I’ve never been much for television, and I say that honestly. I’m not one to sit in front of the tube and watch mindless hours of comedy, I am not up on the latest shows, and I don’t stream a single season of anything. I’ve never even watched Gilmore Girls or Once Upon a Time and I haven’t seen a CSI or Big Bang episode in over a year. Due to my hyperactivity, I don’t take great joy in watching something I can’t interact with, although I have been known to hit the cinemas when a new movie really peaks my interest.
Nevertheless, now that I work in children’s ministry, there is a current trend that I have noticed and actually become a bit concerned about. I’ve noticed a lot of parents are overly cautious about any movie they deem to be a bit “scary.” And scary can range from an actual horror movie to the beast ranging out in Beauty and the Beast. That’s not bad in and of itself, however, my concern is that while parents are being preoccupied with protection they are falling to address the bombardment that occurs daily in their kid’s life. While parents try to control what their kids see, they don’t fully realize that children are being exposed to other potentially harmful material.
Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember my own childhood. I used to watch all the classics: Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Snow White. I was well versed in Cinderella, Pocahontas, and The Lady and the Tramp. Virtually everyone I knew from these early days, grew up on the same diet of this “dreadfully scary stuff” and yet, now that we’re older, I don’t think it has adversely affected any of us. In fact, I have yet to hear of a single person undergoing intensive counselling as a result of seeing a scary scene in Recess.
Have the movies truly become scarier or have parents simply become more resistant? And why is it that old classics like Brother Bear and Spirited Away now have to be re-watched and kicked to the curb because of questionable content? Is Ursula in The Little Mermaid truly causing nightmares or are the nightmares coming from a different source altogether?
Let’s be honest. Regardless of where you find yourself in this debate, we cannot ignore that what the eyes take in affects our mental stimulus. And nowhere is this more powerful than in the movies. Depending on how sensitive you or your child is, even a simple advertisement or preview can awaken feelings and cause disturbances. And when it comes to a full-length movie, something that happened several scenes back can still be lingering in your child’s mind.
I know to some degree, the same can happen with books or live-presentations, however, there is something unique about the way movies and television sear images into our brains. Part of the reason is the fast-pace it moves it. Anyone with a basic understanding of film culture knows that a movie (or show) is made up of a sequence of short frames. Generally speaking, these frames last mere seconds before moving on to the next set. So while the plot line might take a while to develop, say 10 minutes, your child potentially could have already seen 50 or more frames. For a young mind, this can be hard to compute and almost impossible to differentiate. And that’s why it’s easy to stay stuck on what we see.
But this problem doesn’t just affect children, it also affects grown-ups. This is the main reason why so many people struggle with pornography (and not just men, more and more women are admitting to the fact that they have also fallen prey to this snare). Pornography works in the same way as what I just described. It appeals to physical lust and confuses the mind by thinking it is viewing attraction when in reality, it is completely damaging one’s soul. These images are then carefully lodged into one’s mind, seared into one’s conscience and become impossible to unravel. And that’s why, whenever you meet someone who has struggled with this horrendous temptation, they will admit that even if they haven’t looked at porn in months or years, they can still re-call certain scenes in their mind if they concentrated hard enough. This is so scary to think about because when you consider how much visual input our mind receives daily through social media, websites, movies, television, and other means, to still be able to recall a disturbing scene is nothing short of demonic.
Understanding a bit about the way the mind works in response to visual stimulation is important, but what I want to get at here is simply this: DO NOT OVERLOOK THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE MATTER.
What we process with our eyes greatly effects our entire being. What we allow to penetrate our hearts then has the temptation of turning outward. And that’s why someone who started looking at porn, not only can’t stop, but also finds themselves suddenly objectifying all women, losing all respect for their wife, and going down a slippery slope where they suddenly don’t care anymore. And that’s why exposing children to improper materials which they aren’t able to process at their young age can greatly impact their mood, cause sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and anger issues. I’m not saying this will always be the case, but it does put your child at risk, and anything that puts a child at risk must be avoided as much as possible.
So how can we better regulate what our children are watching and what goes into their eyes (and consequently their mind and heart)? Here are a few suggestions:
#1: Do not allow personal handheld devices until a suitable age and even then use proper safeguarding websites and filters.
In an age where toddlers hold tablets, I know this will not come off as that popular, but it’s imperative that you know what your children are accessing. Children are at the greatest risk of being manipulated, exploited, and taken advantage of, especially because kids born in GenZ (and to a large degree even people from my generation – the Millenials) grew up posting every single thing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many kids misunderstand the true meaning of the word “friend” and may share private information with someone who really doesn’t need to know. Especially with the growing popularity of apps like SnapChat or even image texting, it can be difficult to control exactly what gets sent around and teens in the heart of the moment can send inappropriate pictures or comments they might later come to regret.
That’s why even though your kids are going to beg you for more freedom, you NEED to check on them often. You NEED to limit their access to smartphones and other technology, and you NEED to demand to see their history especially if they are hiding anything from you.
When I was a kid, we only had one desktop in the house and it was in a public location so that my parents could walk by at any time and see what we kids were up to. Nowadays, that’s no longer the norm, but it’s still important in principle.
Don’t get me wrong, technology has so many benefits and I think it’s wonderful to think about the things my kids will have access to that I never did before. But it also comes at a cost. We need to be vigilant in teaching our kids that cyberspace is a real place with real dangers. Just like you need to teach a toddler to look both ways before crossing a street, you also need to gently ease your child into their use of technology and only allow more freedom once they have proven they know how to use it.
If you still don’t see the value in what I’m saying, hear this: the average boy stumbles upon pornography between the ages of 8-12. I have male friends who have admitted these struggles to me, and they always say that for them, it didn’t start off with the hot chick, but rather with something as innocent as a car ad. They were hooked on a certain car (what boy wouldn’t be) and that car just happened to come with a cute model. Before they knew it, the car was becoming of less value to them, and their eyes were more and more fixated on the girl. We like to think of our children as innocent and I deeply believe no elementary aged kid would stumble upon this filth on purpose, but we need to understand that it’s out there and take every precaution to protect them and to guard what is sacred, pure, and holy.
#2: Watch Movies with Your Kids
When I was a youngster, my dad used to come downstairs and watch movies and tv shows with my brother and I. Young kids don’t mind this at all, in fact, most young children relish in having their parent’s attention. You can make it a special bonding time to watch Treehouse or Frozen with your kid, maybe even hosting a Friday night pizza and movie evening or providing a special treat like popcorn, chips, or Freezies.
Watching movies and TV shows together is a wonderful family activity on a number of levels. Firstly, it shows your children that you are invested in learning more about their interests and their favourite shows. Secondly, it helps you keep your guard as you properly monitor what exactly is going through their eyes (and if you see questionable material, you are able to pull the plug right away). Lastly, it provides a portal for dialogue. Many children’s movies teach a moral or a lesson and you might be able to expand upon this further. If there were any scenes that might have frightened your child, you’ll be able to explain them or at least understand if your child gets scared later in the night and comes crawling to your bed. And in a worse-case scenario where you did have to pull the plug, you can explain why and help your child realize that certain scenes or images might actually compromise the Christian faith you are trying to instill in them.
Of course, your child will naturally gravitate to favourite shows or want to watch the same movie multiple times. Once you’ve seen the show on a few occasions and are fairly confident that there is no questionable material, you should feel free to allow your child to keep watching at their leisure. You don’t need to constantly be glued to The Wiggles. Nevertheless, it might still be a good idea to remain within earshot or periodically pop in with pop, juice, or snacks just to check in and make sure things continue to run smoothly.
HINT: If you are thinking of hosting a regular movie night or if your kid wants to see a new movie in theatres that you aren’t sure about, a good place to look is www.pluggedinonline.com. This is an incredible Christian website that rates movies based on language, graphics, violence, and other points of interest. And while no movie is perfect, this will definitely give you a good starting point. Another good resource could be talking to other parents or a children’s pastor. Those of us who work with kids (especially in church settings) always have to be up on the latest movies and shows to make our ministries more relevant, so we likely may know a thing or two as well!
#3: Listen to What You Hear Your Child Saying
Kids love to repeat things they hear on television or from you and in some cases, may completely misinterpret it. Listen carefully to what your son or daughter says. If they are using bad language around the house, sexual innuendoes, or even seemingly innocent comments like “oh my gosh, he’s so hot” ask yourself where they might have heard this from. Is it from a TV show they are watching, from school, or from a show that you might watch? Remember, kids often aren’t able to differentiate between “adult humour” they shouldn’t watch and what they should. And even though kids might get bored easily of MASH or The Real House Wives of Toronto, if they are exposed to it via you, it may still come out.
Perhaps the most difficult phrase to monitor is “oh my God.” Kids are so easily exposed to this phrase because according to the world it’s just another expression that means nothing. However, if you are trying to raise Godly children it is important to teach them that God’s Name is Holy not merely another off-handed comment. When you hear this phrase on TV explain that we don’t say stuff like that around our house.
Lastly, shows like Power Rangers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon, Sabrina and the like which were so popular in my day (but are now making a comeback) are truly a matter of personal discretion and preference. You may choose to allow your kids to watch these shows, or you may be like my parents and disallow it completely. These shows are not “wrong” in and of themselves, but some care must be given as many of them have subthemes of magic, sorcery, or evolution that may conflict with your Christian values and mission. If you do decide to allow your kids access to these types of shows, it may be well worth your time and investment to at least watch a few episodes with them and allow for some discussion time together.
We don’t have to fear the TV, throw it out of the house, or get rid of every tablet we own, but we definitely do need to be vigilant and proactive about what is being processed through our children’s eyes. Christian parents have an important role to play in permitting only what is “good, noble, honest, pure trustworthy, and of good repute” and a great way to start is by monitoring and only permitting access to certain types of shows and media. Once we do this, we will be able to “shine like stars amidst a perverse and wicked generation” in which we live as lights of Christ for this world by how we reflect Him to others.