One of the great things about watching SFF with the kids is that they will actually come out and ask the questions good SFF tries to stimulate within us. Adults tend to just keep those questions unasked, private and to themselves. Not kids. They ask.
On many occasions, I find myself pausing the DVR to answer questions during a show. They might be “how’d they do that” or “what are they talking about”? I carefully answer each question, then back it up a few seconds and try to watch again. And, when I can I make the girls watch as many behind-the-scenes videos as I can find on our DVDs and Blurays, so they realize it’s all make believe and nothing to be scared of. As a result, my girls have become big fans of shows like SyFy’s FaceOff, which shows exactly how make up works.
I also have a penchant for explaining real life using SFF. When the issue of death came up several years ago with my oldest (now 13) I resorted to Nickelodean’s Danny Phantom to explain how our spirit leaves our body. Yes, I put a Christian spin on it, because that’s how I roll, but even if you don’t share my belief system, you can use Danny Phantom as a way to reassure a child and to take away the scariness of death. They are after all kids- they shouldn’t live their childhoods in fear of anything.
And, it was very interesting to watch my eldest’s reaction to a recent episode of Dark Matters where they talked about Dr. Duncan MacDougall who attempted to scientifically prove the spirit existed by weighing bodies at the moment of death.
I also like to use SFF for disciplinary purposes. Meaning I like to point out bad behavior by likening it to that seen in SFF. If my youngest is whining about something her sister has done, I like to tell her “Stop being the Zathura kid!” That wonderful movie clearly illustrates what behavior is wrong, the repercussions of bad behavior and the importance of getting along with your sibling.
SFF also comes in handy for moral lessons, like why bigotry is wrong. SFF is rampant with source material for this. The Xmen are a wonderful source for letting kids empathize with someone who is treated terrible just because they look different. My girls both were shocked and appalled and just couldn’t understand why someone would be treated mean just for being a different color or being a mutant. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of Professor X, I think.
But the lessons don’t stop with morality and spirituality. Science itself is of course a key component of SFF. And many a storyteller uses the method of having a character explain to another character how something works so that the audience will know. I’m not just talking Fringe or X-Files. Jimmy Neutron, amidst all its cartoonish science, can also contain a few gems of knowledge here and there. Of course, it’s a good idea to point those nuggets out since Jimmy regularly flies in space without a pressure suit and spouts techno babble like a Star Trek science officer.
My kids seem to have done well with SFF as a life teacher. In fact, just this week my seven year old related a wonderful story from school. The class was discussing jobs and my daughter got to explain what a detective was. Of all the things she could have drawn upon, she chose Fringe– which we’ve been watching on the Science Channel. She explained how people get murdered and the characters have to find clues to what happened and catch the bad guys. Leave it to a kid to break the show down to its primary elements, and to catch the fact they are indeed detectives- a word I don’t recall ever actually being used to describe Peter Bishop of Agent Olivia Dunham on the show.
I guess in the educational department, SFF has improved over the years. All I got out of it when I was a kid was that if you went to another planet, you needed your own, personal Robot, and that if you wore a red shirt, you were doomed. It’s great to know my kids will grow up with a much more rounded SFF education.