Q. "I like to think of myself as a hip mom, but I have to admit I'm appalled by the sexuality and vulgarity in today's music and movies. Other than throwing out the TV, how can I protect my teenager from all these media influences?"
A. This may sound a bit strange, but I'm actually glad the has been able to watch shocking behavor during Super Bowl halftime shows and on prime-time television. Now before you write me off as losing my mind, let me explain. These events may be the first time many parents of teens spent any time viewing MTV programming. Many parents know their kids watch MTV, but few take the time to look at what their children are viewing regularly.
The truth is, we are still in the "protection business," even when our kids are teenagers. It's tempting to loosen up a bit when our kids get older because they don't seem so vulnerable. But it is during the teen years that our children are the most susceptible to the siren call of the youth culture created by the entertainment industry.
As teenagers navigate the delicate balance between independence and responsibility, they look for cues from the outside world. So when they see a video of young adults grinding against each other on the dance floor, they begin to believe that's what's maturity looks like. When they see an advertisement featuring emaciated models in low-slung jeans, they get the impression that growing up equals being sexy. That's scary stuff, but believe it or not, teenagers also look to their parents to help them figure out how to move into adulthood. They need our guidance to figure out how to interpret the media messages that surround them. Here's how to do that:
Evaluate everything your kids bring into the home. Yes, this means listening to the music and watching the TV programs, as well as the videos or DVDs. Of course it's time-consuming, but part of your job description now is to teach your kids how make wise media choices. Share your concerns about the lyrics on a CD or the message of a music video. Help them develop their own filters by asking them how a certain song or movie impacts the way they think about themselves and their lives.
Listen to your teenagers' opinions about media. While you will usually be right when it comes to what is good and bad about media influence, don't just lecture your kids. Be open to real dialogue with your kids. Hear their views. Negotiate when you can and lay down the law with choices that are absolutely unacceptable. I find that when I sit with my kids and watch a TV show, it gives me a chance to dialogue about some of the questionable behavior that is portrayed in shows. Our long-term goal is to raise responsible adults, not just evoke obedience for the moment.
Examine your own viewing and listening behavior. When it comes to media, more is caught than taught. If your viewing habits are questionable, you won't have much standing as a role model for your kids. If you listen to music that promotes immoral behavior, you'll have a hard time getting your kids to change their tunes. Children see, children do.
Develop a viewing and listening contract for the home. It's a proven fact that teenagers make better choices when there are expressed expectations for their behavior. Kids also support what they help create, so together come up with a media contract for your family. Include decisions about the number of hours the TV can be on each day, acceptable movie ratings for each family member, what constitutes an appropriate music choice and how you'll evaluate those choices, and rules for what cable programming is acceptable.
By staying involved in your teenagers' media choices, you give them an invaluable set of skills that will help them make sound decisions for years to come.
Jim Burns is an author, speaker, and the president of HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University.
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