Focus on the Family

Resolving Disputes Over Family Entertainment

by Bob Waliszewski

"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?

Teaching Discernment to Our Kids

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.

Tips for Parents

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.


Instill Biblical Principles for Entertainment

The Bible is full of passages to help us navigate the culture. How can you help your children think biblically about topics like entertainment?

by Bob Waliszewski

Peter, James, John, Abraham, and Moses didn't have to worry about what movies their sons might watch, what songs the DJ at the high school dance would be spinning, or what TV shows their daughters might be watching on their cell phones. Nor did they face the challenges of texting, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, Hulu or Pandora.

But as I've already mentioned, even though the Bible never says, "Thou shalt not listen to gangsta rap," it's full of passages to help us navigate the culture. It's the place to go when you're looking for authoritative answers — a much better place than "Because I said so" or "You're embarrassing me in front of all the other parents at church."

Your kids may not be used to consulting Scripture about their media choices. According to the Barna Group, 91 percent of teens who say they're "born again" make moral decisions by means other than God's absolute truth; most say they use their "feelings." But it's a habit you can encourage, and one that might even help prevent media battles that arise when parents and kids rely solely on personal preferences and opinions.

How can you help your children form that habit of thinking biblically about topics like entertainment? If your kids are preteens or teens, here's one way, taken from Craig and Janet Parshall's book, Traveling a Pilgrim's Path:

Appoint an ethics chair. Some universities create a "chair," or office of a designated expert, on issues like ethics. You can do the same at home, naming one of the chairs at your dinner table the "ethics chair." Let a different person sit in the chair each night for a week; he or she is to weigh in on the right and wrong of subjects discussed at the table. Other family members are free to talk about ethics, too, but the "chairperson" makes sure that at least one moral issue is raised at each meal. If your "expert" takes a questionable stand, resist the urge to overrule him; simply ask him to explain how his position fits with what the Bible says.

Model Media Discernment

Nothing spoils the effectiveness of a media discernment message like a parent who doesn't practice what he or she preaches. If your child knows you're not applying those principles to your own entertainment choices, you're asking for a fight. Most kids — especially teenagers — know hypocrisy when they see it, and they don't respect it.

But no earthly parent is perfectly consistent. So how can you be a walking advertisement for making good entertainment choices? In his book, Effective Parenting in a Defective World, author and pastor Chip Ingram knows the importance of modeling, but encourages us not to expect the impossible from ourselves:

Can you imagine lining your children up on the couch, looking them in the eye, and saying: "I want you to be like me. I want you to talk the way I talk, drive the way I drive, eat and drink the way I eat and drink, watch the kinds of shows I watch, handle your money like I handle my money, balance work and rest like I balance work and rest, and handle your anger like I handle mine"? Would you be comfortable giving them that kind of charge? If not, the most profound parenting decision you will ever make may be how you respond to what you just read.

Can you fathom the lifelong difference you could make in your children's lives if you stopped right now to identify the attributes that you're uncomfortable passing down to them and then systematically began to allow those attributes to be conformed to Christ? You must become who you want your children to become.

If a responsibility that heavy causes you to feel an enormous amount of pressure, let me encourage you. You don't have to be perfect. In fact, you couldn't pass perfection down to your kids if you wanted to; they're fallen human beings, just like you and me. What you can do, however, is demonstrate how godly people handle themselves when they blow it. Authenticity is the goal, not perfection. Let them see how you deal with failure as well as how you deal with success. You can demonstrate what it means to repent, to confess, to humbly accept responsibility for your mistakes, and to ask forgiveness. In fact, asking your child to forgive you for a mistake is one of the most powerful teaching tools you have. It's not about having it all together; it's about living out what you believe day by day and responding appropriately when you miss the mark. It's impossible for you to be perfect for your kids, but anyone can be authentic.

Let your kids see you making media decisions. If you can't explain why it's OK for you to rent that DVD or download that song or frequent that website, you may need to make a better choice. Being as consistent as you can gives your kids one less thing to argue about.

Get Your Pastors on Board

When your kids hear other people — pastors, parents, teachers — echoing your advice on media, they may be more willing to listen.

Encourage your youth pastor to schedule a parent/teen night to discuss the subject of honoring Christ with entertainment decisions. Ask the head of your children's ministry whether making good media choices could be part of the curriculum in Sunday school or children's church. Talk to your senior pastor about including this subject in his plans; a sermon or two each year goes a long way.


Make Entertainment Decisions Based on God's View

Our thoughts about media consumption should be determined by God's thoughts, not the other way around.

by Bob Waliszewski

I was hanging out with some Christian friends awhile back, and as so often happens, the conversation turned to movies including an objectionable R-rated one. I was told to plug my ears so that I wouldn't be offended by one friend's positive perspective on the film.

I simply noted, "It doesn't matter what I think, it matters what the Lord thinks." Fortunately, this person took this comment in the spirit in which I intended it — not cutting or condemning, but thought-provoking. He would later tell me that my words helped him make changes to his viewing habits.
Our thoughts about media consumption should be determined by God's thoughts, not the other way around. Although this idea is straightforward, my experience tells me that living it out can be tricky because many people of faith consider only this: Do I think I will enjoy this movie, show, website, video game, song, book or magazine?

That's not to say that making good media decisions is easy. Even strong, mature believers find navigating the murky waters a bit of a gray area. I'll admit I'm a black-and-white sort of person called to make judgment calls about often-cloudy media. I much prefer subjects that clearly are right or wrong, in bounds or out, positive or negative. Today's entertainment often doesn't fit neatly into those categories.

For instance, should a single profanity be reason enough for a 17-year-old to avoid a certain movie? What about for a 7-year-old? How much violence is too much? Is an hour a day of video gaming excessive? Even among well-meaning Christians, there is no consensus.

I do believe, though, that while God wants us to be happy, on a narrow mountain pass holiness has the right-of-way. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). He also pointed out that those who follow Him should "deny" themselves and take up their cross (Luke 9:23). Obedience is God's priority. As your children embrace this concept it will help them say "no" to troublesome media products — even when their friends are saying "yes." When being entertained is valued more highly than honoring the Lord, we've strayed into dangerous — and contentious — territory.

'What Would Jesus Do?'

It's Friday night. The long-awaited, certain-to-be-a-box-office-smash starts playing every 30 minutes at the local theater. Your oldest is begging to go because "all" his friends will be there. Your daughter's been invited to a slumber party where some romantic comedy is the big draw. Your youngest is raving about a hot new band his buddies like. You just want to kick back with your spouse, pop some popcorn, and watch a new pay-per-view movie.

How do you and your family make decisions about these entertainment opportunities and know in your heart you've made the right ones? Is there a straightforward guideline all of you can agree to follow?

While there are factors like age appropriateness, spiritual maturity, and the possibility of being a "stumbling block" to a brother (Romans 14:13), I think the lion's share of media choices can be made by asking the question popularized more than a decade ago by the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets. The fad may be passé, but the principle behind it will never fade.

I actually prefer an expanded version of the question, something like this: If Jesus were walking the planet today with His 12 disciples, how would He respond if Peter, John, or Matthew asked, "Can we go see or listen to [fill in the blank here]?" Or "How about if we play this video game?"
These are questions we should always ask before choosing entertainment. And they're questions we need to train our kids to ask as well.

Help your son or daughter understand that Christ's answer to these questions would be based entirely upon His love for His disciples, not on a desire to squelch their fun. None of us knows what Jesus would do or say in every situation, but it's our job to train our kids to prayerfully seek what He likely would do based on His holiness and character.


Encourage Positive Entertainment Alternatives

Discuss as a family what constitutes suitable positive and neutral entertainment — and how to find those types.

by Bob Waliszewski

Our Creator is not anti-entertainment. The arts and media are not inherently evil. It's a rare individual God calls to throw out the television, listen to music written only by Handel, and never darken the door of the neighborhood theater or video store.

Few families can set and maintain such austere media boundaries successfully. Many (though not all) who go this route just give their kids ammunition for rebellion — especially when they leave home for college or jobs. I'm convinced the workable approach for most of us is to find constructive entertainment alternatives.

I don't mean that entertainment has to be "Christian" to get a thumbs-up. There are really three types of artistic expression: positive (which generally includes media with a Christian worldview), neutral, and objectionable. The first two are those we should seek; the latter is the type we should avoid.

Just what do I mean by these three classifications? Positive entertainment is that which inspires, uplifts, encourages and motivates the listener or viewer to do something to make this world, another individual, or oneself better. It might be a song that promotes forgiveness, condemns spousal abuse or gives a boost to volunteerism. It might be a television program that highlights the joy of remodeling someone's dilapidated home to make it more wheelchair accessible for an occupant.

Objectionable entertainment is the opposite. Examples abound as this type promotes pride, selfishness, immorality, rebellion, greed and drug use — often portraying these behaviors as glamorous, fun and beneficial.

How about "neutral" entertainment? I'll explain it this way: On the music side of things, think of a song with lyrics that might go something like, "I looked into her eyes, and she in mine/And we walked along the beach hand in hand." These love-lines aren't going to bring about world peace, but there's nothing wrong with the ideas being advanced here, either.

With these categories in mind, discuss as a family what constitutes suitable positive and neutral entertainment — and how to find those types.

Consider Family 'Movie Nights'

Focus on the Family has published three Movie Nights books, exploring quality mainstream films you can watch with your kids as a fun launchpad for positive, healthy discussion afterward. Newer, printable versions of many Movie Nights discussion guides are available at pluggedin.com for use with both teens and young children, and more are being added regularly.

Think of Movie Nights as mini-curricula designed to help families talk about spiritual truth, using the "parables" found in certain popular films. For example, here are a few of the discussion questions for Toy Story 2 listed in the book Movie Nights for Kids:

There are even suggestions for a pre-film field trip to the toy store, a post-movie service project (giving away toys no longer used) and photo treasure hunt (taking pictures of the most valuable things in your home — people), plus behind-the-scenes trivia about two voices featured in the film. That beats arguing about movies any day! To try a "movie night" with your kids, go to pluggedin.com, pick a film, and print out a discussion guide.


Seek Support — and a Discerning Media Middle Ground

Teaching media discernment encourages balance, leads to critical thinking, bonds families, and gives teens life skills they'll carry throughout adulthood.

by Bob Waliszewski

My daughter, who is now serving with her youth pastor husband, honed her discernment skills by teaching the subject to elementary students in our church. But before grabbing the microphone, she latched onto a best friend in high school, a girl who shared her commitment to honor the Lord in this area. They found it much easier to walk this path together than alone. Together iron sharpened iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Friends like that aren't always easy to find. But it's worth trying to help your son or daughter seek "iron" in his or her life, too. When your child hears from a peer that media discernment has value, you may feel less under siege — and less prone to slip into battle mode.

Avoid Extremes

Many parents take an "all or nothing" approach, rather than teaching and reinforcing biblical principles on a case-by-case basis. These moms and dads tend to swing to one extreme or the other — something that's easy to do.

The first extreme is permissiveness. Some parents seemingly can't say "no" to their children. They so much want to be liked by their kids that they seldom risk setting limits. They adopt an "anything goes" philosophy: No boundaries, everything is OK, do what you want. This approach leads to "indecent exposure" as children wander, aimless and wide-eyed, through the culture's enticements. We must not make this common mistake; we have to be parents who know how and when to say "no."

The other extreme is legalism. Parents at this end of the spectrum rarely explain their decisions, but find the first thing out of their mouths is "No."

"Dad, can I go to XYZ movie?"

"No!"

"Can I listen to contemporary Christian music?"

"No!"

"Mom, can I buy a videogame console?"

"No!"

This type of parenting purports to be about safeguarding. It isn't. This approach may simplify entertainment purchasing decisions, but it also can breed rebellion. Youngsters often bide their time, waiting for the day they can sample the entertainment industry's forbidden fruit: "Just wait till I move out someday. I'll watch and listen to whatever I want." When they head off to college or career, this attitude may play out in unwise choices. That's why we also need to be parents who can say "yes" when it's warranted.

Neither of the extremes works. A discerning middle ground — one that tests entertainment against biblical standards — is the most reasonable and protective plan of action. Teaching discernment encourages balance, leads to critical thinking, bonds families, and gives teens life skills they'll carry throughout adulthood.


Talk Your Way Through Conflict

Disagreements can be healthy. Your whole family can grow closer by dealing thoughtfully and lovingly with media-related differences of opinion.

by Bob Waliszewski

Disagreements aren't the same as fights, and the former don't have to lead to the latter. That's true when it comes to hairstyles and junk food, and it's true where media choices are concerned.

How can you calm the troubled waters of an entertainment-related conflict? Authors Joe White and Lissa Johnson, in their book Sticking with Your Teen, offer the following advice. If your child isn't a teenager yet, don't worry. Most of the tips are adaptable to raising younger children — and even to keeping the peace with spouses:

Confrontations happen in practically every home, but they're guaranteed when you and your teen aren't close. How can you communicate in a way that helps you reconnect?

Here are a dozen tips for talking your way through conflict:

  1. Start strong. Psychologists say the first three minutes of a conversation generally dictate how the rest of it will go. Begin a confrontation with a soft voice and respect for your teen, and it's likely that the confrontation will be more productive and less destructive. As one teen testifies, "My mom and I had effective communication because I was treated as an equal. Not in terms of who was in charge (that was clear) but in that I had a voice."
  2. Let your teen speak first. Young people we surveyed said that if they have a chance to talk first, they're more receptive to what their parents say. Once teens get to speak their minds, they're usually willing to listen to the other side.
  3. Don't interrupt. It's tempting to dive in and react to a piece of what your teen just said, but one girl described how that looks from her point of view: "My parents interrupt me and lecture/yell. Then while they're talking and I want to get a word in, I'm yelled at for interrupting. It's really unfair." If either of you tends to talk nonstop, set a timer for two or three minutes and take turns.
  4. Watch your tone of voice and body language. Model what you want your teen to do. When parents yell or use sarcasm or point fingers, kids figure it's OK for them to do the same. They also put on their protective gear and get into "fight" position. If you turn angry, use a quieter, calmer voice. If nothing else, your teen will have to listen harder to hear you.
  5. Explain what you want and why. Some teens say they just don't understand what their parents are asking them to do. Have your teen restate what you've told him. Explain the reasons for your request or rule. For example: "I understand you'd like to be with your friends at the concert. But you've been out late every night this week and you can hardly get out of bed in the morning. That's not good for you, or for your schoolwork. Maybe next time."
  6. Fight fair. No name-calling. Stick to the issue at hand. Don't dredge up past failures. Avoid the words "always" and "never," and don't compare your teen with anyone — living or dead, related or unrelated.
  7. Don't beat your teen over the head with Bible verses or biblical concepts. Sure, it's crucial to pass principles from God's Word on to your child. But most arguments don't qualify as "teachable moments." Your teen won't be too receptive if you declare, "I don't care if it makes you look like a nerd! You'll wear that orange sweater to school because the Bible says to obey your parents. Besides, vanity is a sin!"
  8. Give weight to your teen's feelings and opinions. You may think it's just "realistic" to tell your teen, "So, the girls said mean things about you. Forget it. You have to get used to people doing that." Instead of feeling like you've just prepared her for the real world, though, your teen will feel dismissed and misunderstood.
  9. Don't try to control your teen's side of the confrontation. It doesn't work! Let's say your teen is "sassing" you. You could retort, "You will not talk to me like that!" Not a good move, since a statement like this challenges him to prove he, not you, controls his tongue. Instead you could say, "I'll be happy to listen to you when you speak to me more respectfully." Now you're saying what you will do — something you can control.
  10. Keep the issues in perspective. How important is this fight, anyway? Is it possible to work toward a win-win solution, or at least one everybody can live with? Are you choosing your battles wisely? Stand up for the values that are most important to you and to your teen's welfare — but consider flexibility on lesser matters.
  11. Take a break when necessary. If you or your teen are getting too wound up, take a time out. It doesn't hurt to put a conflict on the back burner until people calm down.
  12. When talking fails, write a letter. Writing gives you time to sort through your thoughts and express yourself carefully. It gives your teen time to respond instead of reacting defensively. A notebook passed back and forth can work, too; so does e-mail. That's what a mom and dad discovered when their 13-year-old son wanted to see an R-rated movie; they kept telling him "no," and he kept arguing. Finally Mom wrote him an e-mail, explaining their reasons. The boy never asked about it again, and seemed warmer toward his parents than he'd been in quite a while.

Disagreements can be healthy. Your whole family can grow closer by dealing thoughtfully and lovingly with media-related differences of opinion.


Next Steps/Related Information

Popular questions, plus related resources and articles on media discernment for parents

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