A typical Friday evening as a 20-something single dude:

Meet friends for greasy bar food. Drink copious amounts of alcohol. Sing karaoke (quite badly). Dance even worse. Lose memory. Make questionable and regretful decisions. Repeat as necessary.

A typical Friday evening as a 40-something father of four:

Transform the living room, starting with a mattress base, then surrounded by our favorite stuffed animals, and top off with no less than 17 pillows and six blankets per person. Make a bucket of coconut oil and sea salt popcorn. Ensure steady supply of gummy cola bottles, Dots, and/or various forms of chocolate. Drape self with Snuggie. Gather remotes, power on the TV, close the curtains, turn out the lights, and make memories with kids.

Perhaps I’m biased (okay, definitely biased), but in comparing these two Friday night traditions, separated only by two decades of life experience, I will choose the latter every time, offering apologies to those friends I may have abandoned in favor of a family movie night tradition.

A family movie night shows children that, as a parent, I am willing to set aside my other interests and busy schedule to spend time with them. By sacrificing the normal comforts and conventions of movie-watching in favor of intentionally making a mess on the floor and throwing out the usual rules governing junk food restraint, the kids learn that, once in a while, breaking the rules provides a necessary release from the stresses of everyday life.

It is but a small price to pay for memories to last a lifetime.

I’ve been doing movie nights with my children individually and hosting occasional all-family movie nights, for more than a decade as of this writing, and to this day, our movie night tradition is the highlight of any given week. When we watch movies and/or series together, it isn’t a passive activity like some might assume. We don’t simply stare at a screen mindlessly and absorb whatever comes at us. Family movie night is an active sport:

  • As movies unfold or in between films, we often pause and talk, discussing some of the more complex or adult themes, reinforcing important life and moral lessons, defining challenging vocabulary, or asking what we would do if placed in certain situations. Even those uncomfortable love scenes provide a great opportunity to talk about what consent means or how to nurture healthy relationships
  • That almost makes it sound like some cheesy after school special, but more often than not, we back up to replay scenes particularly adept at hilarity, such as the epic news anchor rumble from Anchorman or repeatedly enjoying Belch’s legendary thunder-burp from Revenge of the Nerds (which, upon the third time viewing it, actually made my youngest son throw up from laughing so hard, something I never realized was possible).

The point is, family movie nights provide a way to immerse ourselves and our children into the stories that movies offer us, for better or for worse. Those stories have value even beyond their intrinsic worth by giving us the gift of time spent together, savoring the moment and learning to build anticipation for those moments.

Every time we go see the latest Star Wars installment, the kids are going to remember the time they watched the original or prequel trilogies with their dad.

Maybe when they get to high school, they’ll remember The Breakfast Club and what we talked about regarding learning to accept people as they are and avoid getting bogged down in the drama of cliques.

When they get their first professional jobs as adults and they’re setting up their desks, they might chuckle as they glance at the bright red stapler in their workspace, as they mutter in their best Milton impression, “I believe you have my stapler.”

Maybe someday, as my kids become parents themselves, I might be so fortunate as to see them get involved in a family movie night tradition of their own. Maybe they’ll even invite me, and we can make it generational!

As a professor, I use movies in the classroom as a way of exploring complicated communication and organizational behavior theories. We study and discuss scholarly topics and then we apply it as we see the theories play out in real time. Viewing films with a critical, analytical eye is not the experience one might assume when considering the classic couch potato; instead, it engages the viewer, cements powerful life lessons, helps mentally rehearse what one might do in an unfamiliar situation, and teaches us to become more critical consumers of media.

It’s a valuable technique that adds fun and engagement to the process of education, so why not use it at home while also making memories to last a lifetime? Trust me when I state that it’s a tradition well worth the investment of time.