Growing up I was exposed to a wide range of entertainment options at a young age. I saw my first rated R movie at the age of 9 (Speed followed by The Body Guard). I listened to the Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill album in it's entirety when it was released (in 1995...I was 10). My brother and I would stay up until super late so we'd be able to watch South Park. I'm not saying all of this to put down my parents or their choices in allowing our exposure to such entertainment choices (heck, I still love me some Alanis!) but when it came to raising my own children it is an area that I wanted to handle differently. And I think my personal experiences has a lot to do with why we make the choices we do regarding entertainment in our home for our family.
I know a lot of people say that we shelter our children or are too "hardcore" about limiting their entertainment choices. I understand that. But the reality is there is no such thing as "living in a bubble" anymore. Even with being mindful on what our children see and hear, they will still be exposed to so much in the world. Our preacher once talked about entertainment and how once we see something visually we can't unsee it. Right now if I said for you to think of a nude scene from a movie (let's say the Jerry McQuire sex scene since that is one that my parents always had me close my eyes for!) you can recall it. You can visualize it. And now if I tell you to forget it or stop seeing it...you can't.
And my son when he walks with me through the mall he will see the HUGE images plastered all over the windows of Victoria's Secret. He will see those women in their panties. In their sexy poses. And he won't be able to unsee that. And there isn't a whole lot I can do to prevent him from seeing it. Even though we limit what he's exposed to at home, the world is the world. And there is no escaping some of the elements of it!
I'm not saying our way of handling entertainment choices is the BEST way or anything like that...it's just what we fill is best for OUR family! I realize our methods aren't popular. I'm in no way judging parents who chose other routes for their own family.
I've been told many times that I'm "sheltering" my children and preventing them from being "cool" among their peers by limiting their knowledge of what's "cool" for their ages. I know that may be important to some people, but it isn't to us. Our goal is to raise our children to live their lives for Jesus. If they are truly striving to be like Him then they won't be "cool" or "popular" they will be set apart (Psalm 4:3). Aliens and strangers (1 Peter 2:11), even persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)!
Here is how we personally handle entertainment choices in our home:
TV: We don't do TV shows for our kids. At all. I know, again, that may sound crazy but we own a LOT of DVDs and prefer the kids watch those over television shows. Even ones that are ok in their content. I know I've heard of many times where children shows incorporate political agendas that we don't want our children exposed to. So we stick to DVDs.
DVDs are also great b/c we can take them in trips in the car AND take them to other people's homes when we visit. If the kids are staying with their grandparents we know they are watching things we've already approved!
If they DO watch TV it's sports related stuff. Football games. The occasional golf game (match? round? not sure what they call it haha). Zach pre-records the games and skips ALL the commercials. We have on occasion also allowed our oldest (who is 6) to watch some "building shows" with Daddy on HGTV. Again fast forwarding commercials and avoiding situations that may be inappropriate for him to see.
When we are in a situation where they can't avoid seeing TV (in public, other people's homes etc). Our kids both know to close their eyes/cover their ears during commercials. And they both know if they EVER see something "inappropriate" (as our oldest calls it!) they can (and should!) come to us and discuss it with us. A bonus of no commercial viewing? Our kids aren't ever asking for toys and such that they've seen on tv ;)
Movies: As I mentioned, we own a LOT of DVDS. We do Veggie Tales, Mighty Machines, even some TV shows on dvd such as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Curious George. We also LOVE Disney and own majority of the Disney and Pixar films. (I wrote an entire post on why we choose dvds over tv here)
We recently watched all 7 Star Wars movies with our son (age 6). Star Wars was the first "super hero" type thing he's seen. He's never watched any super hero related movies or shows and that includes Ninja Turtles etc. It makes it tricky at his age to actually find merchandise for him as SO MUCH of it is geared towards popular heroes. Luckily the Star Wars stuff is easy to find ;)
When we watch a movie with our children for the first time...WE watch it WITH them. We are there to point out poor choices, answer questions they may have, and discuss things they may need discussing. A lot of Disney movies aren't wholesome. We know this. They know this. The advantage of owning the DVD is that we are able to watch it together as a family and know that when our children view it in the future that they have an understanding of the elements to the movie that may not be up to God's standards.
When it comes to seeing a movie for the first time I'm hardcore about my researching the movie in advance! My favorite sites are Common Scense Media and Plugged In. Both give GREAT insight into what the movie entails and things I may need to prepare the kids for in advance as well as if the movie is even something we should see. Many times, I'm appalled by the stuff that is in these KIDS movies! Our town has a deal on movies in the summer for kids and we were only able to go see ONE of them last summer bc the movies they were showing I simply didn't feel comfortable with allowing my children to see!
Music: I wish so, so much that I enjoyed Christian music. I think that's the single biggest disadvantage on being raised with less wholesome entertainment as a kid. It's a STRUGGLE for me to find wholesome entertainment...entertaining. I don't want my children to have that same struggle so I have been incorporating a lot of Christian music in with our Disney songs in the car and it's helping the kids and I both to really enjoy them more! (I do want to say my favorite song is Gold by Britt Nicole...isn't it an AWESOME anthem especially for young girls?!?)
I have a playlist on my iPod for the kids filled with songs that are appropriate for them to listen to. 90% of them are Disney songs. The rest are a mix of the Christian music as well as songs that Zach and I enjoy. Growing up my dad always played HIS music in HIS car and I really liked that b/c when I hear songs form the 50s now I instantly think of my dad and I think by listening to his music I got to know him in a different light. I want our children to know US as US not just as Mommy and Daddy and part of that is hearing songs that Zach and I enjoy. There are a LOT of great songs that ARE appropriate for the kids to hear that we also like (our family favorite is Home by Phillip Phillips!). And we are able to find clean versions of most songs that may have a few inappropriate words.
It's amazing to me how much our children truly do pay attention. I downloaded several Kidz Bop songs as they were recommended to me by a fellow Christian parent. One of the songs was Taylor Swift "Shake it Off" and even in the Kidz Bop version she says the phrase "Oh My God." This really, really bothered my 4 year old (who was 3 at the time). She kept saying it and said it was b/c of that song and that SHE didn't think we should keep listening to it anymore. Yes, my THREE year old asked ME to remove a very catchy song from our playlist b/c SHE felt it was inappropriate and not pleasing to God for her to be hearing! Proud mama moment for sure!
Books: When kids are little it's easy to be mindful of what they are reading. We read together as a family so Zach and I know everything they are exposed to. Now that our son, Kye, is in public school he's checking out books from the library which can be a tad trickier. He reads on his own and therefore I'm not able to always know exactly what he's reading. So far it's mostly Clifford and Arthur books but even in the Arthur book I heard him reading about the characters playing spin the bottle! I have been told that Common Sense Media also covers books which is great in helping me know what Kye is being exposed to in the books he chooses from the library.
At this point Kye has been raised to know right from wrong. He knows to talk to me about anything that may come up in what he reads. I ask him nightly if there is anything on his heart to discuss and I do my best to be mindful about what he's reading. But I also know there is only so much I can monitor and I do feel like reading words/ideas that may not be aligned with our value system is less damaging than hearing or seeing them acted out. I also know our school library is very conservative in the books they select for the children. The benefit in living in a South Georgia town is that even the public schools aren't shy about talking about Jesus and making sure their standards align, for the most part, with his teachings.
Kye does read above his grade level which is worrisome for the future. I also read above grade level and I remember reading Mary Higgins Clark books in 6th grade which simply wasn't appropriate for me to be reading! As he grows up and gets into more difficult (adult maturity level) books then we will have to explore the best path to take to best protect his heart and mind.
Apps: I'm adding this simply because I know a lot of people use apps with their kids. We don't use apps at all. None. At least until they are school age!
Our son had some sight words to learn in kindergarten and I did put an app on my iPad at that time and it was the FIRST time he was ever allowed to touch a tablet. He still isn't allowed to ever play with my phone (or touch it beyond bringing it to me or talking to someone on it). Now that he's in 1st grade and in public school we have been asked to download certain school related apps for him to practice on at home and, of course, we allow him to do this!
He also asked if we could download some game they play at school where you make a slide for an animal to reach a destination. I downloaded it and played it with him and now allow him to set a timer for 10-15 min a day (only on days when he asks to play it, it's not a daily thing) to play!
I know I've had people tell me that by me not allowing my kids to use technology that they will be behind in school. This hasn't been the case at all. Kye started using the iPad, smart board and computers in his classroom this year (1st grade) and he picked them all up with ease.
Video Games: We have a Wii (which used to be SO COOL haha) and my husband NEVER plays video games. However, we started allowing Kye to play Mario Kart several years ago. It was a lesson for us in what was appropriate. We had to "re-parent" which isn't something I ever want to have to do! You can read more about our lessons learned through that experience here. We stopped the video game playing for quite awhile and then slowly started allowing it again when Kye was better able to handle it. He's allowed to play Mario Karts once a week WITH Daddy (and sometimes Mommy) for about 30-45 min. We have never let him play solo, nor do we plan to. He has on occasion played other games (Wii sports or NCAA football on the playstation) but, again, it's always only once a week during that designated time and it's with his dad. I don't foresee us allowing many more video games than what we currently have, but I know this may be something we have to address as he gets older!
I know our approach to entertainment is NOT the most common way. I have had many people tell me we are too strict in what we allow our children to view. However, our goal as parents is to guard and protect the hearts and the minds of our children. Zach and I see in our own lives many ways in which Satan has been able to use our entertainment choices to push his agenda on us and tempt us in different sinful ways. It's SUCH an easy way that Satan can get us and can push us away from the Lord! We discuss these things with our children. They understand the "why" behind our decisions and they also understand that Mommy and Daddy don't always have all the answers. I'm not writing this saying that I have it all figured out or that because our kids aren't exposed to certain things that they will choose a more righteous path than the kids that are. All we can do is what we personally feel is best for our children and pray that we are making decisions that are pleasing to God and will help our children follow His path!