How kids movies have changed since E.T.

Tracy Chappell cracked open a VHS copy of E.T. to share with her daughters.

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Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

It was actually my husband’s idea to show the girls E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Do you remember it (of course you do) and its impact on our generation? My sisters and I could recite the lines from this old worn-out VHS copy I still somehow own, and I vividly remember the Atari game that let you help E.T. get home—complete with a flying bike and Reese’s Pieces.

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I wasn’t sure they were old enough for it. I remember seeing it in the theatre (it was released in 1982, so I must have been nine-ish), and bawling at the end. And funny enough, I was more concerned about my eight-year-old daughter than my five-year-old. Anna tends to be afraid of any hint of tension in a movie, which means even watching Disney movies can cause her anxiety. She’s always half-climbing on my lap on movie night, grasping my arm, bouncing around nervously. She likes it, but is often covering her eyes, too.

We published a story about this in our March issue and it really spoke to me (it even referred to E.T.). The best tip it suggested is that kids don’t care about spoilers, so we should feel free to let them know what’s going to happen to help ease any anxiety. It also said that kids around seven are figuring out the difference between fantasy and reality, which can help them handle a little more tension in their movies, since they can distance themselves a little bit.

It started out exactly as I remember, with the big space ship that landed in the forest, men with flashlights running in the dark, and a shadowy space alien with a glowing heart. Anna was digging her fingernails into the fleshy part of my arm already and gasping with fright. Avery, only five, says lazily, “Anna, it’s just a movie. It’s not real. Relax!”

Avery’s not big on movies these days, so she wandered off to do something else while the rest of us got wrapped up in this old, beloved story. Anna yelped with laughter, buried her head under the blankets when she was afraid (which was a lot) and couldn’t keep still or stop talking through the whole thing (What’s going to happen? Who is that? Where are they going? Is he going to be OK?). She loved it. I loved how emotionally invested she got, even if it made for a less-than-peaceful movie night.

I always forget all the bad language in kids’ movies from our time. This one had “penis breath” and “douchebag” in the first scenes with people, but she didn’t seem to notice. Funny that there’s so much of that in these movies. I thought about showing them The Goonies, which I loved as a kid, but my sister showed it to her kids and said there was a lot of swearing. Though I guess it didn’t corrupt me too greatly. The only other old movie we’ve watched with the girls is Home Alone, which Anna thought was hilarious.

What movies from your youth have you watched with your kids? I’d love some suggestions to expand our movie-night horizons.

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