As a Traditional, pretty Orthodox Christian, I have often heard that there are certain shows and movies we should not watch (and DEFINITELY not let our children watch) in order to keep away from sin and corruption. There are movies that I would just rather not see and television shows that I feel are much too disgusting for me to spend my time watching. However, throughout my Christian journey, I have found that often time, popular television and movies, especially those catering to teens and young adults, are wonderful diving boards off of which we can start the discussion of important life topics and how they can be seen through the eyes of God.
Going into this, I want to start by saying that I am aware this might be the most controversial post I have written yet. I have spoken about feminism and politics and climate change; but talking to parents about what their children watch and stating that some of the more scandalous television shows made for teens and young adult might be a good venue to make God real in their children's lives has made me the most nervous I have been. So, with that said, I want to start by saying, there is a lot of junk on television and in movies that children should (rightfully) be shielded from. Shows like 13 Reasons Why Had me cringing as an adult and terrified about the consequences of the irresponsible depictions of suicide for young viewers. I believe it is your right to limit what your children see and that makes you a GOOD parent, not a bad one. This article is simply written to discuss the utility of a number of shows and movies that children might see.
"I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me." – Psalm 101:3
Growing up, I loved watching dramatic as well as comedic television shows. I think that came from my grandma, she absolutely loved soap operas. I loved the drama, since I generally stayed clear of much of the same teen drama in my own life, and have always been fascinated by flawed, purely human characters (even if they are greatly exaggerated for entertainment value). My parents always knew what we watched and if it was something that they deemed too bad, it would be prohibited... in the house. I want to make sure you caught that small caveat there: in the house. You see, as much as my parents tried to ban us from watching or even listening to certain types of media, they only had control of what I would see or hear within the confines of their house. Now, I was a pretty darn good child and would rarely watch anything I wasn't supposed to outside of my parent's knowledge... but there were still times that I would sneak a movie in or two when I was at a sleepover that they probably would have raised their eyebrows at. And this is the point. Children will see the things you have banned in some way, if they really want to. Now more than ever, children have access to nearly limitless information, videos, and music and they know much better than you and I how to get it.
"So, what do I do if my 14 year old daughter wants to watch a teen drama that has some depictions of sex and drugs in them and I don't want them to take these depictions as affirmation that they themselves should have sex and do drugs?"
This question keeps so many awake at night. Being a good parent is hinged on being a good example and framing how your children approach life, especially the difficult decisions they will inevitably face. Do not be fooled into thinking that television and movies will be the only times they will be faced with sex, drugs, and alcohol. In their lives, they will see and experience approximately 70 times more questionable things (even really dangerous things such as violence and abuse) than you will ever hear about from them. Chances are, by the time they are 18 years old, they will have been offered (and hopefully refused) drugs and alcohol at least a half a dozen times... and this is a low estimate. Growing up can be scary and difficult and the decisions that young people have to make are enormous! We need to talk to them about all of it, the easy stuff like finding love and getting a job; AND the hard stuff like saying no and reaching out about mental illness.
One of the best ways I can think of to talk to your children about the most difficult subjects is to let the conversation flow naturally, and perhaps even from things they have seen and watched. When I was a teen, the Gossip Girl book series (and then television show just before I left for college) were some of my favorites. The characters were young, like myself, and terrible examples of youth; however, the writer and the subsequent television creators never made a determination on their goodness when they presented the characters to their audience. In fact, it was very clear that every bad decision the characters made was met with a repercussion. My mother, bless her, made a conscious decision when I was 17 to allow me to watch Gossip Girl (I had read the books throughout High School) ONLY IF I would watch them with her. Here's why this was important: after each episode, we would take time to recap what we thought of the week's drama and the characters and as we did something amazing happened. We would start to discuss why the characters felt they needed to do the things they did, the circumstances they were going through, and even how they could have made a better decision which would have yielded better results. We were also able to talk about the Bible and how the teachings in the Word could have helped many of the characters, as well as us when we go through similar situations. And guess what: My mother never had to frame these topics into a formal discussion. She never had to have an awkward conversation, and I never felt like I was being accused or attacked (which would have made me more closed off to the idea of sharing my own experiences with my mother).
We watched a number of other shows such as Gilmore Girls (my father's favorite) and even as an adult we have continued to use popular television and movies to stimulate conversation and discuss our own difficulties we have been faced with (Parents, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Way Way Back are excellent movies for these type of conversations with both girls and boys. Also, check out The Perks of Being a Wallflower book!). It is so good to want to protect your children from harmful things that they may not fully understand. It is also good and loving to understand that if you cannot have difficult conversations with your children, someone else will and they might not be Godly or have your children's best interests at heart.
I pray for each and every one of you as you navigate through these most difficult times of parenting and I hope that this article is of some help to you. You are doing great and I thank God for you everyday as you seek to honor Him with your young ones.