How to Use Books & Movies to Have Great Conversations With Your Kids


For any of you who’ve heard us speak before, you know we often use clips from films or television shows to illustrate points.  We like bringing visuals of the concepts we’re talking around, and we’ve found clips can help bring those concepts to life.  

We use this same philosophy when working with kids and will periodically show scenes to help kids make connections.  We use them at camp, in groups, and with individual kids.  Several of our books include recommendations of films to watch with kids.  They may be stories rich in emotional content, films that invite critical thinking or drive thoughtful and important conversations with our kids.  

Because all three of us love reading and are passionate about literacy, we always recommend having kids read the book before they see the movie.  There is often so much more within the book than can be included in the film.  Furthermore, for some kids, knowing what will happen within the story may make seeing a particular scene within a movie less overwhelming (think Bridge to Terabithia) or scary (Chronicles of Narnia).  

Because most kids and teenagers love movies, it’s a great way to connect with them, enjoy time together, and can drive some meaningful conversations.  


I (David) find myself reading a good amount of YA Fiction these days, as a means of connecting with my adolescent daughter.  She loves to read, and she and her friends have discovered many of the popular series of books that have been made into films, like The Hunger Games and Divergent.  I like reading the books so I’m engaged with her interests, and can talk from an informed place with students I meet with in my work.  

A quick disclaimer here.  We recommend you read ahead of your kids and review the books and movies they are exploring.  In knowing your individual child, you may determine they aren’t ready for certain content, or feel uncomfortable with the direction of the story arc.  Take a look at useful sites like Common Sense Media ( to guide you in making thoughtful, informed decisions.

My daughter recently discovered the Divergent series.  I read the first book, she read the first book, and then we went to see the first movie together.  The story is full of themes that would interest most adolescents - adventure, mystery, and my daughter loves a story with strong heroine.

We went to a coffee shop afterwards to talk about the similarities in the book and the film, and where the director took liberties with the story.  We talked around evidence of courage and bravery, sacrifice and heroism.  We also talked about the universal experience of fear - something we all face but how it looks different on each person.  

The story takes place in the future, in the city of Chicago.  Members of society are divided into five factions.  When a child turns sixteen, he or she must choose a faction - the faction your parents belong to and what you’ve known, or a different faction.  The faction of your choice will determine where you live, the work you do, and many other aspects of your life going forward.  Once you choose your faction, you can’t go back and change your mind.  You are deemed “factionless” if you try and reverse the decision. Once a faction is chosen, you begin training for the faction.  The main character begins her training, which involves both physical and mental elements.  During a pivotal part of the mental training, each member is given a serum that triggers a person’s “fear landscape,” a series of scenes where you travel through some of your greatest fears and identify ways to navigate those fears.

This idea intrigued me and made for this great conversation with my daughter where we talked about what some of our biggest fears were.  We talked around imagined fears (being trapped and suspended at the top of a broken roller-coaster for me), and everyday fears we faced.  We then talked about what we’d figured out was helpful/useful to do in moments of navigating everyday fears.

I loved learning  new things about my daughter, and it was such a “back door” way of talking about worry, fear and anxiety.  I’ve ended up having this conversation with a number of students I’m seeing and with a group of high school boys I meet with on Thursday nights.  I had each one of them map out their fear landscape, we talk around real and imagined fears, and how we navigate those fears.  

What books or movies have you found to be helpful in having thoughtful conversations with your kids lately?