It Matters What They Watch

Within minutes of meeting and talking with them, I can tell you what kind of movies they're allowed to watch. I can guess the names of video games they play after school. I can describe the content of Web sites they frequent, the amount of time they spend in front of the TV, even what music they listen to.

Within minutes, their words, their body language, their humor give it all away.

I've met hundreds of kids over the years through my job as a youth pastor. Kids from a variety of cultures and family backgrounds, kids whose parents are rich and poor, kids who are raised with boundaries – and others who are not.

Kids like Steven.

His Lack of Limits

It was a phone call I half-expected to receive, but hoped would never come. A boy in my youth group was being held in police custody. His aggression, threats and profanity pushed a restaurant employee too far. Now, he'd earned a record before his 13th birthday.

Steven spent much of his time at home alone. But he always had friends to communicate with online, enemies to slaughter on video games, and endless channels to flip through on TV. Trouble is, Steven's independence and curiosity propelled him down a destructive path.

Before long, his speech was littered with profanity. He bragged about seeing the latest R-rated movies. He quoted explicit lyrics from CDs, and spoke highly of his heroes on MTV.

In the opening line to one of Steven's favorite shows, the title character utters, "I can do whatever the *#@! I want!"

This became Steven's mantra. A disrespectful attitude paired with aggressive behavior soon followed.

I listened as he'd proudly tell me about staying up all night "watching shows that kids probably shouldn't watch." I saw him adopt a strut, a sneer and an attitude, "just like the guys in those music videos." I intervened when he tried to reenact violent scenes from a video game he played that afternoon.

The messages Steven picked up from the media produced a very confused young boy. That confused young boy became a troubled kid who grew into a defiant adolescent. An adolescent who was sitting at the police station waiting for a ride home.

Steven's total freedom when it comes to the media is one extreme. Laura's lack of freedom is another.

Her Countless Restrictions

I always know where to find her at our Sunday school gatherings: sitting alone, in the back, with a wide-eyed, fearful expression.

When other kids invite her to play, she quickly shakes her head no. When a group of girls approaches her to talk, she has trouble making eye contact. When I try to bring her out of her shell, she barely says a word.

Laura's parents decided that the youth group is too wild for their daughter. With hesitation, they allow her to attend Sunday school and certain events. But Laura picked up on their uneasiness – and it shows.

I've watched Laura become more and more isolated, as she relates less and less to her peers.

They discuss favorite shows; her family doesn't own a TV. They review the latest movies; she's not allowed to watch any. They sing popular songs, compare notes on video games and chat about chatting online; she remains silent.

Is Laura protected from the pitfalls of TV, video games and the Internet? Certainly. Will she be able to avoid negative media influences forever? Obviously not. As a young adult, will she reign in her curiosity and handle the media wisely? Let's hope so.

In the meantime, all I see is a girl who has difficulty making decisions without her parents. A girl who is fearful, lonely and uncomfortable around her peers. A girl who needs to grow – but isn't given the chance.

A Healthy Balance

If Steven's media exposure rests on one end of the spectrum and Laura's on the other, is there a happy medium?

Ask Pete and Carrie.

I've known their family for years, and have observed these siblings consistently make solid choices.

Last year, Carrie's friends spent bundles on the latest trends. With jeans slung low and shirts cut high, their fashion influences were obvious.

I knew that Carrie noticed the transformation in her friends' appearances. I also knew she didn't like it. So what changed in Carrie's wardrobe? Absolutely nothing. She confided in my female co-worker that even though her parents allow her to choose her clothing, she realizes the kind of attention these outfits attract – the wrong kind.

Last month, I saw Pete and a few classmates deliberating over what video game to rent. Fortunately, since they were heading to Pete's house, the decision was made easy. Pete explained that whatever game they chose had to pass his parents' inspection. "Movies and TV shows too," he reminded them.

Last week, I talked with a group of kids about what to do if they came face-to-face with inappropriate media. Not surprisingly, for most in the room this had already happened.

The boys and girls best prepared to make wise decisions were kids like Carrie—kids with freedom, and diligent parents. Kids who know they can talk to their moms and dads about anything. Kids who recognize what's accepted in their homes, and what's not.

Pete and Carrie realize that their parents aren't trying to stifle their fun or control their every move. They know their parents' desire is to help them develop into responsible adults characterized by compassion, sound judgment and love – qualities God wants for each of us.

Does the media influence your children? Without question. Can you help them navigate the rough waters? Definitely. And it's never too late to start.

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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