Discussion Packet

The Mitchells vs. The Machines – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

    1. At the beginning of the movie Katie says, “my family only has weaknesses.” However, we learn during the course of the movie that this isn’t true. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses the Millers have as a family? What strengths or weaknesses are there in our family?
      Caregiver Note: It’s easy to see negative things more easily than positive ones, especially when you’re a child or comparing yourself and your family to those of your friends or others you see on social media. This can be a great opportunity to talk about the unique strengths and positive qualities your child and family have, including things that may seem ‘different’ or ‘weird’ initially as they might turn out to be really important or useful skills to have in certain situations — like how the Mitchells end up using some of their more unusual talents to help save the world.
    2. When Katie is struggling to fit in at school and in her family, she says “Movies were always there for me.” Her love of movies is what leads her to making her new friends at college because they all share that interest. Do you have something you like to do when things are hard or you’re feeling upset?
      Caregiver Note: Having an escape or constructive outlet for when we’re feeling angry, or sad, or anxious is very important. Katie found that making movies and sharing them with others helped her when she felt left out or alone. This is a great opportunity to talk with your kid(s) about their own passions. Do they like to watch movies, read, play sports, listen to music, or make art? For children who have experienced a lot of trauma in their life so far, they may not have had a lot of opportunity to develop their passions. If they struggle to think of anything they really enjoy doing this can be a chance to help them try things out. Joining clubs, teams, or activities can be a great way to help build social skills and confidence as well! There are so many options from sports, art classes, scouts, etc. It may take trying a few options to find the one where they ‘click’ and that’s okay!
    3. How do you think Katie feels when she shows her dad her movie and he doesn’t even want to finish watching it and talks about how she might fail at her dream?
      Caregiver Note: Sharing a passion with someone else can be an incredibly vulnerable thing, and to have that met with rejection, especially from a caregiver, can be devastating. We know from other context that Katie’s dad clearly loves her, that they just have different interests and are struggling to relate to one another. But this scene of rejection may bring up memories kiddos have when they tried to share something they were passionate or excited about and were rejected. Katie’s dad wants what’s best for her and doesn’t want her to face rejection or failure out in the world, but the result is that she just faces it from him at home instead. This can be a great opportunity to reassure children that you want to know about what they’re interested in and want them to share things with you and that you will respond in a supportive way.
    4. Why do you think Katie and her dad struggle to get along? Have you ever felt like that?
      Caregiver Note: Parents often hope that their children will grow up to be interested in the same things they are — to share their favorite books or movies, hobbies, career paths. However, kids quickly develop their own personalities and it can be hard to accept that the thing you love they might hate. And you may not understand or enjoy the things they love (as anyone who has sat through hours of children’s cartoons can attest to)! Katie’s dad has trouble accepting that Katie is interested in making movies rather than camping and fishing like he does. This struggle to understand one another leads to frequent arguments and challenges for their relationship. This could open up a discussion about one another’s interests and maybe figuring out a way to share those with each other.
    5. When Abby starts talking to Aaron he screams “I hate dinosaurs and I hate you!” and runs away. We know that all Aaron wants is a friend who loves dinosaurs as much as he does. Why do you think he reacts this way?
      Caregiver Note: Making friends and meeting new people can be scary — especially for children who have anxiety or trauma in their past. Aaron desperately wants friends who share his interests but when confronted with the opportunity unexpectedly, he reacts with panic and lashes out with angry words instead. This can be a great opportunity to talk with kids about how sometimes our outward reactions might not always match how we feel inside and are sometimes just a stress response. Talk about strategies for how to work on coping skills such as breathing exercises. This can also be a good opportunity to talk about how you can best support them when meeting new people to help lessen some of the anxiety and stress.
    6. Why does Katie’s dad keep refusing to listen to her ideas? How does this make her feel?
      Caregiver Note: Children who have been through trauma often have experienced times when they felt like adults did not listen to them — maybe they tried to tell someone what was going on at home and weren’t believed or maybe their caregiver ignored them. Because of this they may be especially sympathetic to Katie’s feelings when her dad repeatedly does not take her ideas seriously. In this case her father is not acting in a malicious manner, he’s just preoccupied and assumes he knows more about how to take care of his family. However, talking about how Katie feels during these instances may offer some insight into their own experiences with similar situations and feelings they have about that. This is also a good time to reiterate that you are interested in their ideas and opinions and that you will always be willing to listen to them if they have something they want to share.
    7. When Katie fights off some of the drones during an attack her dad praises her. Shortly after that he agrees with her idea to film a movie scene and compliments how good it turns out. How do you think these reactions make Katie feel?
      Caregiver Note: Earlier in the movie we see Katie’s dad be uninterested in her movie-making and tell her that his ideas are better and she needs to do what he says. This is a turning point where we see her dad listening to her ideas, and participating in her hobby with her which likely makes her feel loved and accepted. Talking about this shift and the feelings Katie has can be used as a jumping-off point to discussing how you as a caregiver can best praise and support your children’s ideas and interests. Every child wants this reassurance, but may have different preferences in how these things are best demonstrated to them, so talking about what makes them feel most supported can go a long way.
    8. How does Katie’s dad feel when he overhears her saying she was only pretending to get along with him? Do you think Katie regretted saying those things? Have you ever had something similar happen?
      Caregiver Note: When Katie initially said those things, she thought she meant them. But by the time her dad sees that video, what started out as pretending has turned into genuine connection and she clearly regrets it. Unfortunately in our world of recording things in texts and videos, it’s very easy to get into a situation like this where someone finds out something you said that you didn’t mean for them to hear. Children who have experienced trauma are also more likely to have experienced rejection — whether through abuse from a caregiver, bullying, etc. so they may relate to Mr. Mitchell in this scene. Talking about how both Mr. Mitchell and Katie feel in this example may allow youth to open up about their own experiences with rejection or saying things they didn’t mean.
    9. When Mr. Mitchell sees Katie’s Dog Cop movie, he notices a character that is very similar to himself. How does seeing himself on screen and in a new light help him realize his own flaws or mistakes?
      Caregiver Note: It is often hard for people to realize how something they’re doing might be hurting others. Katie’s dad gets his own behavior reflected back to him very literally when he watches her movie and notices the fictional version of himself. Until this point, he wasn’t fully aware of how his words or actions were being perceived by Katie and he feels bad now that he understands that he caused her pain. Due to a lack of healthy relationship modeling, children from backgrounds of trauma often struggle with emotional intelligence and reading the intentions and emotions of others. This can be an opportunity to talk about how our actions impact others and how you can help be a sounding board.
    10. How did Katie’s opinion of her family change throughout the movie?
      Caregiver Note: Initially Katie can’t wait to get away from her family and go off to college, a common sentiment for teenagers! However, after she spends some time with her family on their adventure and comes close to losing them for good, she realizes how much they mean to her and that she is going to miss them when she’s away from her family. It can be easy to think that once you’re a teenager you don’t need anyone anymore because you’re ‘grown up’ but having family to rely on is important at all stages of life. This is especially important to reiterate to youth from backgrounds of trauma. Because of having to be self-sufficient early on, they are even more likely to believe they don’t need anyone. This is a great opportunity to remind them that you’ll be there for them, no matter how old they get.

About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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