"John" is a dad who wanted me to referee the battle that erupted when he demanded that his 15-year-old daughter stop watching a Disney Channel program that made him uncomfortable — even though he didn't know much about it.
"I just don't like the boy-girl thing" on that show, he said.
His daughter burst into tears and his wife took the daughter's side. I was supposed to break the tie between the spouses.
What do you think? Was John right in asking his daughter to turn the program off? Was his wife overreacting?
My friend John wanted me to say, "You were right in having your daughter turn off the TV," but I didn't see it that way. In fact, a much bigger problem was developing in his home, and I told him so.
He risked alienating his daughter by barking out orders, without showing fatherly affection and without communicating how his deep love for Christ was his underlying motivation. In fact, I'm not really certain his love for the Lord was his main motivation. I think it was more along the lines of, "I don't want my daughter being promiscuous, and this television show certainly doesn't support purity."
As it turned out, the program that concerned John was rather innocuous. It wasn't perfect, but it didn't justify his knee-jerk reaction. I advised him to record a few episodes and watch with his daughter, explaining any concerns he might have.
Most of all, though, John needed to make sure his daughter knew how much he valued her. He needed to explain that having media rules in their home was a natural expression of that love. He also needed to admit that although the driving force behind his actions may have been noble, his execution was lacking. That led to one more need: to apologize.
John's overreaction to his daughter's television viewing is a reminder that even though training our children to be savvy about entertainment is an important life skill, any attempt to achieve that harshly with unexplained, stern boundaries is counterproductive.
When done right, teaching discernment helps our kids make better choices for a lifetime, not just while they live under our roof. That's important because new entertainment arrives daily, and delivery gizmos and gadgets change almost as rapidly. Yet no matter what tops the charts or what systems are used to enjoy it, John's situation shows that even the best rules must be enforced with love.
Whether or not you've ever had a similar run-in with your son or daughter, consider using the record-watch-and-discuss method I suggested to John. In other words, enter your child's entertainment world. Become familiar with his or her favorites and those of his or her friends, and why these are high on the list. There's no need to treat your child's media consumption as some secret place with a large "No Parents Allowed" sign above the entrance. Give yourself permission to enter — gently and lovingly.
Other than entering your child's media world, how can you help him or her plot a course through today's entertainment and technological landmines — without wrecking your relationship? Using love as a guide, I'll use the following articles to suggest several practical steps you can take.