For almost the last 3 weeks straight, my son has been wearing an aqua cot-sheet that I made into a superhero cape some years ago. It has gotten dirty and stretched at the seams from over-wear. He sleeps in it; he eats in it and confidently wearing it, he accompanies me shopping, on errands, riding his bike and playing outside.
He even answers when I call out to, ‘Batman’.
My sweet little 3 year old boy is leaping from our lounges and flying around our house.
He is watching cartoon batman episodes, he wanting to watch more and wanting to watch often.
As I see my little man fly around my lounge room in a cape, making his own super-flying sound effects and rescuing his toys from certain peril, I think,
“little dude, you are awesome.”
Then as I see him watching enthralled in his hero Batman- when he is beating up some bad guy with fly-kicks and punches to the face, I think,
“uh… ok this feels not so awesome.”
Is this appropriate for him to watch?
Should I shelter my children from any negative influence, especially at young ages?
Do I censor his interests? Do I stop him from playing the super hero? Can he still want to play superheroes without any outside-media-based-understanding of what they are?
Can I raise my kids without influences that I am uncomfortable with?
Am I right in being uncomfortable with this?
I find, in general, there is absolutely no safety in classification ratings.
There are few heroes (male or female) that come from mainstream-media to which I say, YES! That’s it! Here kids, this show reinforces our family’s bible-based values.
Just taking Disney heroes and heroines for example (as a widely understood media targeted at children and not for because they are particularly good/bad). Their main characters are a mix of defiant teenage mermaids, Lions preaching animism (tribal/earth religion), thieves who only steal ‘what they need’ and lie to gain affection and esteem, a little jungle boy who runs away. No matter the end result, these are the examples our children are absorbing.
The family movies aimed at ‘family’ viewing depict siblings who tease and belittle each other, speaking of each other with dislike, disobeying parents and calling each other names.
I am not asking, to where can we turn for positive influences on our children?
The answer to that is simple, turn to the Bible. Let our children dwell on Bible stories, pregnant with truth and the presence of God in each story. Here our heroes are flawed human as well, yes, but they are examples God has given us in His Word for a reason. They are deliberately part of His story of redemption and He is an ever present reality in their lives.
We can also turn to the many resources that are available to families for children entertainment, also great resources on inspiring missionaries, on the Church Fathers, on positive, believing role-models. We do in this time; have the ability to provide for our children alternative media for consumption.
My question is;
do I make a cleaning sweep of the majority of mainstream media and protect my children from its influence?
If not, what should I do with this uncomfortable feeling I have when my kids engage in worldly media?
What do I do with these worldly influences and
do I need to make a general rule about TV, Movies and Books?
There are three main ways of looking at the media which we invite into our homes.
Is it only entertainment? What is the influence? What is being taught?
If we think that media is pure entertainment without any effect then we are choosing to be satisfied in the momentary gratification that TV/Movie watching can provide for the long-day of parenting. And it is satisfaction indeed – I am the first to put my hand up and say I cling with desperate appreciation to my kid’s TV hour each day.
It can be entertainment without understanding; I do understand that many aspects of TV entertainment go over the proverbial head of most children. That may 9 times out of 10 solve the momentary issue but does not change my aversion to seeing them soak it in.
TV as pure entertainment says that children are not going to turn to Witchcraft from watching/reading Harry Potter and they are not going to be morally bankrupt from watching the Barbie material. They will not grow to be violent from killing Zombies on the Wii nor by watching the Teenage Mutant Turtles. Their family values will not be corrupted from the example to given them by the Simpsons, nor will they think to place their value in outward adorning because they were influenced as such by the Bratz Fashion show and dolls.
I do not think that media is purely entertainment.
Any parent who has heard their Aussie kids playing out in the yard with a thick Californian accent or watched their parody of some recent Disney storyline will know that if it passes before a child’s eyes – it can have and probably has already had some impact – be it major or minor.
It is exactly because I think media is not purely entertainment (nor safe to watch regardless of content), that I censor which shows are appropriate for my children’s viewing. If I consider the impact of a show to be something I would not promote to my children, then there is no way I will condone it being promoted to my children via media.
I do not think that media is purely entertainment but neither do I think it is completely without value for my children’s enjoyment.
So what then?
If it is not purely entertainment and it isn’t pure evil either,
then how do we evaluate its influence on our children?
I was once encouraged to know, that I (along with my husband) am the leading expert on my children, and there is never cause to doubt it.
Such liberating encouragement.
So, that means that all the advice from other mothers, onlookers, psychologists and extended family can be used as a resource to better my parenting skills, but I do not ever need to (nor should I) release the responsibility of my motherhood to someone else just because their voice is louder or sounds more authoritative.
I will not try to tell you exactly which media to protect your children from. I know the shows that I have banned from my own children, the ones I’m iffy about, and the ones which I desperately hate (and kinda hope you do too).
But the only children whose eyes I will shield- are mine. For I know how they will be influenced and how best to shield them.
Just as you do with your children.
Here is an example from two daughters,
My eldest daughter is easily snared by beauty and the trappings of instant flattery. From her heart I will shield from her the things which will teach her that she should indeed find her value in outward appearance. I will steer her from media where the heroine uses her beauty as a weapon, or shows which depicts those less ‘pretty’ in negative light. I need to guide her from a path which judges her beauty and gives her cause to value others on the same merits.
I need to do this because the world will teach her a different concept.
But the Bible teaches truth.
My youngest daughter needs to be protected from hurtful words of disrespect. From her eyes which laugh so readily, I do not want to teach her that the world says laughter can readily come at the cost of others. I will shield her from the temptation of easily quoted words used to belittle others for self-gratification.
I need to teach her this because the world will not teach her this truth. The bible does.
Influence is also affected by saturation.
Firstly, obviously if your child is obsessively, daily, continuously watching shows that are promoting alternate religions, a world without God or a worldly doctrine of self without ever coming up for air then… Yes. The influence and impact of these shows will be great. Duh.
But your children have a mother who is herself walking in the light. A mother who loves the Word of the Lord and impresses it upon her children. A mother who covers her children in prayer and guides them to cover others too. A mother who ministers to her family by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in her, pour out from her and drench her home in Gospel truth. A mother who models humility, fragility and an honest human dependence on God.
Let your children be saturated in this.
Into this culture, allow the media of the world to provide entertainment.
Into this family, bring things that are questionable…
…. then use the opportunity to give an answer.
To my son, I asked why he loves Batman so much.
I asked him what makes Batman a hero.
I asked him about his perception of Batman, was he good? Was he justified in his actions?
What about the ‘bad guy’? Was the bad guy always bad? Is there nothing good about him? What makes him bad? Is Batman ever bad?
To my three year old son, I was able to have an age-limited but very valuable discussion on many topics. On sin, on bad guys always being bad guys… and whether God sees us this way.
I talked about good and evil.
I talked about standing up for what is right.
I told him (well… I preached… a little) that Jesus is the ultimate definition of a hero who provided the ultimate salvation. I talked about all the differences between Batman and Jesus.
I told him that I loved how he dressed up as Batman and wants to save people, I told him that God wants us to have hearts which care for others above ourselves.
I told him he is never allowed to fly-kick anyone.
And then with good conscience, I let him watch his Batman show on TV.
I do so ready to have the same conversation again and again and again.
In detail and episode-specific.
I do so ready to change my mind if I later I feel I’ve misjudged.
My belief is that media is not purely entertainment without impact.
I do think there are shows which are dangerous for our children to consume and should not be allowed into our homes.
I think that the influence of the world will always be pressing in on our children, threatening to be a louder voice in the ears of our children. I do not think we should ever let it be this, (while they are under our authority). I think that a passion for godly example and a readiness to witness will trump legalism and rules most every time.
I think that the influence of media can be measured and curved by the diligence of our parenting.
I think that we can redeem entertainment to have good conversations with our kids and that we can teach them to be discerning consumers.
I think that you are their mum,
and with the help of the One who in His wisdom ordained your children to your care–
you will make good choices
and you will be given the chance to redeem your regretful ones.
I think you should extend that same grace to the mums you know.