Family Movies That Will Inspire Teens and Their Parents, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

Family movies rock! And for many reasons! In today’s busy world, watching movies gives families time to slow down, be entertained, and be together. But family movies have the potential to do so much more. They can quite literally shape children’s lives.

One way for teens to learn about and act on the core abilities of The Compass Advantage is to first identify the compass abilities in others. How can teens do this with their family? Movies provide a great way to recognize curiosity, sociability, resilience, self-awareness, resourcefulness, integrity, creativity, and empathy in other people.

When we recognize the compass abilities in the characters of movies, we become more aware of the same strengths in ourselves. Watching family movies together can become an important developmental practice for teens, particularly when parents take the time to discuss important aspects of the movie with their kids. Too tired after the movie? Set a time, perhaps over dinner, to talk the next day.

The discussions that arise from watching family movies not only increase self-awareness for children, but also for parents. It is an opportunity for parents to share their own stories related to the character strengths under discussion, as well as to listen to their children’s stories. In the process, families can become aware of each other’s abilities and how each family member uses those abilities in the world each and every day.

Parents and teens also have an opportunity to reflect on the abilities they’d like to improve. Family movies, like the ones listed below, often show the role of mentors and other support systems to which children can turn to improve their lives.

8 Family Movies That Can Help Shape Your Teen’s Identity

The following family movies contain characters who exemplify the core abilities contained in The Compass Advantage. Watch each movie as a family, then discuss how the highlighted ability was inspired and demonstrated by the particular characters suggested under each movie. While each film focuses on a different ability, be sure to talk about how the eight abilities are often inter-connected and influenced by each other. Extend your conversation to related character strengths, like honesty, compassion, courage, kindness, teamwork, fairness, forgiveness, gratitude, hope, humor, and leadership.

Dead Poets Society Quote-Family Movies That Will Inspire Teens and Their Parents, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

Conclude your discussion by asking each family member: What has inspired this ability in you and how have you demonstrated this ability in recent months? If you wanted to improve this ability, how might you do so? (No lecturing here! Let your kids come up with their own insights!)

The following family movies are rated either PG13 or PG, meaning they are most appropriate for children thirteen or over.

Alice in Wonderland (2010); Rating PG; (Curiosity)

Through this latest version of the classic film, discuss how 19-year-old Alice’s fate was shaped by her curiosity. How did curiosity impact her self-awareness, creativity, and resilience?

Finding Forrester (2000); Rating PG13; (Sociability)

Discuss Sean Connery’s character and the relationship he developed with a high school student. What did they learn from each other? How did sociability impact their integrity?

Whale Rider (2003); Rating PG13; (Resilience)

Discuss the character of Pai and how she developed grit and perseverance to overcome life’s challenges. How did resilience impact other multiple abilities?

Seabiscuit (2003); Rating PG13; (Self-Awareness)

Discuss how Charles, Red, and Tom developed self-awareness through mindfulness. What role did self-awareness play in developing resilience and inspiring others?

Dead Poets Society (1989); Rating PG; (Integrity)

Discuss Ethan Hawke’s growth of integrity and how it transformed him and his classmates. What other inter-connected abilities grew as the result of the student’s experiences?

Akeelah and the Bee (2006); Rating PG; (Resourcefulness)

Discuss how Akeelah pursued her goals and to whom she opened herself to receive support. What internal achievements did she gain as a result?

Life Is Beautiful (1997); Rating PG13 (Creativity)

Discuss the character of Guido Orefice. What inspired his creativity and how was it demonstrated? How were his ideas original and relevant to his situation?

The King’s Speech (2010); Rating PG13; (Empathy)

Discuss how the characters of Lionel and Bertie developed empathy for one another. What strategies did Bertie use to shift his perspective? How did Lionel and Bertie’s empathy impact those around them?

Beyond Entertainment: Watching Family Movies through a New Lens

If you discuss the suggested questions under the family movies listed above, you’ll begin to shift how you watch movies with your children. You and your kids will observe characters through a new lens – the lens of human development. Through family movie-watching, you’ll begin to ask each other different questions, share new observations about character strengths and weaknesses, and gain greater awareness of yourself and others.

As a parent, you will observe in greater detail how adults inspire the compass abilities in children and vice versa. Human development is about learning and making meaning from life experiences. Good family movies contain meaning. Indeed, movies can teach us about human development, but only if we experience them with eyes beyond entertainment.

Please share your family movie-watching experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your discussions as well as other movies that have inspired you and your family.


Niemiec, Ryan M.; Wedding, Danny (2014). Positive Psychology at the Movies. Boston, MA: Hogrefe Publishing.

Published: July 12, 2016