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Corbin Bernsen on How to Use Value-Centered Films to Talk To Your Kids

You may have watched me on “Psych”, or some of you may remember back to the days on “L.A. Law” when I had a lot more hair. The Cleveland crowd probably knows me best as Roger Dorn of the fictional Cleveland Indians in the movie “Major League” and its sequels. I’ve been blessed to have an enduring and fulfilling career in Hollywood.

But my true passion – besides my wife of 25 years, Amanda, and our four sons – is my company Home Theater Films. I launched Home Theater Films because I saw a deep need for high-quality, values-centered entertainment that is designed to be watched by families….together….in one room. The films – two of which were made in Northeast Ohio – are meant to address life’s biggest questions in family-friendly terms. How can we tell right from wrong? How can we keep faith in our nation when it seems more divided than ever? How do we believe in science and God? And, of course, how in the world do we explain the fame of a Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears to our children?

Google Glass will soon put us all in our own little virtual worlds where we won’t have to encounter the real world much at all.  As it is, we email constantly, check the weather and consult our calendars on our phones and play Candy Crush on our computers with others, but really just all by ourselves. We even text people sitting right across the dinner table from us.

I’m not saying technology is a bad thing. It’s an important part of my industry and many others. But what happened to talking daily face-to-face with those we love most in the world? 

Some of my colleagues ask me why I don’t make so-called “cool” films. I do, I think, but I mainly make potentially powerful films. Kids get their most important lessons from their parents and – for better or worse – their peers. But movies, like parables, resonate with us but are, on the surface anyway, about characters on the screen. When kids talk about a movie, they can talk about the scenes and the plot while offering parents a rare peek into their children’s inner lives.

Here are a few ways I’ve found that families get the most out of films:

  • Agree on a day and a time in advance for “Family Movie Night.” That way, no one can weasel out of it by saying they already have plans.  Emphasize it’s a family commitment, but a fun one.
  • Don’t bombard your kids with serious questions as soon as the lights go on. Nothing will make them run out of the room faster than, “So, have you ever had a crush on a girl like Trey did?” Just start by asking if they liked it and why. What was their favorite scene and why? Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” unless you have a follow-up question ready to go.
  • Naturally move into the more serious issues. Don’t force it. Did a character change for better or worse during the course of the film? Did a character make a bad decision? What would you have done? How does that fit in with your values as a family? If all goes well, you’ll all be talking – face to face – long after the credits run out.
  • And finally, and most importantly, be truthful about your own life – past and present – when asked. Kids today are smart; they aren’t afraid to ask us the hard questions. When I relay the truth about my own life – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I do so with ample discussion of the effects of my choices. I’ve found that any “message” or “lesson” is best received that way, and the respect created between us forms a firm foundation for the lessons yet to come.

To learn more parenting tips from Corbin and other leading parenting experts, visit Parenting Expo Cleveland April 26 – 27 at the International Exposition (IX) Center. Parenting Expo is the one event that is all about parenting. A two-day family-friendly event, parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators will have an opportunity to receive up-to-date information on what’s important to them right now – from prenatal care to raising teens.  In addition, attendees will walk away with meaningful coupons, giveaways, goody bags full of products from exhibitors, and opportunities to win prizes throughout the expo.