Should You Show Your Kids These Classic Teen Movies?

Just the other day I sat down with the girls and made them watch some of my favorites. We watched The NeverEnding Story, Back to the Future (all 3 of them) and a few others. It got me wondering what should we show our kids that they are missing out on. THEN there was another… that I remember watching as a kid and now that I am older I realize that I shouldn’t have watched it as a young teen. There was a few things that went over my head and a few things that made me think ‘was I really ready’??

Watching movies together can be a great bonding experience for parents and kids. As we sit through each newly released superhero or princess movie, it’s tempting to want to show our kids the films we remember loving at their age. Unfortunately, some family and teen films popular from the 1970s to the ‘90s would never fly today. I know because I’ve learned the hard way. More than once I’ve found myself pushing a movie that “I grew up with” on my kids, only to realize it’s shockingly inappropriate about one second too late. The next thing I know, I’m fast-forwarding while shouting: “Cover your eyes!”

Here’s a gentle reminder about some of our generation’s greatest films that you may want to take another look at before featuring them for family movie night.

Big (1988).

What you think it’s about:  A 13-year-old boy’s wish to be “big” is granted … and he becomes Tom Hanks. With the body of a man and the brain of a boy, Josh Baskin plays pinball and jumps on trampolines in his penthouse, wins over the boss at FAO Schwarz with a “Heart and Soul” duet on a giant piano mat, and spits out caviar at a fancy corporate party.

What you may have forgotten: Besides a couple of curse words, drinking and smoking, Big’s biggest shocker is that Josh has sex with a grown woman as a 13-year-old boy in the body of a man. That said, it is a great movie, so if you still want to share, consider fast-forwarding through the part where Hanks as “young Josh” reaches out to touch the breast of his grown-up co-worker, played by Elizabeth Perkins.

Sixteen Candles (1984).

What you think it’s about: Samantha’s family forgets about her 16th birthday due to her sister’s wedding. Hijinks ensue at a school dance and a party and then there’s that wacky foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong. It’s all fine in the end because teen dream Jake Ryan falls in love with our heroine, teaching us that it’s personality that counts. A perfect John Hughes PG-rated film.

What you may have forgotten: …is that Sixteen Candles actually has some disturbing messages. It starts out with a naked “teen” girl, thanks to the boys who have drilled a peephole into the gym showers. Oh, boys will be boys! Jake Ryan is actually cinema’s WORST boyfriend. He stalks sophomore Sam when he learns she wants to lose her virginity to him, dumps his long-term, trusting girlfriend Caroline by tossing her into the car with an unlicensed, inexperienced (and possibly drunk) driver…who rapes her! But that’s okay, because when 18-year-old Caroline wakes up, she’s totally cool with it all, saying she thinks she enjoyed it and kisses her 14-year old rapist. Ewww.

The Breakfast Club (1985).

What you think it’s about: “A brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal” break out of their stereotypes during a Saturday detention at their high school by banding against the doofus principal. Teen tricks like making it snow with dandruffy hair, putting lipstick on using cleavage and running through the halls of high school are pure madcap fun.

What you may have forgotten: A few years ago, a Nickelodeon series did a Breakfast Club spoof, so I rewatched the film with my tween. Big mistake. First, language, language! Second, the quintet smoke pot and get high. Third and worst, Bender is a sociopath who makes degrading comments to and about Claire. Then, with no apology or anything to make any of that okay, she sneaks into where he is being punished in isolation to make out with him. Welcome to an abusive relationship, Claire.

Pump Up the Volume (1990).

What you think it’s about: Christian Slater takes over the airwaves to rally high school students to stick it to the man!

What you may have forgotten: If you’re like me, you forgot that this movie is actually and appropriately rated R.  To the complete ignorance of his parents, Christian Slater is hosting a very dirty pirate radio show that turns into a manifesto against his school. Language is raunchy and foul, parents and educators are idiots, Slater’s character knowingly continues to break the law, and the audience gets an extended view of Samantha Mathis’ breasts in a high school hook up session.


Bad News Bears (1976) and Six-Pack (1982).

What you think it’s about: Misfits are mentored by a cranky drunk and find that teamwork helps them succeed.

What you may have forgotten: In the 1970s and ‘80s, kids cursed like sailors and used ethnic slurs. At least, that’s the take away from these two films. In both films, some of the movie’s young “heroes” are criminals, not to mention the ne’er do well adults in charge – be it Buttermaker or Brewster Baker. I thought these would be entertaining for my daughter home for a sick day, but I cringed at what she actually “learned.”

Meatballs (1979).

What you think it’s about: Bill Murray in one of his most lovable roles as camp counselor Tripper. Being on the losing team is put into perspective when Tripper gets the camp to chant, “It just doesn’t matter.”

What you may have forgotten: This PG movie is a sex comedy with no actual sex, just non-stop sex chatter. I love this film, but this comedy does have an alarming scene that’s a little rapey. Tripper is crushing on fellow counselor Roxanne. One night when they’re alone, he tries and tries and tries to kiss her, including “wrestling” her and pinning her down while she repeatedly and firmly tells him to stop. While it’s played for laughs, the fact is, Tripper doesn’t take no for an answer in a way that makes me as a parent and a woman very uncomfortable. By making it funny, the movie endorses this behavior as normal and acceptable is disturbing.

Heathers (1988).

What you think it’s about: What’s your damage? As the ‘80s predecessor to Mean Girls, Winona Ryder and Christian Slater team up against the croquet-playing high school popular crowd armed only with sharp, witty dialogue … and wait, some explosives, right?

What you may have forgotten: This is another appropriately rated R movie that may stick in your mind as less worrisome because it’s set in high school. Don’t let that fool you. Heathers is treasured because it’s outrageous, but in 2015, it’s also dangerously politically incorrect. The dialogue is full of profanity – including that famous line “f*** me gently with a chainsaw” – and homosexuality is used as a torture device. After making goo-goo eyes with one another, J.D. sneaks into Veronica’s bedroom and, an hour later, they’re naked and post-coital.  Where this 27-year old movie feels uncomfortably current is when J.D. (Slater) involves Veronica (Ryder) in murdering her friends and eventually, sets out to blow up the school when it’s full of students.

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