s Donald Trump roams around. Soon, things turn bad... like B-movie horror movie bad. There's the bird lady we won't talk about, but more importantly the intruders from the first one return. Culkin's character should be in a psych ward, and his parents should go to jail for negligence.
Always remember all your kids! Or don't have so many! It's a shame I have to write this but Home Alone makes it look fun, and I'm here to say that it is not. Maybe some of the toy tricks, but your kids should use them on their siblings, not intruders trying to hurt your son.
11 Inside Out
Let's bring it back to something a little more heartwarming. Inside Out showcases both what happens when you neglect your child, but also what can happen when you help them flourish. As they grow, they (for a time) become more volatile. This can't be helped. It's puberty. What can be helped is how you handle this.
You went through it too, once, even if you've repressed the memories. What you might consider are all the emotions fighting for space in their brain (part of the premise of the film) and what that can do to her peace of mind - namely, give them none.
Inside Out is not only an entertaining film to watch with your child, but it's also educational. It gives you all either a reminder or a first lesson in what's up with your brain and how to traverse those terrible territories... and at some point you might become abstract art? But how fun! You get to learn about abstract art! That's necessary... right?
Just watch the movie.
10 Knocked Up
Despite the fact that this stars Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen, Harold Ramis, who plays Rogen's father, gives the film its sweetest moment. The father and son meet over coffee to discuss the trouble Rogen's facing with a child on the way, and a mother he barely knows.
Premise: Two strangers meet in a bar, hook up, and get pregnant. They must deal with it, and it's clear early on that giving the baby up or terminating the pregnancy are out of the question.
Back to the scene at hand! Ramis tells Rogen that even though having a baby disrupts your life's plans, it makes you happy like nothing else, and Rogen should treat a child as a gift.
Now, we also get some lessons from Rogen's character: Don't smoke pot when you're an expecting father, don't live where earthquakes are common, and always, always read the books your doctors give you on pregnancy, otherwise you'll both feel guilty and unprepared.
9 This Is 40 (Knocked Up's companion piece)
Knocked Up features these This Is 40 stars as supporting characters. Leslie Mann, Heigl's character's sister, and Rudd, Mann's husband, play weary parents, ready to dole out conflicting advice to the expecting Rogen-Heigl couple.
In This Is 40, we catch up with them a ways down the road. They've fallen into the traps we knew they would, and they're worse for it. Their millennial children are obsessed with technology (and LOST, but I don't blame them for that). They avoid speaking to the grandparents, or they speak to them too much, and loan them money, something you should never do unless you're a ridiculously wealthy person – we're talking billions. That's the cut off. Billions, people!
Don't mess around with health, with technology, with your parents, or with LOST, otherwise you're in store for years of rising tension and irrational fights ("Are you hiding on the toilet again?").
8 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Some real nice lessons in here. One girl turns into a berry. She's the poster girl for bad behaviour, and her parents are just along for the ride. They're the ones you avoid at parent teacher meetings; the ones you ignore in the grocery store as you try to reach for the food you want, but they're in the way. "Stay away!"
Charlie is a pretty good kid for all intents and purposes. At the very least, he's better than the other kids that win a ticket to the factory... Arguably he's better than Willy Wonka himself, who is a kind of dictator. He lords over his Oompa Loompas. This movie should serve as a warning to humans everywhere, not just parents about damage you might do to your child if you 1. Let them eat too much, 2. Watch too much TV, 3. Give them too much gum (what?), and 4. Spoil them in general... and let them be British?
Granted, there are some mixed messages here, and maybe since 1971 times have changed, but the main message is there: You must withhold sometimes, otherwise your children turn into repugnant little creatures.
7 Kill Bill: Volume 1
There's more in this movie that has to do with parenting than you might believe. For one, Bill leaves The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, to die... pregnant.
What I really want to draw attention to, however, one specific scene. The Bride makes it her life's goal to kill those that left her to die with a baby on the way on her wedding day. I think this is completely fair.
Her first target is a killer named Copperhead; however, Copperhead is also the mother of a daughter in what looks to be pre-school. In fairness to The Bride, she shows up before school ends so she can kill Copperhead before her daughter arrives home... But things take a little too long, and the daughter arrives in the middle of the fight. The Bride and Copperhead hide their knives behind their backs as Copperhead coos to her daughter, asking her to wait in her room until "mommy's friend" leaves. Things go awry for Copperhead.
Don't let your kid in the house when an assassin is trying to kill you.
6 A Charlie Brown Christmas
Be Linus, don't be Lucy.
I'll give a little more detail... Charlie Brown is a kind of mirror for characters to look into and see themselves. When you watch this movie with your children, pay close attention to how characters 1. Try to help Charlie Brown, 2. Try to hurt Charlie Brown, or 3. Do nothing for him, which is kind of in the middle of 1 and 2, I guess.
Most importantly, pay attention to the grown-ups... Wait, what? There aren't any that come to mind? In your brain, are you replaying the parents dialogue? There's a reason the parents can't really speak (unless you count "wahwahwahwah?"). The kids are at an age where they're unconcerned with their parents' wishes, and they want to find things out for themselves. They make mistakes. They learn to share. They learn to have empathy.
There are so many good messages in this movie, and chief among them is the hidden one: sometimes kids need to work things out for themselves (or with their dog), and have their parents take a back seat.
Think about it.
5 Mrs. Doubtfire
Everything in this movie.
I'll elaborate: Robin Williams' character, Daniel Hillard, does about the worst thing you can do to stay close to your children in amidst your divorce: become (this is her actual name) Euphegenia Doubtfire. No. No, don't do this. Ever.
I want you to imagine every frame of this movie watermarked with a giant "stop" sign.
Dressed as Doubtfire, Hillard becomes the family's nanny in order to see his children grow up, despite the fact that, by law, he's not allowed.
His heart is in the right place, of course, and it's not a crime to want to see your children, but maybe by working things out with words instead of role-play will help your situation in a more constructive way; a way that leaves less of an emotional scar on your children.
4 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Two examples good and bad: The Weasleys, and The Dursleys.
If you're a parent, you've seen these films. If you're a kid, you've seen these films. If you're a human, you've seen these films. They're ubiquitous to the childhood of an entire generation. Millennials grew up alongside the Harry Potter characters, and they learned lots of lessons from the series.
The sweetest lesson might be to help those less fortunate, which is exactly what Mrs. Weasley does when she sees Harry Potter on platform nine and three-quarters. After years of abuse from his Aunt and Uncle, Harry desperately needs some parental guidance, and the Weasleys are there to provide it.
Apply this lesson when you help out at the next school event... although, if you see a kid trying to disappear through a brick wall, maybe tell someone?
3 The Incredibles
The father and mother begin as incredible superheroes, and become incredible parents.
Once top-ranking superheroes, defenders of major cities, they become tired parents. They hang up their uniforms and pick up dirty diapers, help homework, scold their children.
It's a big lifestyle change, and it's one that doesn't stick. A family doesn't hold the same allure as stopping crime, and pretty soon Mr. Incredible drags his entire family into the game. His kids develop their own super powers well enough to participate, and even strike some blows.
It works out for the family in the end, but I'd advise not dragging yours to what I'd like to call Death Island, home to a deranged Incredibles fan.
Stay way, way away. Treat the island like Daniel Plainview treats H.W.
2 Toy Story
There's really no better movie for both parents and their kids to watch. There are jokes for the adults, and fun visuals (and some jokes) for the kids. Chances are members of both generations watching played with different versions of the same kinds of toys you see featured in the film, and they all knew someone like Sid across the street, and figured they themselves were Andy.
Woody and Buzz Lightyear are great for kids to learn to share. They're great role models because they fill in each other's blank spots. They have two different ways of doing things that at first don't seem to mesh, and then they do, because they spend the time to communicate what's wrong, and how they can benefit from one another.
The reason they come together is for the greater good. Pick a lesson in this, any lesson. They're all incredible.
1 Spirited Away
Don't take your family into an ancient forest. Don't lead them through an ancient stone archway. Definitely, definitely don't let your daughter wander into a fantasy land filled with terrifying (and beautiful) creatures that help and hurt her.
But let her watch this movie. The lesson the main character learns is problem-solving in a foreign place. She goes from feeling like everything passing her, prodding her, growling at her is a danger, to winning them over, and having them want to win over her.
It will also fill your child with a sense of wonder; a need to explore, which is a good thing as long as, like I said, you steer very clear from ancient forests. Try a picnic. Try camping. It might also turn them on to something other than North American movies.
Hopefully you learned from this list, and you go and watch these movies.