By the time a child graduates from high school, she's watched 22,000 hours of TV. That includes 16,000 televised homicides and 640,000 commercials, according to J. Kerby Anderson, national director of Probe Ministries. Add to that thousands of hours of music, Internet, video games, and telephone usage. That's a lot of information streaming into our kids' minds, and most of it is at odds with our Christian values.
Because of this, many parents resort to blocking channels, prohibiting certain music, and installing Internet filters, which all work well. But unless you can figure out a way to shield your kids from all forms of media and outside influence, sooner or later your child will come face to face with the questionable messages this world has to offer.
Believe it or not, this isn't a new problem. Paul was talking about this way back in Romans 12:2 when he wrote, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
He recommended Roman Christians use the same thing that can help screen impurities from your children's minds: a moral filter. This is a set of beliefs firmly implanted in your mind that helps you evaluate behavior, beliefs, and ideas and respond to these in a way that brings honor to God.
So how can we help our children develop minds that think in moral ways? Here are seven suggestions:
1. Know thyself. "I don't think a lot of parents are aware of their own moral filters," notes Barb Bouthillier, former coordinator of children's ministries at her church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a homeschooling mom to teenagers Amanda and Nick. "They're not conscious about how they process things, but are just acting as they were trained or raised to think."
Helping children develop a moral filter begins by educating ourselves in worldview thinking. Summit Ministries, a Colorado-based organization focused on worldview development in young people, sees worldview incorporating ten different disciplines: theology, philosophy, biology, psychology, ethics, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.
"Morality has got to be more than, 'the pastor said so' or 'my youth director said so,'" says Chuck Edwards, director of Bible study curriculum. "Morality goes back to theology: i.e., what God is like. In biblical morality, something's not right because God said so, but because that's a part of God's nature."
Parents need to determine their own values, rigorously. Al Menconi, who runs a California-based ministry to that end, recommends, "I'd take 30 days to pray and figure out what's important in your home. Determine your guidelines for TV, movies, and music. My wife and I talked about when our girls could date, whom they could date, whom they could be in a car with after dark. These aren't just moral issues, but your core values."
2. Think the Bible. "Most students [at my school] have been exposed to Christian teaching the majority of their lives," says Steve Lee, who teaches ethics, apologetics, and philosophy at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas. "The main challenge I face is getting them to think from a Christian mindset on ethical issues, all the way from national issues like abortion to personal ones like cheating on exams."
Martha Manikas-Foster, mom to Corning, New York, teenagers Connie and Peter, sees herself more as a coach than a goalie. "It can't be just a matter of getting in between them and blocking what they're receiving," she says. "We want our children to leave home with the tools to engage the world in a Christ-like manner."
3. Communicate creatively. "My daughter had been listening to a song by Leslie Philips about a friend, Gina, who dies in a car crash," Menconi says. "Philips laments she never got around to witnessing to her friend. This led into the importance of talking about Jesus with others. And that all happened when my daughter was six!"
After that Menconi made a point of having Christian music ready in the car any time he traveled with his girls. "I'd listen to the lyrics beforehand and think of questions to ask about each song. It's not rocket science."
For Edwards, it was a Christian radio commentary that played during drive time to his daughter's school. "Sometimes we talked about it, sometimes not," he says. "But because of that consistent interaction, by the end of her tenth grade year, Michelle was very conversant on a wide range of biblical and social issues."
Manikas-Foster likes to read books with Connie and Peter. "In the fourth Harry Potter book, a key character dies, and the kids grieved as they got to that part," she says. That young character's death gave her an opportunity to talk to her kids about the urgency of sharing Christ's redeeming power with their friends.
Even a negative image or idea on TV or film can be turned to good. "You might walk into the living room and think, I can't believe they're watching this," says Anderson. "But you can say, 'Let's talk about this.' Then you can give some moral direction and use it as a teaching lesson."
4. Tell stories. "Share your story, share other people's stories, and give them the biblical story," Hall says. "Why do people remember Daniel and the lions' den? Because it was such a powerful story about standing against peer pressure."
And if you really want to get through the maelstrom of information swirling in your kid's head, start talking about yourself, especially moral failures.
"I can have 20 wild kids in a Bible study, but if I start to tell a story, you can hear a pin drop," Hall says. "There's still no condemnation for those in Christ, but they need to hear we're not proud of that stuff and we're determined to go a different direction because of the consequences."
5. Connect consequences. "Decisions that kids make really early in life can make a huge difference," Manikas-Foster says. "If you choose premarital sex, you can get a life-threatening disease. Even if we're not talking about concern for their spiritual lives, there are earthly reasons to be concerned as well."
"We need to help them see this is a total way of approaching life that affects not just their relationship with God or with us as parents but has a ripple effect in many areas of life," Edwards affirms. "Their moral life will effect how their personality develops, and it will influence others for good or ill."
6. Watch for other worldviews. "Sex, violence, and profanity are all sources of concern, but I can point to supposedly innocuous programs, such as cartoons, that have none of that and yet teach a false view of the world," says Anderson. "It's important to apply a moral filter to more than the obvious."
Relativism streams out of the Darwin-ian worldview, says Dr. David Noebel, president of Summit Ministries. "This view teaches that as we evolve our ethics will change," he says. "This has ramifications on pornography, abortion, and homosexuality. Look at films and you see that's the agenda Hollywood pushes."
And once young people buy into such a view, the battle's over. "People tell me they're concerned about The Matrix because of the violence," Anderson says. "The real concern is the underlying worldview."
7. Model it. Do you talk about honesty on Sunday, then set up illegal cable TV on Monday? Do you chide your kids for fibbing about the "missing" cookies, then fudge the truth when a friend asks you to watch her kids?
Steve Lee came to understand this in a humorous, but poignant way. "I've got an old beat-up mower, and I was pulling and pulling and pulling on the cord to get it started," he explains. "I was getting angrier and angrier. My four-year-old son has a toy mower and was standing behind me, copying me, though I didn't know it. I said, 'Thank you, God' because I didn't start screaming or cussing or beating on it. I was modeling to him correct or incorrect behavior in a little thing like that. That spoke volumes to me."
In the end, we may wonder, Why bother? I'll just shield my kids from all this stuff and surround them with Christian influences. But that's not the option Christ gave us.
"We can be pious and separate ourselves or live in the world but barely touch it," Manikas-Foster says. "Or, we can be in the middle of things the way Jesus was." Only then can our children not only be filters of culture, but people who change lives. Eternally.
Clem Boyd is freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. He and his family live in Ohio.
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