‘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

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

REVIEW: Is 'Trolls' OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)Princess Poppy and all of her colorful troll friends living in Troll Village believe they have discovered the source of happiness: It’s singing, dancing and hugging.

Well, sort of.

The true source of happiness, they tell everyone, is internal.

“Happiness is inside you,” Poppy says. In fact, she adds, it’s inside everyone.

That’s why Poppy is always perky – to the point of being naïve about the realities and dangers of life. One of those dangers: the Bergens, the dreadful-looking creatures who live in the same forest and who believe that the source of happiness comes only by eating those cheerful trolls.

DreamWorks’ Trolls (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, and thanks to an all-star cast and partnerships with McDonald’s, General Mills, Rice Krispies Treats and Pillsbury, lots of children are likely going to want to watch it. It stars Anna Kendrick as Poppy and Justin Timberlake as her friend Branch, and also includes characters voiced by Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani and James Corden.

But is Trolls family-friendly — and is it too scary for kids? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Doctor Strange’ OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

REVIEW: Is 'Doctor Strange' OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

Perhaps you thought that the Avengers – that’s Iron Man, Captain America and their friends – were more than enough to protect Planet Earth. If so, you would be wrong.

That’s because – as we learn in the new movie Doctor Strange (PG-13) – the Avengers only protect Earth from physical threats. Superhero sorcerers protect us from mystical threats that originate from other dimensions and universes. Yes, there are multiple realities and multiple universes in the world of Marvel’s latest movie, which easily lives up to its “strange” title.

The “Dr. Strange” is Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who is known as much for his ego as for his world-renowned skill. His life takes a turn during a horrific car crash in which he loses full movement of his hands, and, desperate to regain his career, he travels to Nepal to find the person he was told healed a paraplegic. Strange believes he is looking for a traditional doctor, but he instead discovers a group of sorcerers who are led by a thin, bald woman known as the Ancient One. It is there that he himself becomes a sorcerer, learning to teleport from one location to another and even travel from one universe to the next time. He also figures out how to reverse time.

Strange becomes Earth’s protector against the bad sorcerer Kaecilius, who wants to destroy our planet and discover the power to have eternal life.

The Marvel superhero films have been wildly popular among children, who likely will be asking to go to this one, too. So, should mom and dad take them? Let’s find out. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)

REVIEW: Is 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back' family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)If you ever decide to venture into a dark alley, late at night with bad guys all around, then you might want to take Jack Reacher with you.

Reacher is the hero in the popular book series by Lee Child and the film series starring Tom Cruise, and it seems there’s nothing he can’t escape. Sure, he might kill a few people and break a few necks along the way, but the odds are that he’s walking out alive.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13) hits theaters this weekend, bringing us the second installment in the movie series that follows a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps who travels the country and constantly finds himself in the middle of trouble. But somehow, he always ends up on the right side of things.

He’s part James Bond, part Jason Bourne and part Ethan Hunt – and 100 percent testosterone.

In the newest movie, Reacher (Cruise) is framed for murder and his friend Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is wrongly accused of espionage, but both escape custody (thanks to Reacher) and begin trying to find the people who truly were responsible for the crimes.

It won’t be easy, though. They’re not only being chased by military police but also by the bad guys – the bad guys who actually did commit the crimes. And those bad guys not only want Reacher and Turner dead, but they’re also after a girl, 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who is believed to be a daughter that Reacher never knew.

There are 20 books in the Jack Reacher series, so there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing this character for many years to come on the big screen.

But is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back family-friendly? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

My oldest son was munching on French fries and looking around the restaurant, as the rest of our family finished a meal on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

His mind, though, was not on the topic of conversation. Instead, he was staring at an adjacent table, where another family was sitting.

“Dad, what’s wrong with her?”

Almost immediately, I knew what he was referencing. Sitting at the table was a woman in a wheelchair, maybe in her 20s, who was mentally disabled. Every now and then she would look our way and smile, and I would smile back, but my son – who at the time was in the second grade – did not know what to do.

“She keeps looking over here, Dad.”

My son was confused, not knowing what to think, and I was searching for answers. And I knew that this conversation would apply to every area of his life.

No matter where he goes – to school, to church and (one day) to work – he will encounter people who look different, sound different and act different. His friends might be tempted to say “she looks weird” or “he acts goofy,” but I pray he will respond with the heart of Christ, and not with the words of a bully.

After all, the entire point of the Gospel was to help those who are helpless. Sure, the core of it was Jesus saving sinners, but if we study His life on this earth, we discover He had a heart for the disabled: the leper, the blind man, the lame person. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (a despised tax collector who was so short he couldn’t see over anyone) or even Paul (who had an undefined “thorn in the flesh”)?

If my son gets this lesson right early in life, then he will have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the mentally disabled woman in the restaurant … or even the skinny, acne-prone boy in science class.

As we walked away from that restaurant, I made several points: Continue reading