As I mentioned in another post, I am passionate about teaching kids to be media-savvy. I want the students in my English classes (not to mention my own children, as well as yours) to be prepared to make wise decisions about the things they fill their minds with. These are my top tips for teaching kids to be discerning media consumers:
Model Discernment Before They’re Ready
This is something you’re probably already doing. Choose media wisely, and take the time to explain why you choose some movies or books over others. Use those resources I posted about to make an informed decision based on your convictions, not just on one review you read or whatever so-and-so told you they thought. That’s not modeling discernment, and could influence your child to follow the lead of others who don't share their values. Those of us who grew up in the church may have experienced this for ourselves--the temptation to go along with what others Christians are watching or listening to without question. Unfortunately, I've had this backfire on me on multiple occasions, and ended up watching things that I later regretted. Do your own research on the media your family enjoys, and talk to your child about why you do it early on.
Recognize When They Are Ready
Maybe this is counterintuitive, but one sign that a child might be ready to have input on the media they enjoy is when they start complaining to you a little bit about what they want to watch, read, or listen to. I’m not talking about disobedience or disrespect, I mean when everything you suggest is called “boooooring,” or “for babies.” This means that they’re starting to form their own opinions, probably based on their developing tastes and feedback from their peers. Giving them controlled opportunities to make choices will give you hands-on opportunities to teach them how to make wise choices, and will show that you value their thoughts. Starting out, this may be as simple as choosing 2-3 movies you’re okay with for movie night, and letting them be in charge of choosing! As they get older, you can allow them to start researching and suggesting their own options. To do that, you’ll need to....
Teach Them to Use the Right Tools
Those resources I’ve mentioned? Anyone can use them! Once your child is old enough to pick their own media, they’re probably also old enough to use the internet with moderate supervision. Show them how you to use these tools to make wise choices for your family. Talk to them about what’s important to you, and why you avoid certain challenging content. Use the tools together until they’re ready for you to take a step back so they can try it solo. Don’t totally disappear on them though; it’s a good idea to stay in the room with your child anytime they’re online to provide accountability, and be available to help if they run into problems.
Of course, for the Christian family, the most essential tool you could ever teach your child to use is scripture. God’s Word is our source of Truth, and we should evaluate any media that we consume based on the standards of the Bible. The verse that immediate comes to my mind (and probably many of yours) would be Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Any type of media we enjoy on a regular basis will influence the way we think. If they aren’t pointing us back to God, then might not be worth our time, and may actually undermine our relationship with Him.
This is a great verse to start with, but some things may only align with one or two of these attributes and still have value. For example, books and movies that depict the horrors of the Holocaust are certainly not lovely, but they are obviously true. At an age-appropriate time, you can use them to teach your child about sin, depravity, and our need for a Savior. Humanity’s sinful nature is at the core of the Gospel: without it, we have no need for salvation. Certainly, we don’t need to teach preschoolers about Ted Bundy or the My Lai Massacre, but at some point they need to understand how God’s sovereign goodness is apparent, even through some of the darkest moments in human history. This is a hard topic. It might be something you struggle with yourself (I know I do). If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to read some of Randy Alcorn’s books: If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil or the shorter daily devotional, Ninety Days of God's Goodness. Both are excellent resources for tackling these difficult topics for yourself and your child. I highly recommend them.
Help Them to Be Accountable
This part is absolutely essential, and gets harder as your child ages. As long as your child is living in your home, you can directly and indirectly supervise what they read, watch, and listen to by requiring them to use the computer or television in common areas of the home. You can expect them to keep the door to their room open if they aren’t changing clothes or sleeping. But what happens when they move out? Before they’re old enough to move out, help them find a friend or mentor (other than yourself) who shares your beliefs and will ask them the tough questions about what they’re filling their mind with. You’re still going to play a vital role in positively influencing your child’s life at this age, but a trustworthy friend or mentor may be able to speak to them in ways that you cannot as their parent during their transition from childhood to adulthood.
I'm sure there are a lot of other great ideas out there for teaching children to consume media with wisdom. I hope that these ideas will encourage and inspire you to look for more ways to actively teach your child media discernment.
What are your ideas for helping kids become media-savvy? Have you tried something with your family that’s worked well?