Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are You a Plugged-In Parent?

Are you plugged-in to what your kids are watching, listening to, viewing online, playing, and/or reading these days? Or are they plugged-in all the time while you are tuned out? Hopefully, it is the former rather than the latter. These days, if you are not aware what your kids are getting their minds into, you are going to find yourself in a pickle sooner or later, fielding at the very least bad attitudes such as self-centeredness, consumerism, and disrespectful behavior, or at the worst anti-social behaviors and downright destructive bad habits. Most parents, I think, would say that they want their kids to have the best chance at living a life better than the one they have lived, making fewer mistakes and having more opportunities. However, unless we, as parents, monitor what goes into our kids, we have no hope of impacting what comes out.

It used to be that parents and extended family, church members and community leaders were the strongest influences on the lives of our children...the people kids interacted with every day on a personal level. Nowadays, our world is growing technologically by leaps and bounds, and month by month the distance between two people on different continents gets smaller thanks to Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms, and other social networking applications. At the same time, the anonymity of computer interfacing has removed some of the charm and the benefits that living in actual small communities used to bring...accountability, face-to-face connectedness, and a group identity. All over the globe, children are looking for somewhere to belong, something to identify with, someone to look up to, and unless we, the parents, provide the appropriate outlet for that need, kids today can find plenty of groups with which they can choose from to align themselves...from vampires to witches, party boys to rebels, slick schemers to anti-social manipulators...all in full color, some in three-D, on the silver screen or 52" flat screen television (not to mention on the iPod, radio, computer screen, and even in good old books).

Turn on your television any time, day or night, and you will find shows that glorify (and color as acceptable) all sorts of behaviors that used to be considered deviant and undesirable...excessive drinking, smoking, cheating, lying, stealing, cursing, disrespect, occult practices, and immorality, to name a few. Turn on your computer or your radio, and you will find more of the same. And I'm not only referring to the myriad of programs available on cable television and film these days...we are talking network TV, and even the commercials (and halftime shows of your favorite sporting events) in between the main that are often considered to be "family friendly." It is sad that the safe society we once took for granted has deviated so far from wholesome as to be dangerous to our children's minds and well-being on a daily basis. It used to be that if you told your kids to avoid a particular part of town, walk straight home, and they complied, you'd know they were in a "safe zone." Other people would watch out for your child, and they had a reasonable chance to arrive at home unscarred and unharmed. Now our own homes aren't even a safe zone, what with all the dangers lurking in that black cable box, just beyond the modem, or drifting on the radio waves.

But there is hope. You CAN make your home a safe zone once again, and it doesn't take building an enormous garrison to guard the family from the invading mind-raiders. All it takes is a bit of discernment, discretion, and a solid decision to tame the TV, movie, music,computer, and other media monsters that lurk just beyond the walls. My first suggestion is to pray. Pray hard for the Lord to change your heart and for Him to challenge you in areas of your own media diet. What do you take in in an average week that you might not want your kids to digest? I remember when my oldest was becoming a fluent reader and he started reading the titles of books I had on the bookshelf in our library. At one point, I enjoyed reading books from Dean Koontz and other thriller authors. Now, I've never watched a horror movie, but for some reason, I went through a season when I liked reading those scary books (I was teaching 8th graders at the time and it was what they were into, so I think I was trying to meet them on their level and got caught up in it....a mistake). Once Bubba started sounding out those creepy titles, I realized that I didn't want him reading that stuff, so I got rid of it, and I haven't honestly missed it since.

Now, I am not saying that YOU in particular need to get rid of scary stories like I did (or whatever...that's between you and God, not up to me), but whatever God puts on your heart, that is what you need to do. Once you have taken care of yourself, then you can start dealing with your kids. Then you can talk to them from a heart that has already faced the tough task of cleansing out the less desirable areas and adding to the more desirable ones. Here's another bit af advice: Don't just remove something and leave a void behind. When you work on taking something out (or making it less prevalent), put something else in its place of equal interest. Add to it by making the new thing something you do together, which makes the new option of greater appeal than the old one, since now they get to have your involvement and are not just "a man alone on an island." If you take something away without giving something good to replace it, the bad thing you removed is more likely to come back and/or be missed.

There are many resources out there to help you on your journey to remove the bad and replace it with the good...or even to remove the less redeeming and replace it with the more redeeming. One I discovered years ago that has stood our family in good stead is, a ministry of Focus on the Family. This website offers reviews of current and popular movies in a VERY detailed fashion. The reviewers will tell you how the movie comes across from a moral standpoint, how many incidents of violence (and what type), how many curse words (and which ones), how many compromising situations (and how much is shown), what type of music is played on the soundtrack (and what words are in the lyrics), and much more. Then the reviewer will give you a plot summary, evaluate it for redeeming lessons it might teach (or un-redeeming ones it shares), and suggest if it is appropriate for certain age groups. Time and again we have turned away from viewing movies that looked pretty good based on the trailers, only to find out that what was shown on the trailers was the only good content in the movie! Once Tex asked if he could go see a film that was highly advertised for his age group (he is 13), and after looking it up and finding out that it had the f- word over two dozen times, among many other curse words and suggestive scenes, the answer was a clear, "NO!"

Thankfully, for our family, these sort of decisions do not currently cause problems as Tex wants to guard his own heart as much as we do, but if we were in a situation where we had conflicts over this sort of thing, I would recommend Bob Walsewski's book (he's the founder of plugged in online), Plugged-In Parenting, as a good place to start figuring out how to approach the topic. Unlike many books you will find out there today which tell you exactly where you need to draw the line (fantasy books or no fantasy books, books written before 1940 only, absolutely no television or movies, G rated movies only, classical music or religious music only, etc.), this book gives you guidelines for how to find your family's standards (based on God's, of course) and then offers tools to help you enforce them.

Mr. Waliszewski also offers valuable statistics regarding the media and its impact on our lives that will help you grasp the gravity of this problem ("By the age of six, the average American child has spent more hours watching the tube than he will spend speaking to his father in his lifetime.") and understand the harm it can do to your family. He will encourage you to take steps to control the problem before it becomes a problem (Chapter Four "It Starts With the Heart" and Chapter Five "Preparing Them With Principles"), or explain how to take control of the problem if it is already one in your own household (Chapter Six "Ten Things You Can Do To End Fights Over Family Entertainment" and Chapter Seven "Your Family Entertainment Constitution").

When I read this book, I found myself feeling challenged, even though I feel we are already on a pretty good path to controlling media consumption in our home (no cable TV, one TV in the house, limits on movies and shows viewed, approved music on iPods only, pre-approved authors and pre-screened books only, computers in public areas). There are still many areas we can improve upon, and Mr. Waliszewski's ideas for tackling the problem of controlling media consumption as a family were clear to understand and easy to apply. He doesn't tell you exactly which movies or music to cut out (though he is clear on what movies and music are unwholesome...he just lets you figure out if what you are listening to fits that bill), or how much TV watching is the "right" amount, but he gives you general ideas to help you decide your family's path based on what you feel the Lord is leading you to do based upon what you know of your children and their hearts (as well as your own). 

However, while staying fairly unspecific (leaving the decision-making up to you), he doesn't leave you up in the air with no clue as to how to proceed...His useful suggestions are realistic, and his wise advice is invaluable. Reading the book is like talking with a very wise father or grandfather...warm, yet convicting. Firm, yet understanding. He says, "We're in a battle for our kids' hearts and minds. We seem to be outgunned, outmanned, and outspent. But the God who can rout an army with Gideon's 300 and flatten a giant with a boy's slingshot can use our efforts to protect our families and their relationship with God."

I highly recommend Plugged-in Parenting by Bob Walisewski. It should be a must read for any family, and the subject would best be tackled BEFORE you have kids, not after (but it is never too late to start monitoring what you watch, read, and play!) Actually, I think the book would make a great Bible study, if you could find a group of interested parents who would help hold each other accountable (challenging without judging). What an incredible force for good that could be if an entire church, or large study group, were to tackle taming the media monster all at once...together.

Honestly, if you look at your internet choices, your social media choices, your reading choices, your TV and movie viewing choices, can you honestly say that there is absolutely nothing you would cringe at if Jesus (or your grandmother) walked in while you were watching it? If you can say that you would honestly not hesitate to recommend anything you or your kids have watched in the last six-months to your pastor (assuming he makes Godly choices), then maybe you do not need this book, but it would be a useful tool for anyone else: mother, father, sister, brother, grandson, granddaughter, grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, cousin, friend, wife, or husband. It would also make an excellent addition to any personal or church library. I hope you will consider checking it out and thinking about what it has to say.



I recieved a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of it here on my blog. All the opinions you read here are based on my own reading of and experiences with this book, and reflect my true impressions of it.

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