Parents aren’t that Stupid

As someone whose parents usually knew best, I have to wonder why cinema often depicts parents as stupid.

In fact, this bothered my parents quite a bit. I remember many a movie that my dad paused in order to explain to six-year-old Shiloh and her brother that we should never do what the youngsters in the film were doing—namely, disobeying them. It didn’t matter that we were unlikely to ever run away from home or light the toilet paper on fire. The point of these mid-movie pontifications was to remind us that disobedience in any form was not a good idea.

What’s shocking, though, is that the movies consistently make disobedience look like the best—in fact, the only—solution. How many movies have you seen where the parents explicitly forbid the children from doing something, and that something winds up being the only action that can save the world. Wow, what are the odds?!

This bothered me, too, as a kid. From experience, I knew that things did not generally turn out well when I went behind my parents’ back or defied them openly. So it made very little sense to me  that the kids in movies always got away with backtalk and rebellion—and were in fact praised for it in the end!

In reality, most normal kids I knew would have gotten into huge trouble, or would have wreaked disaster on themselves by disobeying. But the kids in movies always got off the hook and even received apologies from their parents for trying to tell them what to do.


Because in the movies, parents have the most to learn.

It is Mom and Dad who, after their child has prevented some catastrophe, admit to their child that they were wrong for establishing rules. For enforcing those rules. For disciplining their children for breaking those rules. For, you know, parenting.

If kids in real life were half as smart as the kids in those movies, then some of those rules might not be necessary. But the fact is, your average preteen is not *in fact* a literal rocket scientist. Chances are your seventeen-year-old son’s driving skills are not better than yours. And most adults would have a better shot at diffusing a bomb than an eleven-year-old. But it’s the movies! Adults can’t possibly know more than their offspring!

It’s almost a wonder these fictitious parents even survived long enough to reproduce. Anyone that oblivious would have been eliminated from the gene pool! There are too many examples to go into detail, but if you’ve seen classics like Back to the Future, E.T., and even Shiloh—or any number of popular films featuring adolescents, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If the corresponding intelligence levels of adults and children in movies represented reality, the human race would have died off long ago.

Instead, we have a collection of entertaining films that teach kids never to listen to their parents. I find this rather unfortunate. Yes, parenting is a learning process. Yes, no adult has all the answers. But let us remember that young people are already prone to thinking they know everything—so why reinforce that belief in movies?

There is a difference between inspiring young and inflating young people.

An inspiring story will empower them to solve problems by learning. An inflating story will tell them they don’t need to learn anything because they know better than everyone else.

One of these stories will lead to growth. The other will not.

We trumpet the value the of teachability and lifelong learning—and with good reason. We will never become our best if we cannot admit our worst. Kids need to understand this early on. So while parents should not stifle their children’s creativity, they must help them understand that adult authority exists for a reason, and that most movies don’t tell the real story.   

Did you ever notice this trend in movies you watched growing up? Did it bother you?

Why do you think it is so popular to undermine parental authority and wisdom?

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4 Comments on “Parents aren’t that Stupid

  1. Excellent article Shiloh! 🙂 Moana, Mulan, and Frozen are other examples of the heroic young person infallibly wiser than their parents. Contrast this with the Chronicles of Narnia, where the Pevensies needed Aslan and their other counselors, or the Lord of the Rings, in which the hobbits needed Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn, Galadriel. Contrast it also with Jane Austen. Lydia and Marianne’s escapades don’t work out very well for them…

    • Why thank you!!! I can’t speak for Moana since I haven’t seen it, but that does seem to be the trend with modern Disney movies. Backtrack to Lion King though, and you have a father who actually knew what he was talking about!
      Yes, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien do a great job of underscoring the importance of an abundance of counsel in order for a mission to succeed. They understood that any one person (especially a young person) going rogue without guidance doesn’t usually end well.

  2. Most definitely!
    Movies like that used to get me so mad as a kid – “How come those kids on TV got to get away with things like this and I could not with just a fraction of what they had done?” It made me feel inferior. I was never the “cool” kid and the movies just proved it even more.
    I figured that my parents were different and I blamed it on them.
    As I grew up, I realized that most of those movie are just movies, BUT, unfortunately, I also know some families that do act like they do in the movies. The kids rule over the parents.
    It’s very bizarre for me to watch. I wonder if years and years of watching those movies made people think being such a parent is the gold standard…

    • Yes, I have a feeling we had very similar upbringings. 😂 Although being heavy-handed is not the solution, teaching kids to always go with their gut or act in their feelings is, to say the least, counterproductive. And glamorizing passive parenting in cinema does teach kids to expect the same passivity from their parents!

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