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Teaching Your Child to Make Wise Media Entertainment Choices

How to help your child make wise media entertainment choices.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Although similar issues are present in all media, there are unique concerns as well. We’ll discuss the media types separately first. Then we’ll offer a list of suggested convictions to build into your child to help him make wise media entertainment choices.

You may not agree with where we have drawn our lines as a family. The issue isn’t what we believe; it’s what you and your family stand for and are holding as a conviction.

Television

Television has always had its critics, but in the past, although much programming may have been a waste of time, it was at least innocuous. No more. In addition to the unrealistic view of life that most TV programming presents, now we face increasing doses of violence, sex and sexual perversions, off-color jokes, cynicism, bad language, and the glamorization of sinful and perverse behavior. And it’s not just the programming that is offensive; much advertising glamorizes horrible attitudes and is downright lewd. Unfortunately, advertisements are not rated.

Yes, there are some wholesome programs. We repeat, not all television is bad.

But the garbage spewing from the screen is increasingly foul. Television has become so repulsive that even the federal government has become more involved by requiring warning labels on all programs. The ratings may be of some help to you, but stay on guard. You can be confident that the world view supporting the ratings is not biblically based. How you and the person rating a program establish standards may be miles apart.

The bottom line with TV is that we parents have to be incredibly involved in determining what we will allow our teens to watch and in what quantity.

If you can pull it off, consider pulling the plug—don’t watch at all. You and your children really won’t miss much, and the benefits could be enormous. You may want to give this serious consideration.

But if television remains a viewing option in your home, consider:

  • Not allowing TV viewing by children without prior approval by a parent.
  • Limiting TV viewing to no more than 30 to 60 minutes per day or a certain number of hours per week.
  • Videotaping favorite shows. Then you can choose the ideal time for viewing, and save time by skipping over commercials.

Sometimes, though, no matter how careful you are, something slips by. A number of times, we will see something flash on the screen and we’ll say, “Turn it off.” Our children will complain, “It’s not that bad,” or “It’s almost over.” In spite of their complaints, they are seeing our convictions lived out.

Cable television

Cable television provides a plethora of special-interest channels, including religious broadcasting, that offer outstanding information and entertainment. But also on cable, some movie channels show feature-length films uncut.

If you have subscribed to some of the movie channels on cable TV, you may need to reconsider that choice because you may not know what your child is seeing at 3:30 in the afternoon. The cable movie networks avoid showing R-rated movies until after 7:00 p.m., but these days it doesn’t take an R-rated movie for your children to see things they shouldn’t.

And at night when the babysitter is watching or after you have gone to bed and a child sneaks back downstairs, he could be exposed to something graphic.

For these reasons we have drawn a line in the sand in the Rainey home: we don’t subscribe to cable. As a result we don’t enjoy some of the advantages, but more important, we don’t have the distractions and temptations. And we have the opportunity to enjoy more time together.

Movies/Videos

The first thing to do is to stop making movie decisions based on the movie ratings system. The best approach is to see a movie before you decide whether or not your child should see it. However, in previewing movies for your child, you may have to endure something you don’t want to file in your brain, either.

Until Hollywood cleans up its act, you might want to adopt the policy of curtailing this form of entertainment.

Nearly every movie is released in video within a few months of its initial release. Resist the urge to see the newest movie within a week of its release. This gives you time to collect reviews, seek out other information on just what a movie contains, and carefully listen to what others you respect have to say about the movie.

Related to bad language in movies, sometimes one of our teenagers will say, “I hear those words at school all the time. What’s the difference?”

We respond: “You hear it enough at school. You don’t need to hear it here too.” Here are some resources that will help you evaluate the suitability of movies:

  • Screen It! Entertainment Reviews for Parents, www.screenit.com.
  • Movie Guide. Write to Ted Baehr, at 3554 Strait Street, Atlanta, GA 30340.

The Internet

Just a few years ago most of us would have thought the Internet was just an information highway. Today we know that you can find almost anything along that highway, and it’s not a safe road for an unprepared, novice teenage driver.

Because the material is so easily accessible, we are even more concerned about the Internet than we are about television. The Internet offers a vast array of educational information on virtually every subject. But it is also an enormous clearinghouse for hard-core pornography. Supposedly the word sex is the most searched for word on the Internet.

All it takes is a couple of mouse clicks and your child indicating he is age 21, and the pornographic images will be downloading on your computer.

As a result, we control our children’s access to the Internet through various means. We strongly recommend some type of screening software, such as Cybersitter (CYBERsitter Blocking Software, Santa Barbara, CA: Solid Oak Software, Inc., 1997, www.cybersitter.com). Such software will deny visitation to certain categories of Web sites.

One of the largest subscription services recently took a stand against pornography by being the first to offer a porn-free Internet service. (For more information, contact FlashNet Communications.)

We also encourage you to make sure your home computer is in a very public room of your house. If that’s not possible, insist on a no-computer-use-with-the-door-closed policy, and no Internet use when the parents are gone or later at night when you may be asleep. This is not child’s play; the Internet is a very dangerous trap.

Stay involved in your children’s lives in this area by asking them if they are visiting any Web sites that they shouldn’t be. It never hurts to ask. And it never hurts to look and see what sites they have been visiting. Every computer has a memory that logs every step taken. Be careful about assuming your child would never drive down the information highway to the wrong part of town.

Computer and Video Games

Many of the games are harmless, involving sports and good-guy-versus-bad-guy story lines. But others are tasteless or decidedly evil in tone. Our suggestion on games is similar to that given on most media: Stay involved in what your child borrows or buys. Since such games often are non-returnable, make sure your child understands that if you later decide the game’s content is unacceptable, it’s his loss.

Reviews of games are available in computer magazines (check the library or on the Internet), and demo disks often can be obtained that show a game’s features. The rating system for video and computer games may help too.

All of this involvement takes time, but it’s well worth the effort. Do you want your preadolescent to spend hours perfecting his effectiveness at blowing people away in computer or video games? You must decide.

Music/Radio

In their early adolescence, we work on helping our teens understand the overt and subtle messages communicated through the music they listen to. We try to convince them how important it is to put good things into their heads, because what goes in stays in and shapes their thinking and their feelings.

Since music is an area more dictated by personal tastes, parents should approach the topic shrewdly and wisely. Particularly as your child gets older, your ability to understand his tastes and why he likes certain kinds of music is critical. You are a coach; you want him to understand for himself how different types of music will affect his emotions and moods, especially how music can play a significant role in romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

With our current young teens (they are 13 and 15), we are quite aggressive in monitoring what they listen to. In fact, except for classical music we do not let them listen to stations playing secular music. As our 13-year-old goes to sleep at night, she listens to instrumental praise music.

So that we don’t leave the wrong impression, each of our older teenagers has done some experimenting with types of secular music that we found questionable. They were not dabbling with extreme, vulgar, way-out-there stuff with garbage lyrics. But they have done some exploring. Eventually they have all come back to Christian or acceptable secular music.

The important thing is to engage your child in ongoing discussions.

When one of our daughters was 16 or so, I (Barbara) observed that she was alternately listening to secular and Christian music. The secular music was on a radio station that played Top 40 pop from the 1980s and the 1990s.

I would walk into her room when she was studying and sit down on her bed. Sometimes I was surprised by the suggestive lyrics in the songs. I would ask our daughter, “Do you know what that is saying?”

“I turn it off when the bad stuff comes on,” she’d answer.

“So, you’ve listened to it enough to know when the bad parts are coming?” I would ask. “By then it is already in your head.”

We talked this through a number of times over a period of a few months. Our daughter is no longer listening to that secular music. I never told her she couldn’t listen to that music; I just asked questions that made her think about what she was doing.

Books and Magazines

Unfortunately, you can’t blindly expect publications you may have enjoyed as a teenager to be acceptable for your child.

When I (Barbara) was a teenager in the sixties, I loved looking at Teen and Seventeen magazines. When Ashley became a teenager I thought it would be so cool to get her a subscription to Seventeen. But when I saw the content–with its emphasis on the body, sex, romance, and the externals—I was appalled. In all of Ashley’s teenage years, she probably only had one or two copies.

About the only teen magazines we’ve been comfortable with are the excellent publications Brio (for girls) and Breakaway (for boys) from Focus on the Family. Another good one is Campus Life.

Parents need to keep an eye out for adolescent girls reading romances, which can stir up romantic or even sexual emotions. Boys need to be steered away from books that are overly violent or have explicit sexual content.

Taking into consideration all of the information we’ve presented in this article, we suggest that the following list of convictions on media be shaped in every child:

  1. I need to allow Jesus Christ to be Lord over all forms of media that I allow in my life. What would Jesus do, listen to, read, and watch? is a great question to ask.
  2. I need to understand that what I allow to come into my mind can affect the way I think and live.
  3. I need to stand firm and turn away from media temptations quickly.
Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.


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