7 Things to Know Before Your Kids See the Latest Movie

Summer is a great time to go see a movie. It can be a fun family outing in air conditioning. It can also have unintended consequences for your kids. Are you allowing your kids to see movies they aren’t ready to handle psychologically or spiritually? Here are some things to consider before you buy those tickets.

  • What is the rating? Ratings only help you weed out the most inappropriate movies. There are still movies with “acceptable” ratings that still aren’t good for your kids – including “G” rated movies. Ratings are a starting point for deciding what your kids should see, not the only criteria.
  • Are you willing to let their brains think they have actually experienced what they see in the movie? The dirty little brain science secret Hollywood doesn’t want you to know is that when the brain watches sexual or violent content, it can’t differentiate between reality and fiction. With younger kids, it’s even more pronounced because they are concrete thinkers and may not totally understand the story isn’t true. Experiences change your children’s brains – for better or worse. Violence changes the brain in negative ways and so does early exposure to sex.
  • What are the themes of the movie? Beyond the plot, what are the main messages the movie is pushing? Are they godly? Are they even moral? A current hit children’s movie is pushing the idea that evil should be celebrated and that some people are just born evil and there’s nothing they can do to change. Not a message I want my child to believe is true.
  • Have you read the review at www.pluggedin.com? If you are in a rush, skip to the conclusion for a summary. If you have more time, they break down any content a Christian might find objectionable. Then you can make a more informed decision about what you want your child to see.
  • Have you explained the concerns you have about a movie they want to see? Just forbidding a movie is not helpful for your relationship with your kids and can create faith stumbling blocks. Explaining your concerns in age appropriate ways and agreeing to revisit the idea of watching the movie when they are older or admitting they can make a different decision as adults breaks down walls, even if you disagree.
  • Have you discussed the movie and their thoughts about it afterwards? It’s natural to talk about what you liked or didn’t like, but take it a step farther. Ask your kids if they thought the movie was trying to make a point and what it was. Then discuss the pros and cons of it. Make it fun and you can have a great conversation.
  • Remind your kids (and yourself) they don’t have to do everything everyone else is doing to have friends or be successful in life. (In fact, they probably shouldn’t.) The pressure your kids feel to see a particular movie is often more about everyone in their peer group seeing it and wanting to fit in than the movie itself. This is an easy example of how peer pressure can impact your kids. Give them tools to handle being different or making different choices with confidence. If you can, they will be much more likely to avoid more negative and potentially destructive peer pressure later.

Seems like a lot of trouble, doesn’t it? Philippians 4:8 talks about the things we need surrounding us to be healthy Christians. If the latest movie doesn’t fit the bill, then it is hurting your kids. Why not take a few minutes and make sure it’s what they need to see.

7 Reasons Your Kids Need Screen Limits

It’s probably impossible to find many kids and teens who don’t spend part, or most of their day engaging with some sort of screen. While some of this is required by schools, most is recreational. Your kids probably love watching tv, playing video or online games and texting friends. Can it really hurt them or is that just hype? And if it is potentially harmful, how much screen time is too much?

For this post, I dove into some research to see if there was any actual scientific data to back up the dire warnings shared in parenting circles. First, it’s important to set parameters on screen time. Doctors suggest no screen time for kids two years old and under. Two to four year olds should have no more than one hour daily and kids five years old and older, no more than two hours of screen time daily.

It is important to note that for doctors and researchers tv, computer, phone, game console and other screens are included in this total. (I could not find a study that addresses how any required academic screen time factored into the totals.) One study found that 63% of young people exceed those limits, but my guess is the actual number is much higher.

So what impact does screen time above the suggested daily amounts have on your kids? Here’s what researchers found.

  • Attention problems. A well known study years ago found shows like Sesame Street with its quick cuts from scene to scene were having a negative impact on attention spans. Those quick action, quick cuts are pervasive now. It makes one wonder if there would be fewer children with ADD if screen time were severely limited.
  • Health issues. Studies found young people who spent too much time on screens generally had poorer eating, exercise and sleep habits. This in turn led to higher over all body mass and incidents of obesity.
  • Depressive symptoms. While the data on anxiety levels is mixed, there is agreement that excessive screen time correlates to depressive symptoms.
  • Increased suicide risk. For girls, a high level of social media and television use followed by an increase in the amount of time spent on screens was highly predictive of suicide risk in young adulthood. Entertainment app use appeared to be associated with the highest risk. For boys, reading apps (the study didn’t specify which) and/or higher percentage above the norm spent video game playing especially when coupled with cyber bullying indicated a high risk of suicide attempts in young adulthood.
  • Lower cognitive skills and academic performance. How screen time impacts cognitive skills varies a bit by age, but it’s all negative. In younger children, too much screen time causes various developmental delays. In kids and particularly teens, as screen time increased, academic performance decreased.
  • Higher impulsivity and/or reduced self control. The more time kids spend on screens, the more likely they are to be impulsive. Since impulsive decisions are often poor ones, this particular study is quite troubling.
  • Spiritual growth delays. I’ll admit, I couldn’t find a study that has been done on this, but it only makes sense. Spiritual growth is partially dependent upon time spent learning what is in the Bible, trying to understand it and figuring out ways to apply it to our lives. It requires Bible study, prayer, worship, classes, conversations, reflection and more. There isn’t much time for any of these things if your kids are constantly spending all of their free time on screens.

While it can be debated on some of these whether it is causation or correlation, one additional parenting factor is in the mix. If your kids are showing depressive symptoms, it may be caused by the screen time or they may be spending more time on their screens because they are depressed. If they are spending too much time on their screens though, they aren’t interacting with you very much and you may miss noticing any signs of depression. Your kids need time with you, interacting in meaningful ways with no screen distractions.

Additionally experts suggest at least an hour of exercise, 8-10 hours of sleep and no more than the recommended amount of screen time each day, for your kids to grow to their potential. I would add daily spiritual time for them to reach their godly potential. If your kids are exceeding the suggested limits on screen time, it’s time for some limits. It may be painful at first, but it’s worth it.

Is Your Child a Closet Bully?

It’s an interesting phenomenon. Quite often when parents are called to school about their child bullying others, they claim total ignorance of their child’s bullying behaviors. In fact, they may even give examples of ways their child is loving or kind. Unfortunately, the school is usually right in their assessment.

So what makes a child a bully? How can parents not realize their child is bullying others? What does any of this have to do with Christian parenting?

The most frequent admonishments for positive character in the New Testament are for Christians to be loving and kind. Why? Because the vast majority of the world isn’t and having those traits makes Christians stand out in society. Their love and kindness makes people want to know more about God. Ultimately, love and kindness means we are reflecting God’s image more accurately.

Since we know your kids being loving and kind is important to God, how can you be sure they are acting that way towards others when you aren’t around? While it may seem difficult to know for sure, the average child is not quite as savvy at hiding negative behaviors as he or she thinks. It’s just that most adults don’t really pay attention to what young people say and do until it starts causing problems – and sometimes it needs to be serious problems – for the adults.

So what should you be noticing (that you may have missed) that could indicate your child is bullying others, or at the very least acting in unkind and unloving ways?

  • How quickly and how severely does your child get angry? Young people who anger easily, especially if their anger is out of proportion to the incident, are more likely to lash out in that anger. That lashing out can lead to bullying behaviors. This is especially true if your child tends to hold grudges after becoming angry with someone.
  • Does your child seem oblivious to hurting the feelings of others? When a sibling, parent, friend or someone else complains that your child is hurting them physically or emotionally, what is your child’s normal response? Most people who are kind and loving will eventually apologize. Bullies tend to apologize only when forced and that in turn can result in more negative behaviors towards the person who was originally complaining.
  • Does your child seem to speak very negatively about others? It’s especially important to notice the language used when speaking negatively about others. There’s a huge difference between expressing disappointment or frustration about how someone behaved and using really ugly words about them. Notice also if the conversation moves away from an incident to describing the person’s character in extremely negative ways and then morphs into describing their appearance in rude ways. Every child gets upset with others. Their immaturity can mean they are also more emotional in their anger and frustration. If there is a pattern of constant and consistent meanness in their frustration, however, it could lead to bullying behaviors or be a sign of bullying that is already occurring.
  • Does your child openly mock others? Some families erroneously call this teasing. While light hearted teasing can be okay, mean spirited mocking of others is extremely problematic. If your child is mocking others within earshot of you, chances are great it is happening when you aren’t around.
  • Does your child use negative behaviors to pressure others into letting him or her have his or her way? Manipulation is not great, but not uncommon in immature children. If your child acts more like a mob enforcer when attempting to sway others, there is a strong chance bullying others into doing what he or she wants is becoming a habit.
  • Are other parents complaining to you, asking the school to call you or having their kids avoid your child? While avoidance can mean your child is actually the victim, parents will rarely complain to the parent of an offending child or the school about bullying behaviors unless their child has suffered severe or long term abuse at the hand of the other child. It just creates too much drama. If you are getting more than one complaint, chances are your child is already an aggressive bully.
  • Does your child refuse to change behaviors when corrected? Most loving, kind children will try to improve if they know they are hurting someone. If your child shows defiance when asked to repent – including making behavioral changes – that is a bad sign.

Unfortunately, many children have picked up bullying behaviors by watching how one or both of their parents treat others. It’s extremely important to do a hard self assessment. Are you and your spouse treating others with love and kindness or have you adopted the bullying behaviors of the world over time? Changing your behaviors as a family will be more effective than asking your kids to change behaviors you are unwilling to change.

7 Great Ways to Add God to Your Family’s Summer

Summer is a gift to families! The kids aren’t in school. The weather is generally amazing. Employers are often a bit more relaxed. You may even have vacation time to use. Your family can get a lot out of the extra time together. You can even spend some of that extra time teaching your kids about God, while you are having fun together and accomplishing your other goals for the summer!

Here are seven great ways to spend family time and teach your kids about God.

  • Read great books. What’s more relaxing than a summer siesta time reading books? The Bible is a library of 66 books. Start your kids out with an NIrV Bible and on story heavy books like Judges, Ruth, Esther, the Gospels and Acts. You can also read some of the secular and Christian books we have suggested in past blog posts and then discuss them over ice cream.
  • Keep academic skills strong. The last eighteen months have put a strain on many students academically. Our Teach One Reach One website (www.teachonereachone.org) has tons of free activity ideas that tie Bible lessons to academic skills practice in fun ways. We have ideas for language arts, math, science, second languages and health and hygiene.
  • Complete family service projects. What’s better than serving others together as a family? Our Teach One Reach One website (www.teachonereachone.org) has about 200 free service project ideas tied to Bible lessons. Designed for groups, most work for families, too.
  • Enjoy family devotionals. Now is the time to start that great habit of family devotionals. Our Teach One Reach One website has over 200 free Bible lessons with activity ideas you can use, if you want to have fun together as part of your devotional.
  • Solve sibling conflict (and more). Now is the time to tackle those parenting issues like sibling conflict that cause so many problems during the school year. The Teach One Reach One website has free printable parenting sheets you can print to help you tackle some of your most pressing parenting concerns.
  • Explore family gifts. Summer is one of the best times of the year to help your kids discover, develop and use the gifts God has given them to serve Him. Search our Parenting Like Hannah website for past posts on the topic to help.
  • Have fun training your kids. The Parenting Like Hannah website has tons of past posts with fun ideas on dozens of ways to teach your kids things God wants them to know and do, while having fun in the process. Just use the search function and look for “fun ideas”.

Your family deserves an awesome summer! Being intentional in how you use some of the time will mean your family can grow spiritually while you are enjoying life.

Great Summer Reading For Kids and Teens

(Here is an annual favorite post on some books to make your kids think and spark family conversations.) Summer often brings reading lists for kids and teens. Sometimes, they are given specific books to read, but often there is a lot of freedom. Wouldn’t it be great if some of that extra reading time could be spent reading books that will encourage your children to live godly lives? There are actually quite a few good Christian/positive secular books for kids and teens on the market.

I have had several people ask me for suggestions, particularly of good non-fiction books. The list below is not complete and not all are technically “Christian” books. They are all, however, books that will get your children thinking. Take advantage of the summer slow times and ask them to share with you some of the things from these books they particularly liked and others with which they are not sure they agree.

Not all of these books are appropriate for every child and many of these should only be read by teens. Please do your own research before giving your child a book to read. Older children can find series like Christy Miller, which will satisfy their desire to read some quality fiction books.

Many of the books today have hidden agendas for promoting ungodly thoughts, attitudes and behaviors. Some of these your children will be forced to read in the process of their education. Providing books that encourage godly thinking and empathy can help counter some of these influences. (Of course, the Bible will always be the best counterculture tool you can ever give your child.)

Have fun reading this summer – some of these books I have enjoyed as much as our daughter did – you may want to read the same books yourself. If you find other great books for Christian kids, be sure and let me know. I would love to share them with other readers.