Three Buttons Every Parent Should Use
Parenting Media-saturated Teens and Tweens
by Jonathan McKee
“Don’t give up.”
That was my cry to a group of parents last night at one of my parenting workshops. When parents get a glimpse of the daunting reality of how much time the average 8-18-year-old kid spends each day saturating in entertainment media (7 hours and 38 minutes), they are often overwhelmed with thoughts of, “How can I compete with Eminem and Lady Gaga?” and “What good can my few minutes a day with my kids do?”
You’re not alone.
Today’s parents often wonder if they’re truly making a difference in the lives of their kids, or if they should just throw in the towel. I assure you, don’t give up. Research unanimously reveals that parents who care enough to spend time with their kids and help their kids make good choices are the parents who become the number one influence in their kids’ lives. (I cite numerous examples of this research in my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent).
Many parents might not be so quick to throw up their hands and quit if they were just given a few tools to help them navigate this intimidating arena of 21st century parenting. In a world of Facebook, iPods and MTV, how can we connect with our media-saturated teens and tweens?
I’ve found it extremely helpful to use three buttons.
The SEND Button
A close friend asked me, “Jonathan, if you could choose just one thing to teach parents of teenagers, what would you tell them?”
Wow! Nothing like cutting to the chase.
Without hesitation, I responded, “Opening the channels of communication.”
As I was talking with him, my 15-year-old daughter texted me, “Daddy, I finished my art project! Hope my teacher likes it.”
I quickly typed into my phone, “If not, death by poodles!” Then I hit the SEND button.
My friend laughed. “Death by poodles?”
I laughed with him. “Yeah, it’s a private joke between Alyssa and me. When we were out for our weekly breakfast last Tuesday she and I talked about our worst fears. I said it was being attacked by 1,000 rabid poodles. Since then, we’ve been joking about ‘death by poodles.’”
“You guys go to breakfast each week?” my friend asked.
“Yep. Just Alyssa and me. It’s a weekly date.” I have these with each one of my kids.
Parents need to discover arenas of communication with their kids so they can relationally invest in the lives of their kids. Breakfasts, car rides, manicures…even using technology. How hard is it to type in a quick note to our kids and press the SEND button? You need to be proactive in creating these “communication arenas” where our kid feels safe to open up to us.
Yes, building values and teaching discernment are of dire importance, but parents will never earn the right to influence their kids in these areas if the roads of communication are blocked. Sadly, communication for most parents consists of barking out orders or criticizing their kids. That isn’t communication. That’s creating roadblocks.
Open up the channels of communication with your kids. Take your son out for French fries. Take your daughter shoe shopping. Put lecturing aside for a moment, ask questions, and then just listen.
Who is your son or daughter’s best friend? If they could make one wish, what would it be? What is their greatest fear? Maybe it’s 1,000 poodles foaming at the mouth. You’ll never know if you don’t open up the channels of communication.
Try it. Ask them on a “date.” Text them right now: wanna go to the mall’s food court after school and eat something unhealthy? Now hit SEND.
The PAUSE Button
A few nights ago our family was watching one of our favorite TV shows together, a comedy about two private detectives. The show is usually clean, but isn’t completely void of occasional sexual references or use of crass humor. It was during one of those sexual references that I made use of the PAUSE button on our TV’s DVR.
I turned to my 13-, 15- and 17-year-old sitting next to us on the couch. “What did she mean by that?”
(Let me be completely candid with you. When Dad hits the PAUSE button, it’s usually met with a unanimous groan in my house. But they know that the alternative is the OFF button. So they’ll usually deal with my questioning.)
In this case, my 13-year-old chimed in. “The girl said she hadn’t had sex in three months, as if it was, like, something bad. Like, we all should be having sex regularly, like, it’s the thing to do, like, it’s shocking if we aren’t having sex.”
Aside from her overwhelming use of the word “like,” she nailed it. The media is full of these kinds of subtleties, and the PAUSE button provides parents with an opportunity to dispute these clever lies with the truth.
The subject was an interesting one, so my 15- and 17-year-old jumped in sharing their two cents as well. Before we knew it, we were having an open conversation about the world’s perception of sex compared to what the Bible says.
Don’t miss these “PAUSE button moments.” Yes, they might be met with groans. But they often are a springboard to discussion about real-life issues.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating watching MTV’s gratuitously sexualized Jersey Shore, or shows like the CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men, a show literally drenched in sexual humor and irresponsibly overflowing with unhealthy imitable behavior. With shows like these I recommend another button…
The OFF Button
It’s okay to say, “Sorry, but this doesn’t belong in our house.”
The other day our family was listening to the radio in the car and a “clean” song came on. I’m using the world’s word there: clean. Let me be crystal clear. As far as the world is concerned, “clean version” simply means “no cuss words.”
Despite this song’s lack of cuss words, the lyrics were clearly about “hook ups” (casual sex) and oral sex. There’s only one button that will make this song clean: the OFF button.
This is a difficult balance to find. As a parent there is no list in the Bible that says, “This song is okay, and this song isn’t.” We simply need to teach our kids to think biblically about the media they encounter. After all, when they’re 18 years-old, they can choose to expose themselves to whatever they want. How well are you preparing them for this real world wakeup call?
We need to teach our kids when it’s time to use the OFF button, or, as I Corinthians 6:18 says, when to just “flee.”
In a recent interview in GQ Magazine, Billy Ray Cyrus was commenting about his lack of discipline with his daughter Miley. In hindsight, he regrets trying so hard to be his daughter’s friend, that he neglected being a parent. Billy Ray told GQ, “I should have been a better parent. I should have said, ‘Enough is enough—it’s getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.’ I should have, but I didn’t.”
As parents, there are times we need to say “no.” It’s our duty as a parent to teach our kids this kind of discernment.
Don’t be afraid to use the OFF button.
What are some ways you can put all three of these buttons to good use in your house this week?
Jonathan goes into much greater detail about building relationships with our kids and teaching them lasting values in his brand-new book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, with chapters like, “Dad, Can I Download This Song?”, and “Hot Tubs and Nail Salons- Communication Arenas.”
Jonathan McKee, creator of TheSource4Parents.com,
helps thousands of parents understand the rapidly changing world of
youth culture while providing practical parenting tips and helps along
the way. He’s a popular conference speaker and the author of numerous
books about connecting with teenagers.