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Navigating Inappropriate Media Exposure With Your Kids

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:37

When my son was 6 or 7, he spent the afternoon at a friend’s house. When he got home, he was raving about the Call of Duty video game they played with his friend’s dad.

If you know anything about video games, you understand why alarm bells went off in my head. I was tempted to exclaim, “You played what?” After all, this series is rated M (for “mature” audiences) because of the brutally realistic combat and harsh profanity.

But my son had already played the game, and I couldn’t undo that fact. What I could do was ask him about it, listen to his responses and try to help him understand why we wouldn’t be playing Call of Duty in our house.

Rather than advocating perfection, I’d like to lay before you this goal as a fellow parent: consistent, intentional engagement with our kids about the influence screens have on their lives. As we set limits, ask questions and thoughtfully discuss choices, we’ll model discernment through an ongoing conversation about entertainment, technology and media.

Boundaries breached

When my son was 14, someone sent him an unsolicited and inappropriate picture via social media. My two daughters found it first since they were using our laptop for a school assignment.

“Um, Dad, you better come look at this,” one of them said.

Both have a penchant for drama and getting their older brother in trouble. But I wasn’t prepared for the image I saw—or the feeling that my children’s innocence had been sullied.

My wife and I spent the next three hours talking with all three of our kids about what we’d seen. It was an unwanted, unasked-for image, to be sure—but there it was. In that moment, the important thing was to talk about it.

“Why would anyone send a picture like that?” one of them asked.

It was a good question. Despite my anger and frustration, that image was an excellent opportunity to discuss some hard-but-important issues that many families today must deal with at some point.

As parents, we may be tempted to create a hermetically sealed environment we can control, monitoring everything that comes in and out of our children’s lives. But that doesn’t always work. Instead, let’s keep the end goal in mind: gradually granting our kids more freedom to make their own decisions as they move through adolescence, while we model discernment, communication and wisdom.

Remote . . . but controlled.

When our children spread their wings and leave home as young adults, we want them to think critically and biblically about their entertainment choices and technology use. Achieving that goal requires a strategy that shields them from destructive content and gradually moves them into dialoguing about worldview and content as they grow into their middle teen years.

As a result, they’ll learn what it looks like to exercise control and discernment in their media, entertainment and technology choices. Leaving the nest will be the next step in their development instead of just an opportunity to go crazy trying all the stuff Mom and Dad wouldn’t let them do. By that point, they will already have practiced making entertainment and technology

choices on their own—under our supervision and with our active engagement.

Growing in discernment

In the Bible, we often read about how our faith compels and propels us to live differently from the world. Exercising biblical media discernment, then, involves comparing our entertainment choices with what Scripture says is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). When we engage with entertainment and technology through this grid, it changes our perspectives on what we watch and how we watch it, how we interact with online content and what entertainment choices we’re willing to make.

This kind of media discernment is something we should practice as parents, even as we model and teach it to our children. And that requires one more important step.

Moving beyond the “neutral zone”

It’s tempting to indulge the notion that we can dabble in entertainment without it shaping or influencing us. Sure, we might avoid the really bad stuff, but by minimizing the potentially problematic influence of entertainment, we likely won’t realize how much we’ve compromised our standards.

This is neutral-zone thinking. History is filled with plenty of neutral zones where two opposing powers agree not to go—a safe space of sorts between them, like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

You might be thinking, What does this have to do with technology and entertainment? As Christians and parents, we can passively drift into neutral-zone thinking about technology and entertainment.

We know the “big” things we want our kids to avoid, such as pornography, graphic violence and sexual entertainment. We recognize these things are at war with the convictions we hold as Christ followers. But when it comes to the “little” things that might be communicating subtle messages at odds with our Christian faith, we can subconsciously treat them as neutral.

The apostle Paul challenged neutral-zone thinking when he said, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, NIV).

Paul understood that our culture influences how we live, so he warns us to pay attention. In other words, don’t just mindlessly consume media. Instead, be aware of the influences that are at odds with your biblical worldview. We can be shaped by the world or transformed by truth as we walk with God. I know which one I want for my kids.

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