Parental Overreactions

How should parents respond when they realize that their kids are absorbing a steady dose of inappropriate media?

It’s like this. Parents stumble upon their teenager’s iPod or discover a ticket stub, quickly realizing that Chris and Natalie aren’t showing good media discernment. Sometimes it happens when parents read an article or attend a seminar, finally reviewing the lyrics of certain artists or catching a glimpse of a TV show’s content.The natural reaction? Overreaction.

I see it happen every time I do my parenting workshop. Parents wanna go home and solve everything that night!

I don’t blame them. When parents get a peek into the content behind much of today’s pop-youth-culture, it can be distressing. I spend the first chunk of my workshop unveiling the messages that kids are absorbing from today’s pop-youth-culture. Funny… before my workshop parents always tell me, “I have a pretty good idea what my kids are seeing and hearing.” Then, in my workshop I not only show them a quick tour of the weeks’ top music charts and some of the most popular TV shows that young people watch, I also show them research showing how media is actually affecting young people today. Parents always approach me afterwards saying, “I had no idea!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to convey that all teenagers have Lil Wayne, Katy Perry or Gaga in their “most recently played” list on their iPod. I’m just saying that today most of our kids, public schooled, home-schooled and everything in between, will at least stumble across inappropriate media content. Have we as parents prepared our kids how to respond?

The question I always propose to parents about halfway through my workshop is, “So what do we do now? How can we not only set appropriate guidelines, but teach our kids discernment, building eternal values in this temporary-thrill world?”

The first piece of advice I give parents is, “Don’t over-react.”

Tendency after one of these parenting seminars is to go home, rip every cord out of the wall, cancel cable, throw computers out windows… not a good response. Our kids will not only hate us, they’ll think we’re insane.

I propose this: Pray for one week before you respond.

I’ll be honest. Parents hate this.

I was in a workshop in Texas and an overwhelmed mom candidly asked me, “After you showed us all of that, you expect us to just sit and wait a week while our kids go and watch all of that?!!”

The audience looked at me like, Yeah! What now Mr. Parent advice guy!!!

She went on. “So when we finish dinner and all my kids go to their separate rooms to watch all those shows and listen to all that music while I do dishes… I’m supposed to just let them?”

Interesting, because this mom’s question shows us an accurate glimpse into so many American homes today:

  • Parent doing dishes while kids sit on their butts
  • TV’s and media in every bedroom
  • Kids watching whatever they want, unsupervised

So I encouraged this mom.

  • How about you have the kids help you with the dishes. Do them together and talk while you work.
  • You mentioned TV’s in bedrooms. After one week, get rid of media in the bedrooms. Almost every medical journal that writes about this subject matter recommends no TV in teenagers’ bedrooms (and that’s not just Focus on the Family, that’s secular pediatricians)
  • When you finish doing the dishes with your kids, as you’re literally drying your hands, ask your kids, “So what are we going to watch?” And go watch TV with them. Most medical experts also recommend that parents “co-view” media with their kids. Then they can dialogue about what they watch.

This mom laughed and said, “Then they won’t want to watch it.”

I responded, “That’s wouldn’t be such a bad conclusion, would it?”

Waiting for a week isn’t that difficult. Use this week to gather information. Read every article you can on the subject. Our www.TheSource4Parents.com website offers a goldmine of free articles and parenting helps. My blog subscribers get a steady dose of research and insight into the world of parenting. Parenting books can provide a ton of help in this arena. In my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, I spend the entire chapter 6 (titled, Dad, Can I Download This Song?) talking about how to talk with your kids about their media choices, using scripture to support your stand.

I love hearing from parents who take my challenge, waiting a week. Here’s an email I just received from a parent who attended a workshop I taught last Sunday:

Thank you very much for enlightening me on what my girls are up against.  And yes you are correct my husband and I, our first response was to go home and rip out everything, but we didn’t.  We are taking your wise advise to pray for a week about what actions to take and I want most of all to respect her independence and yet protect her from the evil schemes the devil would like so much to take them down.  I mistakenly have allowed her to have more independence, but now I see how I rather need to be instilling and directing her as to what guidelines and boundaries we really need to have together with internet, music and tv. I also realized in our meeting yesterday how important time spent with them really makes such a difference.  You have challenged me to spend quality time with them and find ways to talk with them.  Thank you for that!

Funny, this last weekend I had an opportunity to talk with many of the teenagers first. They gathered a couple hundred teenage girls together and I talked to them about self esteem. In that time with the young girls, I not only confronted them about the media messages they were saturating, I also revealed to them, “Tonight I am going to talk with many of your parents about the media you all are absorbing daily. Your parents are going to be tempted to come home, over-react and bust your iPods in half. So I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m instructing your parents not to over-react, but to pray for one week before making any changes. So if they come home and start to make changes right away, you can tell them, ‘Hey, Jonathan told you to wait one week!’”

The teenage girls all laughed and seemed to enjoy me letting them in on that little piece of knowledge. This was timely, because I had already challenged many of them to think about what they were “putting into their heads.”

When I arrived home, I had this email in my inbox:

Just came home from the Parenting the Texting Generation class. Wow! While we are doing some things right, there are things we can improve on. My kids don’t have iPods or smartphones, but I know their friends do. I can now relate a little bit better with them all.

I was the generation that saw the beginning of MTV, Madonna and her “wearing the underwear on the outside” look, and “Like a Virgin” we thought it was all in good fun. Now, as a parent, I see it totally different. What was “good” to me then is not good for my kids now. They have way more media, electronics, and “stuff” in their faces then ever before. I never realized it until today. We have checks and balances in our house but what about when they are at school or at a friend’s house?

Was talking with the kids at dinner and said that we were going to make some changes and my daughter immediately told me I had to wait for a week first! Just like you said she would. Glad to hear she was listening this morning!

So how should we respond? Let me summarize:

1. Wait a week. You’ll be tempted to act sooner, but give it some prayer for a week.

2. Read and gather information. Use resources like www.TheSource4Parents.com and my blog. Read as much as you can about building relationships with your kids and being a good listener. I spend almost a third of my book on this topic.

3. Co-watch media with your kids. Feel free to hit the pause button and ask questions. Consider which media is appropriate for your family, praying and asking God for wisdom.

And then… on day number 8, have a family meeting where you do a lot of listening, and then nicely say, “We’ve been praying for a week about this, and we’ve decided on a few small changes. Here they are…”

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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