Teaching Kids Media Discernment


Impress on your children that what they learn through movies will eventually affect the decisions they make and how they end up influencing kids around them.

Q: My kids (age 10 and 13) have been pushing me to let them watch PG-13 movies more and more lately. Not many of the reviews I find tell much about the content of the movies (at least, the content I’m interested in as a mom). I’m a bit worried because I’m afraid my older kids’ attraction to these movies will influence my younger ones (age 5 and 8). Any advice?

A: Your worries make sense. What older siblings do, younger ones tend to imitate.  PG-13 movies are different than they used to be.  Just because it says “13,” it doesn’t mean it’s time to watch PG 13 movies at the age of 13.  The bottom line is that it means the movie has content that is inappropriate, regardless of age. Kids will constantly pursue and want what they don’t have, including freedoms they wish they had.  Be consistent, patient, and persistent in your boundaries for all your kids.  Your job is not to make them happy, but to guide them.   Happiness is really about how well they choose.

As I mentioned in last month’s column, one of the crucial tasks of a parent is to guide and direct our children, especially in areas where their thoughts and character are being impacted. Sadly, the values portrayed in movies are often ones we don’t want our children to adopt, so we’ve got to pay close attention to what our kids are watching. Because our children will be making more and more of their own choices as they get older, it’s vital that they learn how to exercise discernment for themselves when it comes to movies and other media.

What you ultimately want for your children is not just for them to exhibit right behaviors, but for them to internalize the right principles that will then direct their actions and attitudes. Helping them adopt these values involves lots of one-on-one communication and time. I know some busy parents might not feel like they can make time for this, but the fact is that if you don’t actively teach your children your values, Hollywood will gladly step in to teach them its values.

But there’s good news: Your children are listening to you, and you are one of the most influential voices in their lives. Make time to talk with your children about your family’s values and how they may differ from the ones being taught in some of the movies they may want to watch. Let them know, too, that what they choose to watch will not just have an impact on their thought life and character but on the processes in their brains that influence their thoughts and character (you may remember the mirror neurons I talked about last month). Talk with your children about taking ownership of their brains, their decisions, their lives and pursuing true freedoms.

On that note, remind them about how good decisions lead to good consequences and bad decisions often lead to bad consequences and less freedom. This may seem obvious to most adults, but it’s not for children. Remind them that trust is precious and relies on their proven ability to choose well. In addition, it’s worthwhile for them to know that their choices can affect not only themselves but can influence their younger siblings who are looking up to them and are being actively influenced by them —  for good or bad. 

One tool that can help guide you in your efforts to teach your children wise media discernment is PluggedIn.com, where you can read detailed reviews of the latest movies, television programs, music and video games.

Teaching media discernment will take time and effort, but it’s well worth it!  Remember, you have exactly what it takes to succeed as a parent.   Visit us at www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting to get more parenting advice. 


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