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Kids and Entertainment: Teaching Discernment

How can I help my kids make wise media choices? I'm extremely frustrated with the growing toxicity of so-called "entertainment," but short of moving to the Amazon jungle or the middle of the Sahara desert, I can't completely shield my children from all of it. It seems the only answer is to equip them to analyze standard media fare in a thoughtful, Christian way. Can you help me do that?

We think your approach is right on track. The key to living successfully as a Christian in the midst of a post-Christian culture is not isolation but discernment. Once parents acknowledge the inescapable power of the media – and the fact that teens are overwhelmingly willing to invite it into their lives – they are faced with the question, “What do I do about it?” You are wise to avoid blanket prohibitions and to adopt instead the strategy of teaching your children how to think for themselves and how to make smart choices. That kind of training will stand them in good stead when they leave the nest and launch out on their own.

Can we help you out with any suggestions? As a matter of fact, we can. The following ideas have been gleaned from years of interaction not only with the world of media, but also with teens who consume popular entertainment on a daily basis. We hope you’ll be able to adapt and apply them in your own home.

  1. Establish guidelines for your family.
    Although entertainment decisions can fall into a bit of a gray area, establish a family standard for making media decisions. This is helpful, not because your family needs more rules, but because you don’t want to leave the concept of making wise choices to mere chance.
  2. Rely on credible sources for entertainment review.
    Ideally, dads and moms should check out potential media choices before their kids actually make them. This can be a problem, of course, given the huge volume of entertainment options available in modern society. Who has the time to preview every movie, CD, and televised program that requires this kind of intensive examination? Not many of us. That’s why it’s comforting to know that 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.
  3. Model wise choices.One of the surest ways to derail your young person’s media discernment is to behave hypocritically. We cannot sufficiently stress how essential it is for parents to model wise choices. Your words won’t be effective if you say one thing and do another. Learning to discern is an ongoing challenge for all of us. If you struggle with your own media choices, it’s okay to admit that to your children. But try to avoid teaching a principle and then violating that principle yourself. Parents who have been guilty of this find it difficult to re-establish their credibility.
  4. When you can’t tune it out, try teaching.
    When you see an offensive commercial on an otherwise positive TV show, an obscene bumper sticker, or an unsavory T-shirt, you may feel like screaming, “Close your ears, kids! Shut your eyes!” Unfortunately, there are occasions when it all happens so quickly that you don’t have a chance to do that. What then? We suggest turning the incident into a “teachable moment.” Point out why the song, show, or image in question fails to meet up to your family standard. Identify what’s wrong with the message it conveys. You can use such moments to reinforce the principles of discernment you regularly talk about and model at home.
  5. Keep open communication lines.
    Talk often about the media with your kids. Make sure that the lines of communication stay open so that your kids can ask questions when they need to. When you have to say “no” to certain entertainment, help them find positive alternatives. Adopt a policy of accountability that allows all family members to read each other’s texts, tweets, social media posts, emails, web history, etc. Intentionality is the best way to turn your home into a place where good habits of media discernment are caught as well as taught.

If you’d like to discuss these ideas with a member of our staff, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone.


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