How can our family establish some workable media standards? I understand the need for thoughtful discernment in this area as opposed to mindless rules, but sometimes I feel the need for more solid guidelines in order to gauge the merits of movies and music and to weigh specific decisions about appropriate family entertainment. Can you suggest anything?
The first step towards reforming and defining your family's media standard is setting healthy boundaries. There will always be gray areas, of course – after all, the Bible, our ultimate standard of right and wrong, doesn't specifically address every contemporary media and entertainment offering. That doesn't change the fact that the Bible is still the best place to start looking for an appropriate foundation for your entertainment choices. If you can use Scripture to establish sound moral standards while also keeping a finger on the pulse of the media and staying apprised of your children's critical thinking skills, you'll be well on your way to devising appropriate standards for your home.
Start by deciding how much you want to shield your teens from mainstream entertainment, and to what extent you'd like to discuss popular media phenomena with them. Try to strike a healthy balance between the two. Once you've reached that stage, put your ideas in writing. Develop the equivalent of a "family constitution" as it relates to entertainment habits in your home. If it's possible to include some sounds ideas and suggestions made by your kids, this will their buy-in and ownership of the parameters. Once it's been drafted, post it on your refrigerator door. Make it clear that it applies to all members of the family and stick to your guns when violations occur.
We should add that it's important for you and your spouse be on the same page as you lovingly lay down the law. After all, it will be up to both of you to enforce it. If the two of you don't share the same vision for entertainment purity, you're going to have a bigger task on your hands. It can be even more difficult if you're a single parent whose child spends time with a permissive ex-spouse. If that's your situation, you need to request that your rules be respected, pray for everyone involved, and when to get help from a neutral third party as mediator.
Just as important is to avoid extremes. A set of guidelines can be a valuable tool, but like any other tool, using it requires work. That's why many parents opt for an "all or nothing" approach. It requires less thought and energy than teaching and reinforcing biblical principles on a case-by-case basis.
What kind of extremes are we talking about? At one end of the spectrum, some moms and dads choose to "lay down the law." No movies. No television. No secular music. Period. This approach may simplify your entertainment purchasing decisions – but it can also breed rebellion. Under such conditions, many youngsters simply bide their time, waiting for the day when they'll be old enough to sample the entertainment industry's forbidden fruit. "Just wait till I move out," they say. "I'll watch and listen to whatever I want." And when they head off to college (or wherever), this attitude plays out in unwise choices of various natures.
Other parents go to the opposite extreme, adopting an anything-goes philosophy. No boundaries. Everything is okay. Do whatever you want. But this permissive approach also has some major drawbacks. Among other things, it leads to indecent exposure as children wander aimlessly and wide-eyed through the lurid enticements of an increasingly amoral culture.
We urge parents to stake out a discerning middle ground – an approach to media that tests entertainment against biblical standards. As far as we're concerned, this is the most reasonable and productive plan of action. Teaching discernment encourages balance, which in turn leads to critical thinking. It also encourages family bonding and equips teens with life skills they'll carry with them throughout their lives.
It should be noted that some families have been able to achieve positive results through a relatively "extremes" approach. But this generally works when it's done with everyone's buy-in. For instance, some households have made a joint decision to pitch the television set. This can be an effective strategy if every member of the family supports it. But a "top-down" approach can, and often does, breed rebellion. If you're considering this as an option, start by calling a no-pressure family meeting to discuss the idea.
It's also worth adding that rating systems are practically useless. Take motion pictures, for example. A PG-13, PG, or even a G-rating tells you almost nothing about the heart of a film. Will it uplift the human spirit? Will it end up glamorizing evil? We'd suggest that a given movie can go either way regardless of whether it contains graphic violence and gratuitous sex or not. The same is true with television and video games ratings. Trusting a rating system is like buying a used car solely on the basis of a classified ad that boasts, "Great car." Who decided? Based on what criteria? Though it takes more work, it's worth your time and effort to go beyond the rating and get some more specific information. There are a number of inexpensive (sometimes free) trustworthy media-review resources that can provide you with a quick run-down of all the relevant facts. Not only do these resources identify the bad apples in the barrel-they also highlight the good. Focus on the Family's Plugged In Online offers balanced, trustworthy reviews of what's hot in the media.
Likewise, in the area of music, style can be very deceptive. It's entirely possible for harder genres to offer up positive messages. Meanwhile, some mellower musicians are capable of dumping all sorts of lyrical sewage on their fans. In this area, perhaps more than any other, parents are often swayed by personal preference. Resist that temptation. Don't get distracted by the style or look of the messenger. Instead, take a close look at the message that's being conveyed.
If you'd like to discuss these ideas with a member of our staff, get in touch with our Counseling department for a free consultation.
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