Our daughter Caetlin is 14. She reads the Bible, wears T-shirts that proclaim "I believe in God" and writes down Scripture passages for friends who need encouragement. She is an honor roll student and holds admirable goals for her future. Caetlin also loves watching music videos and television programs such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Friends."
Since I?ve written newspaper articles about television for the past ten years, I thought I had a handle on what my kids were watching. I felt my endless commentary (that?s polite for nagging) about appropriate and inappropriate programs had sunk in. But somewhere between "tween" and "teen" I lost control of the remote control. I remember walking into our rec room one evening and finding Caetlin laughing along with the laugh track of "Friends."
"What are you watching?" I asked, even though I recognized the program immediately.
"It?s ?Friends,? Mom. There?s nothing wrong with it," she said defensively.
I sat down and watched the episode with Caetlin. The central plot of the show glamorized the premarital affair between characters Monica and Chandler and emphasized the specifics of their sex life.
"You shouldn?t be watching this," I said.
"Oh, Mom. It?s funny. I don?t take any of this stuff seriously," my daughter replied.
At that moment, I realized all my warnings and fiery commands forbidding offensive programs had been shoved aside by peer pressure and teen curiosity. My words were no longer enough to keep Caetlin away from what she believed to be OK. My daughter needed to develop an understanding of why routine viewing of sexual promiscuity and gratuitous violence would penetrate her spirit. She needed to know how to tell the good stuff from the bad, and she needed to summon the fortitude to change the channel when a show went against what she knew was right.
Where to start
How do we help our children learn to discern? Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College and author of Winning Your Kids Back from the Media (InterVarsity Press), says, "TV discernment for kids grows out of the relationships they are building with their parents." He believes most families are media rich and communication poor, spending tremendous amounts of time consuming mass media products and almost no time talking about them. According to Schultze, the average mother spends less than ten minutes a day talking with her children and the average father spends less than one minute.
"We are talking about a structural problem, not just a personal issue," says Schultze. "Parents need to eliminate the 97 television sets they have in the home, and in most cases get it down to one TV set which is located in a public spot in the house. They have to be willing to adjust their own viewing standards in tune with what they preach to their children. Parents need to invest time in relational activities that promote communication?such as sports, vacations and family meals."