Setting Media Guidelines for Your Teenager defines Media as, “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely.”  Simply put, media is everywhere today – on our TV’s, computers, cell phones, iPods, radios, billboards along the highway.  We are constantly being surrounded by messages that are trying to “reach or influence” us.  So how can parents help their teenagers have healthy Media Guidelines?  I think there are a few things we need to explore first:

How Should Christians Engage Media?

If music, movies, tv, websites, books, etc. are all trying to influence us, then Christians need to be discerning people.  We need to pay attention.  Too often, when the screen goes up our guard goes down.  There are a few Scriptures that are really important:

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  When I was a teenager I often felt like adults who “didn’t understand” kept using this verse like a club to judge me for what I was listening to and watching.  If only I could get these thick-skulled adults to understand why my music was so amazing then they’d be alright with it.  Maybe I had a point and they were too quick to judge… but I wasn’t really wrestling with what this verse clearly means and how it should serve as a filter in what I filled my mind with.

Colossians 1:15-16 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”  All things (including music, tv, internet, etc.) were created through Christ and for Christ.  The arts and media should be viewed with the goal to see Christ honored through them.  This must influence how we interpret the arts.  Example: Lady Gaga isn’t someone I would recommend listening to.  That being said, there’s a lot in her music that could spark some really interesting discussions about God’s authority, Creation, Human Nature, Christian Sexuality, etc.  As Walt Mueller encourages, “Affirm what you can affirm, and correct what needs to be corrected,” but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

How Much Media are Teenagers Consuming: Is This a Problem?

The Kaiser Family Foundation published a study last year entitled “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds.”  You can download the report for free by clicking the link, but here are some of the most important findings along with some of my commentary (actual numbers are as of 2009, but they’re the most current numbers available):

  • Typical 8-18 year old consumes 10:45 of media every day (increase of 2:12 since ’04)
  • 29% of that media consumption is multitasking (ex: using the computer while listening to music).  That makes the actual time with media 7:38.
  • 8-10 year olds average 7:51 total media each day
  • 11-14 year olds average 11:53 total media each day
  • 15-18 year olds average 11:23 total media each day
  • TV use is still almost double (4:29/day) the next most popular media (Music, at 2:31/day)
  • 71% of 8-18 year olds have a TV in their bedroom (Please Please PLEASE don’t do this. No TVs, no Computers, no Cell Phones at bedtime)
  • Video games are on the rise, averaging 1:13/day (was 49 minutes back in ’04)
  • Reading is down to only 38 minutes each day (that include Bible Reading too!)
  • Only 36% of teenagers have Media Rules restricting their computer time; 30% have rules regarding video games; 28% have rules regarding TV; and 10% have rules regarding music.  (Keep in mind, TV & Music are the two biggest media voices in teenagers’ lives, yet most teens don’t have Media Guidelines… think there’s a correspondance here?)
  • 8-18 year olds who DO NOT have Media Rules typically consume 2:52 MORE Media each day than people who do have Media Rules to live by.

Do I even need to mention the prevalence of Internet Pornography?  Check out “The Stats on Internet Pornography,” these numbers are out of control.  These reveal that we need to have filters in our heart, not just our computers.  But those “filters” won’t get there without parents (and obviously the Holy Spirit) taking action to teach their teenagers and pre-teens how to responsibly interact with Media.

Some Guidelines for Setting Media Guidelines

  1. Practice what you preach.  If you want your kids to live by media guidelines but you’re always in front of the tv/computer, then you’re simply being a hypocrite.  Obviously, you’ll boundaries will probably be different from theirs, but if you don’t have boundaries then maybe you have a problem too.
  2. Try to understand their Media preferences.  Ask a lot of questions (but not so many that you become a nag).  Ask them, “Why do you like this show?” “What is it about this music you identify with?” and “Why is Facebook so important to you?”  Realize when they answer, “I don’t know, I just like it” they probably aren’t blowing you off… they probably really don’t know.  But help them figure it out.  Look at the lyrics to the song, watch the music video (even if it’s painful), watch the show with them, and talk about it with them afterwards without giving a lecture about every fault you found.
  3. Determine boundaries with your teen.  That doesn’t mean you give them the final say, but ask them to put your shoes on for a minute and to consider what boundaries they would put in place for a son/daughter their age.  Have them help come up with the consequences of breaking those media boundaries too – that way when those boundaries are broken they know exactly what’s coming.
  4. With more responsibility comes more freedom.  Trustworthy teenagers should simply be given more trust.  Don’t be blind and only see what you want to see, but recognize that every one of your kids will require different boundaries.  After two strikes, the boundaries get tightened; but after a significant period of responsibility comes a little more freedom.  Remember, your goal is to help them internalize these wise choices when you aren’t there!
  5. Use the Pause button.  If you have a DVR/TiVo… USE IT!  If you’re watching a music video or a TV show or a commercial and you see something that could provide a great “teachable moment” (emphasis on MOMENT) then use the pause button and ask, “Did you catch that!  Where’s the lie?”

This is so important, I’d love to hear from some of you about what Media Guidelines you’ve put in place that have been helpful (and what you WISH you had in place before it was too late).

2 thoughts on “Setting Media Guidelines for Your Teenager

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