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Guiding Your Family's Media Choices

Original Air Date 05/27/2016

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Plugged In editor Paul Asay offers practical guidance for navigating your family safely through today's vast assortment of entertainment choices.

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Episode Transcript



Paul Asay: If there's anything that bonds us together these days it's entertainment. I mean, we may disagree about politics. We may disagree about religion, but we have feelings on the latest superhero movie.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Well, that insight is from Paul Asay and he joins us today on "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly


Jim Daly: John, we're about to head into Memorial Day and it's a great kick-off for the summer. We love it, especially our here in Colorado, because it's really the end of winter.

John: It means--

Paul: Finally. (Laughing)

John: --the snow finally stopped.

Jim: We might even still get a snow flurry or two, but it's time to get the camper ready and we're gonna be headin' out. And it's also that time when the kids are sayin', "I'm bored" and "Can we go to this movie" or do that videogame? And of course, Jean and I are always saying, "Let's look at Plugged In and if you don't know—

John: Great starting.

Jim: --about Plugged In, you know, that's the place to find out the review on the movies, especially from a Christian perspective. And the team here at Focus on the Family does such a wonderful job reviewing those movies for you and for you to read their reviews. So, go to to get the latest on those movies and videogames, TV and other entertainment areas that you may be wanting to make sure are safe for your kids. With that, today is the release of another big Marvel movie and I gotta admit, my boys love it. This one is X-Men, Apocalypse and the anticipated sequel of, I think, Disney's darker Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass. So, we're—

John: Yeah, big weekend.

Jim: --gonna talk about those specifics. But also we want to talk generally about how we guide our children in this saturated world of entertainment and equip them to discern and learn how to apply spiritual truth to what they're looking at. So, it's gonna be a good conversation.

John: Yeah, the tools that parents need are available at Plugged In and today, we've got one of our Plugged In experts here, Paul Asay and he's written a couple of books. One is called Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet. I love the title.

Jim: Yeah (Laughing)

John: It's very provocative and Paul is a husband; he's a dad and it's great to have a team member here in the studio with us.

Jim: It is. Paul, welcome back to the studio.

Paul: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Jim: Now I want to say first of all, thanks for, you know, sloggin' through all that stuff that you and the team in Plugged In have to go through to bring us the reviews.

Paul: Yes.

Jim: That really is good. Thank you.

Paul: Well, you know, it's a really strange job when you complain to your boss, "Man, I'm really seein' way too many movies." (Laughter) "I'm really watchin' way too much TV." It's a strange kind of job.

Jim: I mean, it's kinda funny. How did that work. I mean, the studios send you precuts of all the movies? Or …

Paul: No, actually we drive up to Denver for most of our screenings. We just pop in the car and whether it's rain, shine, snow, we head up and we watch a movie up there.

Jim: You know, so often you look for the fruit of what you do. So, in your vocation, doing this, do you have a story where a parent wrote in and was really grateful.

Paul: Well, you know, we hear a lot from parents actually. And it really is gratifying, because sometimes parents write in and they say, "Thank you so, so much for letting us know about this particular movie. I would've let my kid go to Dead Pool, if it hadn't been for you," you know, just to use that as an example.

And so, I do think that we provide a service. I like to think that some of what we do is also just to help parents think through this stuff a little bit more carefully. So much of our job is really sort of tabulating the problematic content that we see in movies.

Jim: And you do break it down at Plugged In.

Paul: We do.

Jim: You talk about the violence, the profanity, the nudity.

Paul: Exactly, we break it all down—

Jim: Yeah.

Paul: --so parents can go to the exact sections that they're really concerned about and look at it very, very easily. But one of the things that really charges my battery in this job is, trying to help parents think through this sort of stuff, to think more broadly about entertainment, the world of entertainment, which is so influential today and how they can guide their kid and really how they can guide themselves through this really tricky area of life that we have now.

Jim: You know, it is important for donors, the supporters of Focus on the Family. Plugged In is getting tremendous traffic. Every month, how many people are coming?

Paul: We have about a million people who come to our site every month. That's generally speaking. Obviously, it fluctuates, but about a million people come to our site typically during the course of an average month, looking for advice, looking for individual reviews. Some of our reviews can garner hundreds of thousands of views just in and of themselves.

Jim: That's incredible impact and they're not all Christian folks. We know that because they e-mail us, as well.

Paul: Right, right.

Jim: They'll say, "You know, we don't have the same belief system, but we're coming to the site because it's great information. Those are the ones for me that are most thrilling.

Paul: Well, and it is exciting—

Jim: Yeah.

Paul: --because it gives you a chance when you see Plugged In as a bit of an evangelistic tool, because entertainment bonds this world. If there's anything that bonds us together these days it's entertainment. I mean, we may disagree about politics. We may disagree about religion, but we have feelings on the latest superhero movie. We want to engage with people.

And so, it sort of forms a point of contact, where we're able to sort of reach out and sort of express some spiritual truths over the long haul.

Jim: Well, and Paul, the difficulty for us in the Christian community, is it's bigger than a tsunami. I mean, it infiltrates everything. I'm surprised. My boys go to a really conservative school and yet, you know, around the dinner table they're often talkin' about the latest movie or—

Paul: Right.

Jim: --whatever it might be. Even when you are protecting, that permeates the culture, saturates—

Paul: Right.

Jim: --the culture. How do you begin to get ahead of that, so that you can talk to your teens or younger children about what they're talkin' about at school or with their friends, even if they're home schooled/

Paul: Right, right, right.

Jim: You know, it gets there. A lot of parents get fooled that their kids aren't aware (Laughing) of these things, but it is pervasive.

Paul: It is pervasive and it's such a different world now. It's one of those things that actually Plugged In is really working to engage with the culture as it is now in the 21st Century Back when Plugged In was first created, it was a much different entertainment source.

Jim: That was back in the late '80's.

Paul: Exactly, exactly. You had three channels, four channels at the most that you could turn on TV. You could guide your kids so much easier, I think, back in those days—the days that we were raised.

Today with the Internet there's so much saturation of the entertainment world, it's harder to do that. And so, at Plugged In, we really try to sort of help parents have the conversations that they need to have with their kids.

Jim: And you talked about a million people coming to Plugged In every month to get reviews. How many people are buyin' the movie tickets?

Paul: Oh, goodness! A lot. (Laughter)

Jim: I mean, like hundreds of millions.

Paul: Yes, hundreds of millions, hundreds of millions. When you look at just a recent superhero movie, the latest Batman v. Superman movie, made $170 million dollars over one weekend. You know, that … that translates to tens of millions of people going to see that--

Jim: On that one weekend.

Paul:--on that one weekend, exactly and it's made a ton of money since then.

Jim: Now when you look at it, what is it about movies and television and kind of the pop culture that is so attractive to everybody and if we, you know, take the veneer off, even to –

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: --the Christian community. We go.

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: What draws us to the storytelling that Hollywood is so capable at putting out?

Paul: I think it gets back to our God-given design. I think that we are made to appreciate stories. You know, you have so many great stories that you even bring into this very studio. You hear about these personal stories of people.

And I think it's those stories that resonate with people. They want to sort of experience a different life in a way. They want to see their own lives through a different medium, you know, be it these personal stories that you have here, the superhero stories that you see on screen, there's an element of storytelling that just resonates with us.

How does God create the world? He speaks it into existence. In a sense, He's telling a story, brought real. You know, He brings this stuff forward just through His voice.

Jesus was a fantastic storyteller. He taught through stories all the time. We are wired to really experience deeper truths through story. And it's so important. I think that's one of the things that makes the entertainment culture so important and so attractive to us—

Jim: Yeah.

Paul: --in both good and bad ways.

Jim: Now you come from a family that is really unique. I mean, your dad, whom I've met, was a syndicated cartoonist for newspapers around the country and you talk about a time in your life when you were a little boy, when your dad would make up stories and it really caught your attention. How … what did he do?

Paul: No, it's some of my favorite earliest memories is that my dad was a great storyteller.

Jim: I can imagine.

Paul: Yeah, he was fantastic and it was my favorite thing. I can still remember just begging my dad to tell me stories. And I can even still remember some of the stories (Laughter) he told me when I was 3- and 4-years-old.

Jim: That's good.

Paul: He would sit me on his lap and he would just spin this story. Once upon a time there was this boy named Paul. And so, these stories were always about me. I was always the hero of these stories. And I had a bunch of stuffed animals that I hung out with at the time and so, they were always the victims, you know, and there was always some sort of threat and it was always about me saving the day. It was about me being the hero that even as a 3- or 4-year-old, I wanted to be. I think we all sort of want to be heroes.

Jim: Sure.

Paul: And so, those stories stuck with me and that's my earliest experience with stories, is just the stories that my dad told me. It was just on his lap. They were fantastic.

Jim: That's a fun thing. One of the things we do around the dinner table is, we do the story paragraph or the story sentence. And we go around the table and add to each person's paragraph or sentence. And we've come up with some pretty wild stories (Laughing) at the Daly household.

Paul: I've done that with my kids, as well. We had camping trips where we just sort of went around and just sort of expanded on these stories as time went on.

Jim: What kind of lessons can parents draw from those superheroes that we see? I mean, you kinda pointed to that in your own—

Paul: Right.

Jim: ----in your own experience with your father.

Paul: Yes.

Jim: But when our kids are going out to a movie, our 12-, 13-year-olds, you know, there's a lot of debate in the Daly household. Our boys are normal boys, everybody. (Laughter) They want to go see movies just like your kids want to go see movies. And we typically take 'em through a rationalization. Is it the right movie to see? Let's go to Plugged In. And they go, "Oh, no, not plugged in." (Laughter) Even our kids say that. (Laughter)

But you know, we go through it and it was funny the other night when we were going to see a movie. We were havin' a little debate about it and Trent, the oldest was saying, "Well, dad, here's the bottom line. This movie is gonna move me closer to God's heart. It'll make me a better Christian. Can we go now?" (Laughter) And I thought, you little—

John: He had all the right answers.

Jim: --turkey. (Laughter) And you know, it kinda gets down to that kind of thing. But we want to use that opportunity, even if there's some things that we're not comfortable with, but it's okay if we have a chat ahead of time that they're gonna see it. And that's to every family's discretion and that's one of the great things you do in Plugged In. You give families the information. You avoided for a long time, you avoided putting stars or smiley—

Paul: Right.

Jim: --faces, because you didn't want to push families toward something they might be uncomfortable with, but you gave them the content so they can decide for themselves. It's really what you want to do, right?

Paul: It's really what we want to do and in some ways, we always do worry. We have star ratings on all of our reviews now, but we do worry sometimes that, that some parents could use that as a shortcut, when we really want them to grapple with, you know, what is actually in a movie, what they are comfortable with having their kids see and what, you know, what is appropriate for their family?

Jim: So, for that superhero figure, for the parent, what do we say ahead of that movie that Batman Superman, whatever the movies coming out this weekend.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: What do we want to tell our kids?

Paul: And Trent in some ways is absolutely right, you know. (Laughter)

Jim: No, don't say that. (Laughter)

Paul: No, no, no, no.

Jim: Trent, don't be listening. (Laughter)

Paul: But you do need to be thinkin' deeper about it. And one of the things, I've been a huge superhero fan for all my childhood, I don't know, you can judge me for this, but it's translated into my adult years, too. I'm wearin' a Batman watch right now, as a matter of fact.

Jim: (Chuckling) A nice one.

Paul: Yeah. (Laughing) So, for me, superheroes have always been an interesting example of what lessons we can draw from media. You have these characters who are not always perfect. I mean, when you look at some of the characters that we see in these superhero movies, even some of the superheroes themselves, they can be dark and they can be conflicted and they can be difficult to wrap your arm around.

And yet, one of the things that they always try to do, is they always try to do the right thing in the end. They always are willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of others. Sometimes that translates as a Superman type of character, who is always very clean and proper and always seems to do the right thing. He flosses every night, the whole bit. And then you have a darker character like Batman, who has grown up with some very deep emotional scars, and yet, gets past those scars to be able to try do the right thing, I mean, to follow a higher calling.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, those are good applications. One of the things I think we fail to do and I know … I'm speaking from my own experiences, is we fail to take the time to make that connection for our kids. So, they go to the movie or you go with them. Then you come out and you start talkin' about what you're gonna do this weekend. So, you don't use that opportunity to say, "Okay, what were you guys seein' in there?"

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: How can you do that in a more comfortable way that's not a little awkward?

Paul: Yeah, well, it's difficult and one of the things that we have done sporadically with my kids, not as well as sometimes, but we go out to dinner afterwards, you know. You know, we go out to lunch; we go out to dinner.

Jim: So, you plan it that way.

Paul: We sorta do, you know, and I think that it's important to have those conversations.

Jim: In fact, you created 11 questions that you can work through with your kids and we'll post those online that really do help you carry on the conversation. Use it as a teaching moment. Most of those movies, as we've talked about and most of entertainment contains some good spiritual elements. You just have to help your children understand the linkages.

Paul: Right, right, exactly. And as a parent, dealing with movies, dealing with any sort of entertainment is a give and take, because my philosophy has always been that there's no piece of entertainment that's perfect. There's gonna be flaws in every bit of entertainment that we have.

At the same time, I think that you can draw some good things out of a lot of bits of entertainment. What I sometimes do is, it's a difficult road to walk in a way, because as Plugged In, we're very cautionary about the movies or the—

Jim: Yeah, it's all bad.

Paul: --entertainment. Yeah, exactly. We say, "Listen, this has some serious problems." And so, we … there's sort of this understated thing. Be really cautious before you go. But at the same time, there's the flip side of the coin, where if you do go, there's often some really cool things that you can talk about. It's not an excuse to actually to go to see everything, but if you do, there's some cool applications you can take.

John: Well, you can see that list of conversation starters that Jim mentioned and find out more about our guest today, Paul Asay and his book, Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet. We've got those and a CD or download of today's conversation at

And Paul, I'd love for you just to tee this up a little bit with kind of a role play for us. How does this look when my 14-year-old and I leave the theater--

Paul: Yeah.

John: --and I have your list of conversation starters in mind and I throw the first one out there and I get a[n], "I don't know." (Laughter) Right, 'cause your kids have gone--

Jim: The second one.

John: --your kids have gone through that.

Paul: Right.

John: How did you handle those moments where they're just not gonna go there? Do you just kinda tell them what you think?

Paul: Well, no. (Laughter) I totally do.

John: You could.

Paul: They totally do. Honestly, one of the things that I do is I sort of work into the conversation very gradually. One of the things that I think when we hear a story that impacts us, we want to talk about it. We have things that we really like to draw out of it, even if it's not, you know, necessarily part of the talking points.

They want to talk about how cool the Batmobile was or how great this ending final battle was or whatever. And so, you start the conversation really talking about what your kids want to talk about, you know. And I think that there are always opportunities as you sort of let your kids sort of drive the conversation, where you can guide it back to some deeper spiritual truths.

You can talk about the sacrifice of some of these characters in the midst of that huge battle. You can sort of bring out where maybe a biblical story is reflected in these movies, you know. You can sort of bring that very gradually, even without your kids even realizing that that's where the conversation was going.

Jim: You know, again, as a parent, this struggle I think we make our media discernment choices all the time. You know, Jean and I will decide whether to go to this movie or that. She's not a big movie fan. I tend to be more of a movie fan. But what you don't want to have happen is, kinda cocoon your children and then at 18, 19, when they're off to college or out of the house, moving on to their next time, that they just begin to binge, 'cause—

Paul: Right.

Jim: --you didn't teach them how to successfully manage entertainment.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: How do you do that with that goal in mind? What are the two or three things that really are helpful to remember as a parent—

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: --to say, and maybe it's age related. We need to talk in that way. A 10-year-old's gonna be different from a 16-year-old.

Paul: Right and I I think that that's really key and you have to be really aware of your own kid's predilection, what their vulnerability is, what they are really sensitive to, what they have problems with.

Jim: Give me topics to help me.

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: What does that mean?

Paul: Yeah, I think for instance, my daughter, she got really scared of some interesting things when she was little. We watched The Mummy on TV.

Jim: (Laughing) Another classic.

Paul: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And we weren't quite aware of how deeply it would impact her. But she wound up watching the movie from behind a couch, because it scared her, you know.

Jim: Right, you really shouldn't have hid under her bed that night. (Laughter) Raised your arm up over the covers.

Paul: See, I didn't think you knew about that. (Laughter)

Jim: That's a bad dad. (Laughter)

Paul: No, but I think that you sort of begin to understand as you watch your kids grow up, what they trouble with and what they struggle with. And I think that it's really important to keep an eye on those.

But in terms of sort of guiding them through, you're absolutely right. When you talk about today's entertainment culture, it's not even possible I don't think anymore, unless you really hermetically seal your house—

Jim: Right.

Paul: --to keep your kids away from a lot of the entertainment that is around them. I mean, they're going to hear about it. The chances are they could be sneakin' onto the computer and watching videos that you don't want them to see on YouTube. There's always these dangers.

And so, I think that one of the things that you have to do, have to, have to, have to do is, keep lines of communication open with your kids where you can talk about things.

Jim: So, let me give you a real-life example. So, you know, my boys are in their mid-teens and I'm lookin' at the Plugged In review and I see, eh, it's got some profanity. So, the boys are reading it, too, 'cause they know that's where we're gonna go for a review. And—

Paul: Good man.

Jim: --they're goin', "Okay, dad, yeah, we know that word. We know that one and we don't use 'em, but we know 'em. We're not gonna learn anything new. It won't be shocking that we hear that word. What do you say to that argument?

Paul: It's a really good argument. It's a good thought-provoking argument. And I think that, as a parent, one of the things that you have to do is, you have to think critically about … about what's important for your family. You know, there are issues with obviously, when you hear language I think that you're more apt to embrace that language.

I think it contributes to the coarsening of our culture. I think that, that's one of the reasons why language is so much more pervasive today in our society is, because it's so much more pervasive in movies. I don't think that there's any question that movies influence how we think and how we act.

At the same time, I also understand that argument, as well. You know, I can say that I've seen a lot of movies with a lot of swearing and I have not started to swear. (Laughter) You would praise, you know and again, it gets back to knowing your kids and what they might have issues with.

Jim: Well, and these are movies that maybe there are three or four words in a movie.

Paul: Right.

Jim: And you're pointing them out at Plugged In.

Paul: Right.

Jim: And of course, the boys are pointing out that they already know these words (Laughing) and, "Dad, it won't be anything new."

John: There's an argument though to be made, then why even go, right? I mean, I can hear some people saying, "Well, even just a little, why tolerate a little bit of filth just to go?

Jim: No, that's fair. That's a good point.

John: How do I deal with that at home when my kid says, "Yeah, dad, but …"

Paul: Yeah, and that again, it gets back to a family-by-family decision that you have to make. I think that that's one of the reasons why we feel so strongly at Plugged In, where we give you the information and let you choose.

There are families that read our publication, our website that take very much that stance. If it contains this bad stuff, whatever that bad stuff is for their families, they draw the line and they say, "We are not going." I think that's a fine response. I mean, I think that they're doing what they should be doing.

Jim: And you're equipping them to make that decision.

Paul: Exactly, exactly. We want to give parents the tools to make the right decision for their families.

Jim: Hey, Paul, in your book, Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet, which is a great title, by the way, you mentioned a good idea and that is, to pray together before you go see it. You know, there'd a little squirming on that one, I think—

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: --with your 13-, 14-year-old, but what a great way to model, okay, we're gonna go see this. We know there's a few things in there that, you know, wouldn't be what our family would embrace. But let's just pray—

Paul: Yeah.

Jim: --to the Lord and just say, "Lord, we live in the world. You know we live in the world. People are gonna be talkin' about this. We're gonna go watch this movie and be a part of it in that way, but we want to pray ahead of time." Is that enough?

Paul: Yeah, you know, there's a lot of tools actually. The praying part came a lot from my own experience of Plugged In. You know, people sometimes ask how we are able to do our job, you know, because we see a lot of movies. And one of the things that we do all the time is pray before movies. We really concentrate.

Jim: That's a great thing to do.

Paul: Well, it's an important thing to do because I think that because these movies are so influential, we need to keep our eyes and our minds and our hearts focused in on why we're watching them.

John: You know, one thing that you've brought up, Paul is the kind of the community sense of watching films and the phenomena we've dealt with in our home these past several years as our kids have gotten in to the mid and late teens, is watching a TV series online as an individual.

So, I've got a daughter who's not particularly extroverted and she loves to just sit and watch a TV series. And of course, there's binge watching where you can watch a whole season in a sitting. And I think that's a really challenging moment, because I don't want to take the time to sit and watch with her—

Paul: Right.

John: --everything.

Paul: Right, right. It is a tricky time, especially when every family seems to have eight, 10, 12 screens in the home at any given moment. You don't just watch on the family TV anymore. You whip out your iPad or you watch it on your computer or you watch it on your phone. And so, it does allow for this isolated viewing opportunities, I guess. And I totally understand what you're saying in terms of kids wanting to watch things on their own. You don't necessarily have time. You don't necessarily have interest.

For me, I find the most rewarding thing about entertainment is, being able to share it with other people. When I go to movies, I go to them alone for Plugged In. But when I watch something for entertainment, I want to share them with people, because I want to talk through those things. I don't want those thoughts to just sort of be sitting in my brain. I want to bounce ideas off people. I want to engage with the subjects that we're getting into.

Jim: That could be intimidating. I don't know if I want to be your friend. (Laughter) What did you think of that, the meaning of that? I don't know. (Laughter) I just fell asleep halfway through. (Laughter) Hey, Paul, you have done a great job helping us better understand the culture, the media culture that we live in. You and the team at Plugged In are doin' it every day. Thank you so much for puttin' yourself through that on our behalf.

I would encourage you, if you haven't looked at Plugged In, it's a great place to get the discernment that you need to decide whether or not that's a movie or a videogame or a TV program that's worth your time. And of course, Paul Asay has written this great book, Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet. Thanks for bein' with us.

Paul: Oh, it was a pleasure, much fun, guys. Thanks so much.


John: Well, it was fun and I know Paul's perspective will help you be more vigilant in your media decisions. We're gonna link over to Plugged In from our website. That's or call us and we can tell you more about the outreach and about Paul's book, Burning Bush 2.0. That number is 800-232-6459.

Now as you've heard, Paul really has some great insights and those are captured in the book, which is a terrific guide about all sorts of media--movies and music and videogames. It'll help you better understand how to sift through what's out there and to find some meaningful spiritual lessons that you can apply to your everyday life.

In fact, when you send a gift of any amount today to support the ongoing work of Focus on the Family to equip parents with great tools like this, we'll send you Paul's book as a thank you. It's our way of putting a great resource in your hand and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're supporting Focus on the Family in our worldwide outreach.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday, when we have military veteran Dave Roever, who reminds us why we should be grateful for those who gave their lives for our freedom.


Dave Roever: I looked into the eyes of these young warriors who were standing full attention, with still mud and blood and spent gun powder from the morning battle. And the last officer killed in the war in Iraq, his remains in that transfer case were laying there and the chaplain says, "Join me." It was a God moment.

End of Excerpt

John: It's a special Memorial Day tribute on Monday's "Focus on the Family."

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Paul Asay

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Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007. He loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. That's why he wrote the book God on the Streets of Gotham. In addition, Paul has written several other books, including his newest, Burning Bush 2.0. When Paul's not reviewing TV shows and movies for Plugged In, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, and runs marathons with his now-grown kids. Learn more about Paul by visiting his website,