In a typical home, the television is on for at least several hours a day. People go to the theater, stream, or rent movies on top of this, too. Time after time, money is part of what you see. This can have a big effect on the way your kids think about finance.
Money’s Not on TV or in Movies, Is It?
Money-related themes or premises appear in television and film more than you might think. Recently, reality television has seen an influx of these. Some good examples you might have watched (with your kids over your shoulder) include these shows
- Shark Tank—ABC reality television show in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of potential investors
- My Shopping Addiction—Oxygen Network reality television show focusing on cases of people being obsessed with shopping, which is treated on the program like drug or other addictions
- Extreme Cheapskates—TLC reality television show detailing over-the-top methods people go to in order to save money
Reality television isn’t the only place money shows up, however. It’s also played key roles in these movies and programs your kids might have seen:
- Oliver & Company—Based roughly on “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dicksons, this movie features a down-on-his luck man, Fagin, who has a gang of dogs who help him try to steal money. He is in debt to a loan shark, Sikes. Fagin’s attempt to blackmail a rich family ends up resulting in a little girl, Jenny, being kidnapped and put in serious danger.
- Muppet Treasure Island—Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” this film follows a band of pirates on a search for treasure.
- Batman, The Animated Series—Batman’s enemy, the Joker, is constantly trying to steal money and rob banks in this classic cartoon.
- Babe/Babe in the City—A farmer, Arthur H. Hoggett, struggles to remain efficient on his family farm; his son tells him to modernize to start turning a profit. In the sequel, after Arthur is injured falling down a well, his wife, Esme, tries to get their famous sheepherding pig, Babe, to a show for an appearance fee so that the bank won’t repossess the farm.
- Flubber—An absentminded but genius professor, Philip Brainard, sees his school threatened by financial hardship. Brainard creates a revolutionary new substance, flubber, out of his basement lab. A corrupt businessman, Chester Hoenicker, tries to steal the flubber and to blackmail Brainard into trading future inventions for the financial stability of the school.
Why Should You Care That Money Is On the Screen?
As the above examples show, script writers and directors often portray money in a negative way on screen, even in kids’ shows. It is routinely the source of drama, conflict, and anxt. This isn’t how you want your kids to see finance. You want them to see money as having incredible potential, as being something that can benefit both individuals and society as a whole.
Another issue is that television shows and movies aren’t always going to get the money facts right. For example, the good guys don’t always catch the bank robbers in real life. Sometimes the wrongness of a money issue is part of the fun, such as in “Austin Powers,” when Dr. Evil demands just $1 million dollars in blackmail money instead of $100 billion because, having traveled in time, he’s not aware of how much inflation as decreased the value of the dollar. Most of the time, though, the inaccurate portrayals of money can give your kids an inaccurate picture of its value and how people handle it.
What You Can Do
Money-related concepts are bound to crop up in what your family watches. Instead of ignoring it, seize the opportunity to talk about what’s in the show or film. Discuss the ethics involved as well as the steps of a particular financial task. If you can, take advantage of the fact your kids might enjoy a little TV time and give them an educational finance show such as “Biz Kids.” Pick shows like “Marketplace Money” to watch yourself so you can be a good model. You’ll be entertained and up your financial literacy at the same time, and that’s nothing to complain about.