- Jessica Glass Kendorski is a mom and youth psychologist.
- She and her teen daughter connected over the “Barbie” movie.
- Cultural moments like the movie can give parents openings to discuss big concepts, she says.
Millions of people are flocking to the theaters to see “Barbie” this weekend, but the movie isn’t just a feel-good indulgence or a chance to feel nostalgic. It can also be a great opening to talk with teens about big concepts that are otherwise difficult to broach.
“While there are definitely themes surrounding feminism, gender roles, and equality, it is done in a fun, entertaining manner, which is the perfect way to start a conversation with teens on these heavy, important issues,” said Jessica Glass Kendorski, a licensed psychologist and professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Kendorski already used the movie to bond with her teen daughter and said that other parents can do the same. Here’s how.
Don’t make a big deal out of the teaching moment
You can bring your teen to see “Barbie” without an agenda and still get the benefits from the movie.
“Teens tend to shut down when lectured, so the best way to connect is through a story and nuance, and ‘Barbie’ does this well,” Kendorski said.
Go in with an open mind
Many parents raised in the heyday of Barbie have their own ideas about the franchise. Those might be different from your teen’s concepts. No matter what, approaching the film with an open mind can help you connect.
“What seems to be the beauty of the ‘Barbie’ movie is the nuance and sarcasm,” Kendorski said. “It makes you think. You bring your own interpretations to it.”
Ask open-ended questions
All that interpreting means that you and your teens might have totally different impressions of the movie and its overarching messages. Ask open-ended questions to feel out your teen’s response.
“Determine what themes they may have interpreted,” Kendorski said. “Ask them the characters they liked or didn’t like and why. Validate their emotions.”
Push back on black-and-white thinking
Teens can have really strong convictions, which can show up as dichotomous thinking. They might see certain characters or themes as all good or all bad. To show more nuance, share a story with your teen about a time you went through someone similar to one of the characters. Then, ask them about experiences that they’ve had, Kendorski says.
Clear up any misinformation
Similarly, teens can pick up information that’s not accurate. For example, they might have an idea that feminism is just for women. If they express sentiments that aren’t true, you can gently push back on those.
“It may be helpful to define the concept of feminism as equal opportunity and rights for all genders and explore the history of it in society,” Kendorski said. “Validate their feelings and interpretations and clear up any misinformation they may bring to it.”
Bask in the nostalgia
Overall, nostalgia is linked with emotional wellness and feeling good, Kendorski says. If “Barbie” sparks that for you, share those feelings with your children. If you have a negative reaction to the movie — or aren’t seeing it for personal reasons — talk to your children about those feelings as well, Kendorski says.
Use cultural moments to connect
Whether it’s the “Barbie” movie with teens or “Bluey” with your toddler, television shows and other cultural connections can help open conversations with your kids. Take advantage of those moments when they come up since they can make the tough task of parenting just a little bit easier.
“Humans are natural storytellers,” Kendorski said. “We build community through stories, build relationships through stories and talk to ourselves in stories. We connect through stories.”
She’s already used the film’s soundtrack to her advantage.
“My teen daughter and I rarely have the same taste in music, but the other day in the car, when she played ‘I’m Just Ken,’ we both smiled and sang along,” she said.