7 Tips to Help Your Kids Engage with Media/Entertainment

Apart from throwing our kids into solitary confinement and shoving them meals through a slot in the door, every parent eventually has to make decisions about how to guide their consumption of TV shows, movies, music, YouTube videos, websites, and other media and entertainment options. Even failing to adopt a strategy is, by default, adopting a strategy. But if we’re wanting to take a wise, biblically-shaped approach, we need to do think through some principles that will help us guide our kids as they navigate the sea of popular culture.

We should acknowledge that there’s no flow chart or set of “if/then” statements that we could list that could cover every situation, but the following points should at least steer us in the right direction.

1. Personally engage. 

No, it’s not very feasible for you to watch every movie or TV episode, read every book, listen to every song, etc., before your kids do. But with a little effort, you can become a good deal more familiar with the entertainment they’re currently drawn to. It will mean that you watch an episode or two with them, do some online research*, listen to some music you otherwise wouldn’t listen to, and so on. Yes, that will require some time and effort, but if we want to help our kids over the long haul, that’s what it will take.

2. Teach your kids the larger story of the Bible.

If the end game is eventually to help your kids make their own wise choices, they’ll need to understand biblical truth. That way, they’ll have a defining standard—the Big Story—to which they can compare and contrast all the little stories they come in contact with through their media and entertainment. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the child that consistently traffics in the world of the Bible is the child who is most equipped to both appreciate and critique the world of contemporary culture. (Of course, for us to teach out kids the biblical story means that we’ll need to be familiar with it ourselves!)

3. Recognize that completely problem-free media doesn’t really exist.

Looking for media options in popular culture that always mirror a biblical worldview or otherwise compliment the Christian faith is similar to searching for unicorns in the magical forest. They simply don’t exist. And yes, that includes entertainment produced by Christians. That’s not to say that everything has equal value. Rather, it’s to suggest that these things are produced by fallen people in a fallen world, meaning they will inevitably contain aspects that we’ll be less than excited about if we’re thinking correctly. We’ll want to avoid knee-jerk reactions and sweeping condemnations (see below), even as we recognize that, on the whole, there are some forms of media and entertainment we’re better off investing in over others.

4. Affirm what you can.

When dealing with the decidedly mixed bag that is our entertainment culture, Christians need to be quick to affirm what is good: whether it consists in ideas, the creativity involved, an excellent performance, or whatever. For example, we’ll do well to affirm that a song has an infectious hook or is otherwise musically dynamic even as we might disagree with an idea in the lyrics. Or we might acknowledge that a movie conveys truth in some areas despite being problematic in others. That’s not only being fair to the creative producers in question, but it acknowledges the grace of God that’s behind any good thing we come across. And when your kids know you’re not afraid to affirm the good things, they’ll be more likely see your critiques as credible.

5. Help your kids see and respond to the problems that are there.

Having made the previous point, I want to quickly add that we should help our kids see and rightly respond to the problems present in their media. Often, that will mean helping them recognize significant ideas and values that run counter to a biblical Christian worldview and talking through the truth we should embrace instead. Occasionally, it may mean steering them away from something altogether. On the other hand, it’s not necessary to point out every fault, regardless of how consequential it is. Like parenting as a whole, that approach is more likely to exasperate than mature.

6. Help your kids understand that their choices will sometimes look different than those of others around them. 

If we’re serious about embracing biblical truth—and for our good we should be—it means that our lives will look different from those around us at various points. Not all the time, certainly. But inevitably our choices in what to watch, listen to, etc., or how much or how often we do these things, will sometimes look different from those of their friends. We need to be content with that, and model that approach for our kids.

7. With greater maturity comes greater freedom.

Over time, practicing the principles listed above should help your kids develop more and more maturity and discernment. In turn, that should gradually allow them to exercise greater freedom in the choices they make. Discerning people may be more likely to avoid a potentially unhelpful piece of entertainment, but they’re also more likely to recognize the true, good, and beautiful in otherwise unexpected places.

 

*One good resource for this is commonsensemedia.org. Even a basic internet search will often lead to helpful information.

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