You want a godly book or dvd for your children, so you head to the local Christian book store and purchase something that sounds good. After all, how bad can it be since the Christian bookstore is selling it? When I was young, the Christian book and movie industry was in its infancy. Ironically, many Christians were very cautious about purchasing anything labeled Christian.
Partially, they were concerned about financing possibly shady preachers who were in religion more for material gain than preaching God’s Word. They were also concerned the books and movies would eventually take the place of the Bible for many people. Although I was young, I also remember discussions about the idea of young Christians being possibly taught false doctrine with no one to help them filter the truth from the false teachings.
A few years later, popular culture was in the midst of a serious downward spiral. Things that never would have been said or done on television were now airing in time slots when lots of young children watched. Books and movies were filled with foul language and glorified acts that only a decade ago no one would have discussed, much less spent hard earned money to read or watch.
Suddenly, all of the old concerns about Christian media disappeared under the idea of “at least they are trying to be good”. In most Christian homes raising children, you will find a mix of Christian music, dvd’s and books. We can watch Christian shows on television and there is now a very active Christian film industry. In fact, many industries are realizing there is a ton of money to be made in the Christian market. It seems everywhere you go, there is easy access to many things claiming to be Christian.
We can steer our children into enjoying these Christian entertainment outlets, but even though they are definitely free of a lot of the outward trappings of more inappropriate choices, there can still be some problems. So how can you find out whether or not you should encourage your children to watch or read something that is loosely associated with Christianity? What precautions should you take? As with anything, there are many ways of dealing with these types of issues, but here are some ideas that worked in our family:
- Read reviews. We have found this saves us a lot of time and money. Plugged In by Focus on the Family, is our go-to resource. I appreciate that not only do they give a plot summary, but they provide underlying themes and possible areas that might concern Christians. They cover movies, music, tv, videos and games. Once you have that information, you can make a more informed choice. Some concerns voiced may not concern you because of the age and maturity level of your child. Others should discourage any Christian from viewing, but then of course I am a fan of Philippians 4:8. I am not big on banning things, but I also don’t have to put ugly images and words in my brain or the brain of my child.
- Check author and director bios. I realize Wikipedia is not the most accurate source of information on the planet, but you are trying to get an overview, not write a research paper. Everyone has some sort of bias – even Christians. I am from a background that does not believe in outside creeds, but tries to follow the Bible as written. It helps me to know the background of the people behind the media we are using before we use it. It lets me know when I might need to check something more thoroughly before handing it to a younger child or when there are huge red flags about something that is getting big press.
- When there is big money involved (as there is in much media), not everyone has pure motives. One of my favorite rants at the moment is against a Christian conference who gave a Hollywood director a major platform and tacitly promoted his upcoming movie. A quick check of his bio by my savvy daughter revealed his motives were not to accurately portray or promote the Bible, but rather to force his own often questionable agenda instead by skewing the story from the Bible version. Just because someone who is Christian is promoting something or it claims to be about the Bible, it does not mean it is automatically something you and your children should support.
- Remember you vote in the entertainment industry with your wallet. If totally inaccurate “Bible” movies actually mocking biblical principles make a lot of money, Hollywood will make many more. If an author writes books that are “Christian” yet much of what is in them is actually unscriptural – the sales totals are what determines the number of books the author is encouraged to write. Don’t spend money on something you know is wrong just to “see how bad it is”. Even if you decide it was ungodly and you hate it, you have already voted “yes, please make more like this” with your money.
- Children are particularly susceptible to false doctrine. Okay, hang with me on this one. This is not an assault on that cute tomato franchise – I personally am okay with respectful parodies (although ironically one of the founders recently said he wished they had been more overt in their efforts to teach children the Bible). I am more concerned with movies and cartoons pretending to portray Bible stories accurately, while actually adding so much they change the meaning of the story. I don’t know what movie or cartoon portrayed it this way, but it drives me crazy when I ask kids what Peter’s reaction was after he betrayed Jesus and the rooster crowed. For years, the response I got was “Peter killed the rooster”. Not only can I not find it in my Bible, but what stuck with the kids was this idea of Peter killing a rooster in anger, rather than the reality of Peter feeling the weight of the guilt for what he had just done.
- Watch for hidden themes. This one slips by a lot of people – even adults. Sadly, even if you don’t consciously recognize the theme, the message it is trying to teach you still gets to your brain. Lots of people promoting various sinful lifestyles are very aware of this and use it regularly to their advantage. The goal is to normalize sinful behaviors and false doctrine by making them look acceptable, intelligent and “cool”. Check out how children treat their parents on most children’s programming today and you should be horrified. Disrespect is not only encouraged, but made to appear the way everyone does and should react to their parents. Humanistic doctrines are often hidden in even Christian media. Nature can be made into a subtle idol. Just because it isn’t the primary plot line of the show or episode does not mean your children aren’t being actually bombarded by the message that sinful behavior is what everyone should be doing or that unscriptural beliefs are intelligent.
- Spend time talking to your children about everything. We are not talking the Inquisition here, but you should have thorough conversations with your kids about what they are watching, listening to and reading. How did they feel about what happened? Did the characters make wise choices? Were consequences of sinful behavior accurately portrayed? Were Christians portrayed as loving people who make mistakes or stupid, judgmental prudes from days gone by? If it is meant to portray a story in the Bible, how close was the portrayal to the actual event?What was added or taken away? Did the changes change the meaning of the story?
- Don’t be afraid to go against the herd. Think about it. In the Bible very often the “herd” and/or the popular people were about as wrong as they could be. How many Israelites died in the wilderness because they wanted to be “cool” and went along with the crowd? Leadership and success secular literature even promotes the idea that doing what is right and best very often means having to go against the crowd. Your children will give you a hard time when you don’t allow them access to the hit show, movie or video game. If you do a great job at explaining why you make the choices you do, your kids may just surprise you though. To this day, my daughter is much more strict with herself about what she views than I would be. Philippians 4:8 is her favorite verse and she lives by it as much as she possibly can.
- Remember the ultimate source for all biblical knowledge and about God is always the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, I do think a carefully done video can help people visualize things in the Bible they can’t really understand by reading about it (the setup of the Tabernacle and Temple come to mind). What I am concerned about is the growing number of people who get all of their Bible knowledge from everywhere but reading the Bible for themselves. Just because a famous preacher said it or wrote it or it was portrayed that way in a movie, doesn’t mean what you have read or seen is anywhere close to what is actually in the Bible. Teach your kids to check everything (and I do mean everything) by what they find in the Bible. If there is a disagreement – the Bible always wins – even if you don’t like it as much as the inaccurate portrayal.
I know this is a lot, but the average child under the age of one year old spends 90 minutes a day watching some sort of screen. By the time they reach the teen years most kids are averaging over 7 hours of screen time a day. That means whoever is generating what is on the screen your child is watching has your child’s heart, mind and soul in the palm of their hands. Make sure it is in the best possible hands – or just turn it off. Don’t abdicate that much of your child’s training time to someone who is teaching your child inaccurate information.