Am I the only one who internally cringes at the whole Media Evaluator role of motherhood? Feels like I’m constantly the bad cop. Yesterday I heard my nine-year-old listening to some surprising music from his 14-year-old brother. I had to explain that just because his high-school brother listens to something, it’s not therefore appropriate for a fourth grader.
But here’s what I don’t want to happen. I don’t want my kids to get to college and not know how to evaluate the media everyone’s gulping down like Kool-Aid. I know God gives all of us different perspectives to raise our own kids. But I’m personally opting out of Bubble-Boy mode for my kids–and still shooting for “unstained by the world” (James 1:27). I know this isn’t a science–and that I’m still really learning about this. So there’s that.
But there’s a method I’m working through with my kids so all this can become training wheels for a worldview rather than Mom said no.
I’ve been using a model of sorts from pastor and author Tim Keller. He speaks of saying yes, but no, but yes to our culture. Keller uses Paul as an example, as Paul circulates around to different audiences. Paul’s a great one to use: He used his host culture’s own poetry (hearing a parallel here?) to engage in conversation those who didn’t believe.
- Yes. Whether it’s a seller of purple or a cluster of intellectuals at Mars Hill, Paul first hears the central questions of their hearts–and affirms them: Yes, this longing you feel is legitimate. (At Mars Hill, it sounds like, Men of Athens, I see in every way you are religious.) So if my kids are wanting to purchase a song, I have them first look up the lyrics for me. We look for what people are craving in this song. What’s it about? What do they want?
- But no
To his audiences, Paul responds by exposing the illegitimate ways his particular audience is attempting to meet those needs. Keller writes,
[This] means to resonate with yet defy the culture around you. It means to antagonize a society’s idols while showing respect for its people and many of its hopes and aspirations. It means expressing the gospel in a way that is not only comprehensible but also convincing….
There are sore spots, as it were, where people who don’t believe in Christianity or God feel pinched, like feet in a pair of shoes that are too small, by their view of the world. These are the places where what they profess and say they believe about the world does not fit their intuitions or experiences. [We] must know those sore spots and press on them with questions, offers, illustrations, and examples that make the tension they feel more acute and the incongruities more troubling.* (emphasis added)
So I ask my kids: Is there anything in this song that’s not getting those desires in the ways God says are okay? Are there ways that their solutions disproportionate–like expecting romantic love to solve all our problems?
3. But yes. Jesus is the ultimate yes to all of these desires. In every love song, every song about dreams or passion, how’s God finally fulfill those real cravings? How is God what we long for?
That said, even if my kids can use discernment to pick out the core message of a song, we’ve still got to consider thoughts like these.
Is it true? Noble? Right? Pure? Lovely? Admirable? Excellent? Praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8-9)? Obviously 99.9% of movies won’t fulfill all of these categories. Neither will their schools. …Or their parents, most days. But talk with your kids about reviews. Evaluate the cost/benefit ratio according to the Holy Spirit and your family’s unique conscience.
Websites to try:
Remember: What our kids experience repeatedly builds their brains. Neuroscientist Dan Siegel writes,
If repeated experiences actually change the physical architecture of the brain, then it becomes paramount that we be intentional about the experiences we give our children.
To put it another way, music catechizes our kids. Augustine observed that we sing the truth into our hearts.
So the case could be made that these lyrics we rehearse over and over can have a particular power in the development of our kids’ brains. Basic neuroscience tells us once our brains have explored a certain neural pathway, it becomes easier and easier to travel that path again; the path becomes wider.
What paths in our kids’ brains–and hearts–will be easier for them to tread?
Conclusions our kids come to themselves are 100% more effective than those we come to for them. (No, that’s not an actual statistic.) If we can have open conversations about what they think is right or wrong, steering them in the right direction with good questions, we raise kids who can choose right for themselves.
So walk with your kids through their media: Not just to say yes or no…and not even to just be the bad cop. We’re helping our kids construct a worldview about what kind of entertainment they’ll marinate in.