Ah, the Bahamas. Imagine you’ve just arrived at this vacation destination after dreaming about it for years. Sunshine, sand, the ocean, a chair, a good book. … Can you picture it? As your toes sink into the sand, the franticness of life back home drifts further and further away.
But suddenly you hear screams. An undercurrent is pulling your teen out to sea, and her feet no longer touch the bottom. With the sound of such cries for help, would you sit by, take another sip of your drink, and slip back into your novel? Of course not! Without even thinking, you would drop everything, race into the water, and fight currents and waves with all you’ve got to rescue your teen.
Hopefully you’ll never experience such a scenario as that in reality. Yet in many senses your teen is being pulled away from the security of your shore by another strong current—an entertainment riptide. And without your help, your teen could drown in the madness.
It is critical for me to remind you here that the real enemy is not the world or the culture. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Remember Jesus’ words in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Don’t be fooled—Jesus makes it clear that the liar and thief is Satan. He fights daily to deceive your teen.
Satan does this in countless ways. One of his most powerful tools is what I call media madness. Social meida, movies, music, TV, commercials, the Internet, video games—what madness it can be! The harmful messages being perpetrated by today’s media are real and frightening. Above all, these messages are filled with lies.
What I find from talking to teens today is that this generation has become accepting of almost anything, especially when it comes to morality and spirituality. Even if teens don’t take part in immoral acts or practice alternative religions themselves, the scary truth is that many don’t see anything wrong with these harmful things. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” adage. When your teen ingests a steady diet of entertainment that promotes violence, illicit sexual activity, rebellion, hatred, conceit, and other forms of worldly excess, this tends to spill over into your teen’s behavior. At the very least, your teen becomes desensitized to these things. The madness your teen watches shapes the lifestyle your teen embraces.
It’s important to understand that what your teen reads, watches, and listens to is about much more than entertainment. This onslaught of media messages affects how your son or daughter thinks, acts, makes choices, and ultimately lives life. As adults, we’ve already formed our worldviews, but your teen is forming his or her own belief system right now. Without the maturity or life experience necessary to filter this madness, he or she needs you! It’s your right and responsibility to help your child recognize this massive deception for what it is.
Your real mission is not to hide the world from your teen. It is to help your teen filter the messages of the world through God-focused lenses.
Isn’t this exactly what we see in the ministry of Jesus? Jesus didn’t run from the world. Jesus went to the world. He lived among it, teaching the world how to see and do life from His perspective.
So, does this mean that you throw caution to the wind and just hope your teen gets it right at some point? Absolutely not! You can have tremendous influence over the madness. But this will require that you do your part. You will need a plan, a strategy, a mission. With a little work and creativity, you can become a media-wise parent and teach your teen to discern truth from lies, meaning from madness.
Understanding the Mission
One mom wrote this to me recently: “It feels like my daughter is slipping away from us. The last few months have been really challenging on her father and me. We want to reestablish our place in her life, but I also don’t want to scare her further away. There are several things I know we need to do. I’m convinced we need to tighten the reins on her media choices though I’m not sure how or where to start. Help!”
I meet parents who are at their rope’s end because they believe they have failed miserably at protecting their teen from the madness of the world. One dad told me, “We’ve failed to protect him from the outside world. I’ve tried over and again to keep him away from anything that would mislead him or promote impure thoughts in his mind or tempt him. But it hasn’t worked.”
I appreciate the pain this father is feeling, but I want to point out what I believe is an error in something he said. If parents believe their sole mission to protect their teens from the outside world, they will always fail. Let me explain.
First, remember that we live in a fallen world. Sin is rampant, and the madness is everywhere. So unless you’re going to keep your teen under lock and key and hidden away in the basement until he or she is twenty, this approach won’t work. The world is waiting and one day you’re going to have to let your teen free.
Second, even if you unplugged the TV and dismantled the cell phones, your teen would still be impacted by the madness. The madness is everywhere. Your goal cannot be to keep your teen completely sheltered from the media’s influence; this is impossible. Even with the best of intentions, you would fail.
Again, your real mission is not to hide the world from your teen. It is to help your teen filter the messages of the world through God-focused lenses. It’s to teach your teen discernment—the ability to distinguish good from evil, to categorize what’s helpful and what’s harmful, and to make decisions that lead to a life of walking with the Lord.
Staying aware of this madness isn’t an easy task, but it’s a necessary one that requires understanding that your teens aren’t the only students in the home. Simply stated, to understand the subculture that caters to teens means that you need to become a student of their subculture—it’s what I write about often in books that I call the Open Book Motion. If you want to know what’s truly going on in the world of teens, then you must strive to keep up with what’s up.
Jeffrey, I do all I can just to get through the day! And now you’re telling me I’ve got to do more?
Well, yes and no. No, I am not saying that you must see every movie, check out every Instagram post and listen to every song that your teen does. But yes, in the sense of not closing yourself off from their world. What if, by just taking a few extra minutes each day, you gained greater insight into the maddening messages competing for your teen’s attention—and then helped your teen discern what he or she hears, watches, or downloads?
How might you do that? Let me suggest a few specific ways:
Hello, Teen Vogue.
Periodically pick up several teen magazines and read through them. I do. I learn much about the culture and about teens from reading the magazines they read. I’m not reading them for my entertainment; I’m reading them to learn. Read the articles. Look at the advertisements. Get a taste of the worldview being depicted in each. If your teen is up for it, allow your teen to browse through them with you, and then ask your teen some specific questions about a particular article or advertisement and how it aligns (or doesn’t align) with Scripture.
Take a seat.
Ask your teen what TV shows he or she watches, then watch those shows together and talk about them. Pay close attention to the language, the show’s attitude toward parents, God, dating, sex, and so forth. Or take your teen to a movie of his or her choice, and watch it together with an eye to discernment. Yes, your sudden interest in teen television or movies just might freak out your son or daughter, but it will also be a great conversation starter. Afterward, spend time talking about the show and the spiritual significance, or lack thereof, with your teen. This exercise will not only show that you care deeply about your teen; it will also help him or her begin to think spiritually about these cultural messages.
The next time you are on your device checking the scores of your favorite team or downloading the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet, go to a search engine and enter such words as teen Web sites, teen info, or teen stuff and do some research into teen culture. Additionally, check out the many online networking communities available for teens. Ask your teen what his or her favorite online sites are. By surfing a few teen sites, you’ll learn a lot about what your teen is learning online.
Hang out at the brick-and-mortar school.
A great way to learn what is going on in your teen’s life is to volunteer to help with activities or projects at your teen’s school. Go and keep your eyes and ears open. Hear what kids are saying to each other. Notice what they’re wearing. Observe how they interact with teachers and other parents. You’ll pick up a lot. Volunteer to go to a student conference, concert, field trip, mission trip, weekend conference, or summer camp with your teen’s class or youth group. Spend a weekend or week with teens and you’ll lose some serious sleep. You’ll also learn a lot!
Listen to music you might not like.
One of the greatest influences in the life of your teen is music. Listen to your teen’s playlist. This will take time on your part. But it is your responsibility as a parent to be aware of the music your teen is pumping into his or her mind and spirit. A good rule of thumb is to avoid drawing battle lines based on your own musical taste or style. Lyrics, not styles, are what are important. Go online and research the various bands and artists important to your teen. Find out what the lives of these artists are all about, then sit down and talk with your teen about them. Lead your teen to make wise decisions. You can’t control your teen’s opinion, but you can illuminate the facts about the music while guiding your teen to make God-honoring choices.
Create a family mission statement.
When it comes to navigating the media madness, I find that one of the most helpful tools is to develop a family mission statement. Give each family member time to write down issues and ideas that are important to him or her pertinent to this topic. Then reassemble as a family to form a family mission statement with which each family member agrees. Select a Scripture to be a part of this statement. Use your mission statement as a guide to handle issues, dilemmas, and arguments both at home and away from home. When facing a family crisis, strive to make sure the result is in alignment with the family mission statement.
Check out what Sherie and Steve told me:
“We attended your parenting conference several months ago and just wanted you to know the difference it has made in our home since we applied the techniques you suggested. At first, I’ll be honest, we were a little skeptical. Our oldest is sixteen and he is pretty set in his ways. But we were determined, as you said, to do our part.
The first night of our family devo time, we asked each of our three children to write a mission statement they would like the family to follow. The next week, we gave each of them time to read their statement. It was eye-opening for us both to listen to the requests and obvious needs of our children both emotionally and physically. As we have made it a priority to spend even more time together as a family talking, we realized that our kids do want more of us. Thank you for laying it out there for us and pushing us as parents to do more.”
Teens need to be challenged to pursue God and defend their faith when under the influence of the media madness. Since you are the number-one influence in your teen’s life, your teen will be more likely to embrace this challenge if you embrace it and demonstrate it in the home. When you defend your own faith and articulate your own worldview, you are equipping your teen to do the same.
Remember, the secret to winning this spiritual war is not just to avoid worldliness and sin, though we are certainly called to do that. The only way we can win a battle so fierce is to passionately pursue God, press into Him, and delight in Him. The media madness tells us that everything else will satisfy us, but as Christians we know that everything else but God will leave us used up and empty. If you can help your teen understand this fact, you will be handing him or her the secret to the purpose of life. You know what the world doesn’t know: we exist to know God, to enjoy Him, and to glorify Him. It’s wonderfully uncomplicated. Pass this truth on to your child!