Ground Rules

Setting healthy boundaries is the first step in reforming and defining your family's media standard. Of course, there will be gray areas. Even the Bible — the ultimate source of right and wrong — doesn't have verses reading, "Thou shalt not watch slasher films" or "Thou shalt not listen to music that glamorizes substance abuse." However, the Bible is a great place to start looking for an appropriate foundation for your entertainment choices. Establishing moral standards, realizing the impact of entertainment choices and assessing your child's maturity and critical thinking skills will help you to devise an appropriate standard for your home.

Once you and your spouse have settled on an appropriate balance between shielding your teens from mainstream entertainment and discussing it with them, articulate that decision in writing. Develop the equivalent of a "family constitution" as it relates to entertainment habits in your home. It's important that you and your spouse be of like mind as you lovingly lay down the law (after all, it will be up to both of you to enforce it). Stick to your guns. Make it clear that all members of the family are subject to the newly established boundaries. (Note: This can be an especially daunting task if your spouse doesn't share your vision for entertainment purity, or you are a single parent whose child spends time with a permissive ex-spouse. In such cases, ask that your rules be respected, pray for everyone involved, and when necessary seek out a neutral third party as mediator.)

A few hints for setting your family standard

Avoid the extremes. A family entertainment standard is a valuable tool, but like any other tool, using it requires work. For that reason, many parents opt for an "all or nothing" approach, rather than teaching and reinforcing biblical principles on a case-by-case basis.

At one extreme, some moms and dads choose to "lay down the law." No movies. No television. No secular music — period. While this legalistic approach may simplify entertainment purchasing decisions, it also breeds rebellion. Youngsters bide their time, waiting for the day they can sample the entertainment industry's forbidden fruit: "Just wait till I move out someday. I'll watch and listen to whatever I want." And when they head off to college (or wherever), this attitude plays out in unwise choices of various natures.

Other parents go to the opposite extreme, adopting an anything-goes philosophy. No boundaries. Everything is ok. Do what you want. This permissive approach leads to indecent exposure as children wander, aimlessly and wide-eyed, through the culture's enticements.

Neither of these extremes works. One fashions rebels, the other fosters destructive attitudes. A discerning middle ground — one that tests entertainment against biblical standards — is the only reasonable and protective plan of action. Teaching discernment encourages balance, leads to critical thinking, bonds families and gives teens life skills they'll carry with them throughout adulthood.

It should be noted that some families can navigate the "extremes" when they do it with everyone's buy-in. For instance, many families have pitched the family television set. To make this work effectively, however, all members of the family must be supportive. A "top-down" approach can, and often does, breed rebellion. If you're considering this as an option, be sure to have a no-pressure family meeting to discuss.

Don't judge on style or ratings. Let us be blunt here: Rating systems are totally unreliable. For motion pictures, a PG-13, PG — or even a G — says almost nothing about whether a film will uplift the human spirit and avoid glamorizing evil. The same is true with television and video games ratings. Trusting a rating system is like buying a used car solely on the basis of a classified ad that boasts, "Great car." Who decided? Based on what criteria? Though it takes a little more research, it's worth your time and effort to go beyond the rating and find out about a film's or program's content.

Likewise, in the area of music, style can be very deceptive. While harder genres may offer positive messages, some mellower musicians dump all sorts of lyrical sewage on their fans. In this area, perhaps more than any other, we parents are tempted to allow ourselves to be swayed by personal preference. Resist the temptation. A better evaluation tool is to check out the messages being conveyed, not the style or look of the messenger.

Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?

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