A few obvious facts:
- We live in this world, like it or not.
- Much of this world is . . . well, worldly.
- God placed us in this world at this time. He placed our children here, too.
- The phrase “in the world but not of the world” is not in the Bible. Wait . . . This phrase is of the Bible but not in the Bible. Haha!
Without doubt, we are raising our children in a wicked and depraved generation. The other day, I was shocked—SHOCKED, I tell you!—by something I saw on television, and we’ve been back in the US for almost a year. Our first tendency, justifiably, is to shield our children from any media that might pollute their pristine minds. For the small ones, I wholeheartedly agree. Ours didn’t watch actual television until after they started elementary school. Before that, they had only pre-screened videos for their viewing pleasure.
As our children mature, however, our parenting must evolve. We cannot continue to shield our children from everything that contradicts our worldview. We have to teach our older children how to exist in this world, polluted as it is, and how to interact with people—sometimes powerful/influential people—who espouse a different worldview. Inevitably, little Susie will watch something somewhere that doesn’t correspond to our distinct worldview. How will she deal with it? Not-so-little Sam will eventually read a book that questions the values you have worked so hard to instill in him. How will he respond? If you parent from your gut, you may teach them, “These things are bad! Don’t watch/read/listen!” Then, when Susie inadvertently sees the ‘bad’ thing, she will hide it from you because she might get in trouble. When Sam intentionally reads the second book in the series because, well, his parents will never find out about the content, his curiosity has led him down a dangerous path.
Instead of parenting from your gut, what if you parent from your mind? What if you train your children to evaluate everything they see, read, and hear in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What if you prepare them in advance to healthily handle and respond to the media? It’s called critical thinking.
Hear me correctly here. I’m not advocating R-rated movies for nine-year-olds. You know your children. You know what their minds can safely handle and what their hearts can endure. Plus, the MPAA ratings tell you almost nothing. Better to check out Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn, IMDB’s parental guide (find the guide within each movie’s write-up), or Kids-n-Mind—great sites to better evaluate movies before you watch them. (My husband and I do this for ourselves. Parents must guard their own hearts too!) Our first-born is more sensitive than our second. Number Two has watched movies that number One hasn’t, but at the same time, One has watched more mature movies that we’re not comfortable showing to Two.
Anyway, over the last five years, we’ve developed a standard set of questions that follow just about every movie we watch as a family. (We use it sometimes with books and music, but that’s more difficult unless everyone in the family reads the same book. Random recommendation for that to happen: The Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland. We all love all of them!) Someone usually starts the questioning over dinner the next night. These questions have opened the gates for excellent discussions and spiritual growth using the world, being in the world but examining it as one set-apart (2 Corinthians 7:1). Recently, I’ve heard both my children apply the same kinds of questions to books they read and movies they watch at school or friends’ homes.
1. What did you like best about the movie? What was your favorite scene?
This is an easy ‘in’—a way to start talking about the movie that isn’t challenging.
2. What didn’t you like?
Same idea. Verbalizing the negative aspects of the movie helps us put it in perspective and increases their emotional vocabulary. Why they didn’t like something is important.
3. What character acted like Jesus?
This is a fascinating question. Sometimes the hero is clearly the Christ-like one, but sometimes the villain has a moment of kindness that we notice only because we ask these kinds of questions. If the movie was any good, we end up evaluating most all of the main characters and finding Truth in interesting places. This question also challenges what the children know about Jesus and his behavior on earth.
4. Who acts in an unchrist-like way?
Same thing here—great discussion. Perhaps the hero/ine did something for noble reasons, but the ends couldn’t justify the means. Perhaps the villain acts from a sense of revenge or vengeance which seems right on the surface, but in reality, contradicts our calling as Christ-followers. If we can get down that far—to motive—we’ve really accomplished something in our discussion.
5. What is the message of the movie? What point does this movie make? Is that message/point something with which we agree as Christ-followers?
Honestly, every movie is “selling” a point-of-view, but sometimes it’s subtle. If we don’t guard our hearts and minds, those viewpoints will seep in and cause all of us to slip away from real Truth. By recognizing the message, we put it in an appropriate place in our minds rather than letting it affect us blindly.
At some point, one of us parents will insert a discussion of anything questionable, especially issues of violence, sex, death, or other “mature” themes.
What are we saying/modeling to our children by having these discussions?
1. We can participate in this world and be entertained like our friends without accommodating the culture to the point of assimilation.
Having seen a popular movie, the children aren’t left out of discussions. They don’t have to say, “My family didn’t watch that movie because we love Jesus,”—a judgmental statement whether you mean it that way or not! Instead, they have a chance (if they are willing to take it) to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation with a statement such as, “I liked [insert character’s name] because he acted like Jesus when he [insert situation from movie].” What a fantastic opportunity for them to non-confrontationally share Christ!
2. There are Truths, bridges, and images of God in most everything around us. We can dig them out, and they will help us understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.
3. We can know what we believe and interact with those who don’t believe the same things without losing ourselves in their world. We are the foreigners here.
4. We can recognize what is distinctive about our faith and distinguish faith issues from morality or just “being good.”
Just so you know, these conversations aren’t necessarily heavy or serious. Listen in on this one, which came after watching Frozen.
Daughter: You know, Princess Elsa and the Incredible Hulk are similar.
Everyone else: (with surprise) What?
Daughter: They both have a gift—or curse—that they can’t control, and they are afraid of hurting the person they love the most.
Everyone else: Hmm.
Daughter: Yeah, so they run away, but they are pursued by people who fear them but want to control them. Then in the end, the person they love helps them come to terms with their gift or curse, whichever you want to call it.
We were floored–Elsa and the Hulk? Really? And yet she was completely right. Granted, it’s no great spiritual break-through, but it’s the kind of critical-thinking, dot-connecting exercise that will help her understand God better and do well as an adult.
This job of raising Christ-followers is no easy task. Our set of critical-thinking questions is just one way to let a bit of “the world” into our home on our terms, with our limits and oversight, gradually preparing our children for this 21st-century world they have been called to inhabit.