3 reasons we don’t let our children play video games*

3 reasons we don’t let our children play video games*My oldest son was stirring his Oreo milkshake, eating one methodical bite at a time at the local fast-food joint recently, when the conversation turned to his friends.

“I’d much rather spend time at his house than mine,” my son said, referencing a boy his age he had just visited. “Our house is boring.”

I could have been offended, but I wasn’t. Instead, I took a bite of my strawberry sundae and let the discussion progress naturally, free of any knee-jerk reactions.

“He has videos games,” he said. “We don’t.”

A thousand thoughts swirled in my head that went unsaid: We have a large yard. We have a basketball goal. We have a bicycle for every member of the family. We have a basement. We have a large television set. We have a Lego collection that would rival Legoland’s. Besides, what about those starving children in Africa who don’t have any toys?!

But I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I drove the discussion in a different direction: “If we had video games, what would you do less of that you do now?”

My son was stuck. If he answered truthfully – reading? playing outside? doing homework? – then he would be playing into my hands. Thus, we called it a truce, went home, and had a great game of hoops at our old “boring” home.

The Entertainment Software Association reported this year that exactly 50 percent of Americans own either a dedicated video game console or a handheld system.

My household, though, isn’t one of them. Even though we allow our children to play video games at other homes and we let them play the occasional iPhone game of Candy Crush, too, we don’t own a video game console. Perhaps that will change in a few years, but for now, we’re holding off.

Here are three reasons we’ve chosen to have a house free of video games: Continue reading

3 lessons for kids AND parents from ‘The Lego Batman Movie’

3 lessons for kids AND parents from ‘The Lego Batman Movie’

Hollywood certainly knew what it was doing when it combined two of the favorite things of most U.S. kids — Legos and Batman — into an animated film.

The Lego Batman Movie grossed $53 million in its first weekend, slightly less than projected but more than enough to guarantee we will get a sequel.

My nine-year-old son and I laughed hysterically throughout the movie, and then walked away with a few lessons about life. Yes, The Lego Batman Movie actually has a plot – and a pretty good one, too.

Here are three lessons families shouldn’t miss when watching Lego Batman: Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Moana’ OK for small children? (And are there any scary parts?)

REVIEW: Is 'Moana' OK for small children? (And are there any scary parts?)Moana is an adventurous teenager who lives on a small Pacific Ocean island that – we’re told – “always gives us what we need.” And the island does keep everybody fed … until the fishermen no longer can catch fish and the coconut trees fail to produce edible fruit.

So, Moana, the daughter of the island chief, decides to board her raft and cross the ocean to find the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), who rules over the wind and sea. Why? Because her grandmother said that Maui previously stole the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti – and that if her heart could be restored, the island would once again teem with fish and plant life.

Disney’s Moana (PG) is out in theaters this weekend, providing families with an animated musical adventure on a holiday weekend and a worldview not seen in most children’s movies.

Set in a Polynesian culture, the film’s plot spotlights polytheism, animism and reincarnation, and also has a few scary parts. Let’s look at the details. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Fantastic Beasts’ too scary for kids? (And how violent is it?)

REVIEW: Is 'Fantastic Beasts' too scary for kids? (And how violent is it?)

Newt Scamander, a quirky-but-funny “magizoologist,” owns a suitcase like no other – a suitcase where dozens of other-worldly animal-like creatures reside.

Some are larger than a house, while others can fit in his pocket. One even is invisible. All of them, though, are mischievous, and that spells trouble during his trip to New York City when they begin escaping.

Scamander and his suitcase are at the center of the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13), which was written and produced by J.K. Rowling and is being billed as a “prequel” to the Harry Potter series, taking place in 1926 NYC.

Scamander — himself a wizard — steps off his ship into an American society that is divided between two classes of people: those who have magical powers, and those who don’t (the “non-maj”). The magical world is governed by a Magical Congress of the United States of America, and there even is a Magical Congress president. Although both classes of people seem nice enough, current law forbids them from interacting — and wizards definitely aren’t allowed to practice their magic in front of non-maj people. But don’t fear: If any plain person does see a spell, the magical world has the power to erase those memories.

Despite the powers of the wizarding world, there is a growing anti-magical sentiment among the non-maj people. That’s because weird stuff is happening. Streets are exploding and buildings collapsing. One group (the “Second Salemers”) are calling for a series of anti-witch trials, and they’re even placing posters around the city proclaiming: “No Witchcraft In America. We Need A Second Salem.”

Are Scamander’s beasts the cause of this destruction? Or is it being cause by something evil?

The Harry Potter film series was incredibly popular among children and teens, although its focus on wizardry divided Christians. I will leave that debate to others, but for now, let’s look at the content of what is sure to be a major box office hit.

Continue reading

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’My daughter is only four-years-old, but sometimes, I think she’s 14.

That was the case a few weeks ago, when she walked purposefully into the kitchen, sporting a pink dress, glitzy shoes and shiny fingernail polish, and asked me through a sweet smile: “Daddy, do you think I look beautiful?”

I chuckled at the situation and responded quickly, “Of course, I do!” She walked back into her room to continue her game of dress-up and I finished eating my snack, but later I began to ask myself: What am I teaching her? In other words, what is she learning about beauty?

If I’m not diligent, then she will learn all the worldly, wrong things as she grows older: that beauty is skin-deep, that worth is based on a perfect figure and the right clothes, and that her body is to be put on display like a cheap weekend sale at Walmart.

I thought about that recently when my family and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the van and to get snacks during a short road trip. There in the gas station window was the magazine rack, and there on the magazine rack were the latest “gentleman’s” magazines flaunting barely dressed models – easily seen by anyone who did not even enter the station. Such as my daughter.

But we don’t have to stop at the wrong gas station to be confronted with worldly images of beauty. We see it every Sunday during the fall, when the TV cameras switch from the football game to the cheerleaders and we’re left wondering if “thin, half-naked and blond” were the prerequisites. We’re faced with it during commercials, when Hardee’s trots out soft-porn images to try and sell us – of all things — hamburgers.

Heck, we even see it in during Disney and Pixar cartoons, which promote not immodesty but perfection. How many average-looking heroines can you remember from the most popular animated movies?

Then there’s social media. A recent Pew study found that 61 percent of teen girls — but only 44 percent of teen boys — regularly access Instagram, the picture-based platform where, essentially, only “glamour shots” are posted. As director Delaney Ruston discovered in the documentary Screenagers, Instagram and platforms like it are destroying the body image of middle school and high school girls, who feel constant pressure to look flawless for their friends and romantic interests. Continue reading