4 Things to Know About Teens, the Media, and God

by | Nov 9, 2015 | Family, Parenting Teens | 21 comments

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I am not a perfect parent, and I did not raise perfect children.

There. I said it. So I’d like to share 4 Truths that I believe about kids, media, and Christ, in the hopes that it may help us have a more balanced view.

Media, Teens, and God: 4 things to know about what to do if they see stuff you wish they hadn't!

1. You cannot save your child from ALL exposure to media you don’t like–and nor should you

My girls once belonged to a Teen Discussion Group that was looking at the biblical world view vs. the secular world view. They had a video to go along with the discussion, but there was one family who wasn’t allowed to stay for the video portion of the group, because the parents watched all media before they allowed their kids to see it, and the parents hadn’t seen these videos (they were Francis Chan videos on love).

The oldest at the time was 17–moving out in a few years, ready to be on their own. And yet they weren’t allowed to watch a video in a Christian setting that had been vetted by other Christians.

Sometimes we set our goals too high–you read about how the average kid sees his first view of porn when he’s 11, and you’re so paranoid that you cancel the internet. Or you don’t let your 16-year-old do youth group sleepovers because you’re never sure what movies they will watch. Or you’re so worried about your kids hearing swear words that you don’t let any media that’s not G rated into your home, and in so doing your child misses out on some awesome stories that can grow their faith.

The main problem, though, isn’t just with what your child is missing out on. It’s this idea that ONE exposure or ANY viewing of something inappropriate will scar them for life. If you think that (psychologists call this the all-or-nothing approach), then if your child does inadvertently see something, you give the impression that all hope is lost.

On a side note: My older daughter is turning her blog post about why she didn’t rebel into a book, and one of the points she’s making is a study in a psychology journal that found that while personal devotion to God stopped teens from engaging in risky sexual behaviour, strict conservative rules about the opposite sex actually did the opposite. Kids in families where they had extremely strict rules, like “no hand holding until you’re engaged”, were more likely to engage in risky sex than kids who didn’t have the rules, but who did have Christ. Why? Because of the all-or-nothing thinking–once I’ve messed up a tiny bit, there’s no point in trying anymore. (By the way, a kid could have BOTH strong personal devotion and strong rules, but when the rules were stronger than the devotion–bad combination). All-or-nothing thinking can be very dangerous!

You’re not a failure if your child watches a little bit of something or sees a little bit of something. 

2. You can reduce temptation–you can’t eliminate it

I thought we did everything right– filters on the computers, open door policies in their bedrooms, talked to the kids all the time.

But they still had a secret life that I didn’t know much about. Now, it wasn’t a huge deal. I don’t want to make it sound like they were bad kids, because they weren’t. As teens, it’s normal to do things without your parents knowing. It’s part of separating from your parents.

As a parent, it’s good to do some common sense things, like requiring devices to go in a charging station at 11 at night, or turning off the wifi at night, or, as much as possible, encouraging computer and screen time to be in a central place. But you can’t supervise teens 100% of the time, and nor should you. They need some freedom while they’re still at home to explore. If they have no freedom whatsoever, then when they move out they go from 0% freedom to 100% freedom. That’s too much to take. It’s better to give them more and more freedom under your own roof so that when they do move out, they’re ready.

Since you can’t control your teen, you can’t eliminate all risk of them doing something you don’t like.

3. Your child can have Christ, too

Here’s the main message that I wanted people to hear from me today: Katie knew God, and it was the Holy Spirit who told Katie to stop watching that show.

If your child knows God, then THAT is their main weapon for fighting against the media that we don’t want them to see.

I believe it is far more important that we encourage authentic faith in our children than that we put up more and more control in their lives.

Another family I know talks about God as a natural part of their family life. One night, about a year ago, at 12:45 a.m., their 17-year-old son knocked on the parents’ bedroom door. He was devastated, because he had just spent an hour and a half looking at porn, and he felt so guilty and so dirty.

His parents prayed with him, talked with him about it, and installed filters on the computer. His dad got him together with a group of young men who mentored each other and helped keep each other accountable.

He still finds it a temptation, and he’s slipped up a few times, but he’s doing okay.

And why is he doing okay? Because that first night, when he was using porn, the Holy Spirit didn’t let him go. He shook him and shook him until he turned the computer off and went and knocked at his parents’ bedroom door.

I am not saying that Christians can’t struggle with this sort of stuff; not at all. But I also believe that our kids’ best weapon for reducing this temptation is the Holy Spirit in their lives. That’s why it’s so important to teach kids to have their own personal relationship with God.

And here’s the other thing about God: He heals. And if your 9-year-old son stumbles on some website he shouldn’t have seen, and gets images inside his head, of course it’s okay to mourn. But God can eliminate the negative impact of those images. He can help your child, as an adult, fight against those images. Yes, it’s a long road for many, but God does wipe things clean.

We serve an active God who can heal and restore.

4. Keep talking about EVERYTHING

My girls and I talk. All the time. Even now that they’re moved out. When they lived at home we went on walks everyday and we just talked about everything.

And I think much of the influence I had on their lives was not because I set rules, but because they could bounce things off of me. They loved me and didn’t want to disappoint me.

Why did my friend’s son feel comfortable knocking on their bedroom door in the middle of the night and asking for help? Because their family talked about stuff. When someone made a mistake they didn’t yell at them; they talked through it and they figured it out. They set up an environment where people know–we all mess up. And we’re here to support you so that all of us can look more and more like Christ.

Last week talking was one of the main points about what to do if your daughter watches porn. Talk to her about the effects of porn on your libido, your sexuality, and your eventual marriage. Don’t just get angry and forbid something–talk about it. Your kids need to know how to think through something and how to make a good decision, and setting up strict rules that no one can cross, and then yelling or punishing if they do cross those rules, isn’t actually going to teach them how to think for themselves. And our teenagers will soon be on their own. Our goal, at this stage of their life, is to teach them to think for themselves.

Looking back on this episode with Katie, I’m still overwhelmed with the fact that she went through all of this without me. She watched the show without me knowing. She felt convicted without me knowing. She prayed about it without me knowing. She decided to stop without me knowing. And she was perfectly fine. She went on with her life, and doesn’t watch that sort of stuff anymore. But I had nothing direct to do with any of it–it was just the environment that we set up at home, and it was God’s amazing grace.

And God’s grace can be there for your kids, too.

Dear readers, I just want to reiterate that I share this today because I want you all to know that I’m just a regular person. My family is not perfect, and I’ve never claimed it was. We’re just real people, and I so appreciate being able to share my thoughts with you everyday, even as I’m a work in progress myself.

So let me know in the comments, have your kids ever made choices you wish they hadn’t? Or did you do stuff behind your parents’ back when you were in a teenager? How did God bring you back?

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Mary Newman

    Ha! I also used to watch that show and gave it up because I also got convicted. As someone who was once desensitized to sooooo much, that show was peanuts, but as my faith grows, so do my convictions. I don’t want to entertained by the very things that Jesus died for. {Can’t remember where I read that quote but it’s amazing!}
    Love Katie’s comment about marketing. Can’t say it doesn’t affect you when it affects you! Genius! Great post and video!!

    • Sheila

      I find that, too, Mary–as my faith grows, so do my convictions. Things I could have watched earlier I can’t watch anymore. Glad you liked her video, too!

  2. Anon

    Thank you so much for this post. I have struggled with this for many years; knowing how to show trust and grace in a child after they have been taught the truth. Unfortunately, there are so many parenting manuals, methods, and workshops which place focus on something like a ten step program to raisin children. Do these steps and you’ll get a fantastic sin free human being ( or something like that). I’m not saying we shouldn’t raise our kids in righteousness, but a relationship is so much more important than a method of training. Psalm 127 reminds me of this. Praise God that your children are known by Him and desire to please Him. We are still learning and are thankful for the honesty of parents like yourself who know that all will never be perfect this side of eternity, but we can be faithful Christians in all we do while trusting God for every outcome. He loves our children even more than we do.

    • Sheila

      That’s actually exactly the point that my daughter is making in her book about Why She Didn’t Rebel–it really wasn’t a whole lot of rules we had or a program we followed; it was just having an authentic relationship with our kids.

      And God does love our kids the most! That’s awesome.

      • lydia purple

        i think that’s the whole point of God’s design of family. it’s all about relationship. marriage is a the perfect picture of Christ and the Church, his bride. and family, parents raising kids, well I believe it’s about us showing them the heart of the father. i think we often act as if sin still has all the power and we’re afraid of messing up or our kids messing up and we think or at least act as if that training and rules can fix this. but this is such a misconception. yes we should as much as possible teach our kids good habits, but good habits don’t guarantee anything. good habits don’t make a sinner righteous. only the blood of Jesus does. God has given us complete freedom. he is not afraid of us messing up. He got this! He took care of it already and yes he wants our heart but he can’t force it with rules. he knows that. he wants real intimacy. he wants us to choose Him, and because he knew that we’d mess up he prepared a plan to fix it. the best thing we can do is to allow our kids mess up when they’re still under our roof in a safe place and show them how to go to the One who can clean up the mess we’ve made. living a life that produces less and less sin and more and more good fruit is a result of the relationship with our savior, not of perfect training or rules.

        • Sheila

          So true! Love that. And especially this: “i think we often act as if sin still has all the power and we’re afraid of messing up or our kids messing up”. Yep. God has the power!

          I never expected my kids to rebel or do the wrong thing; I always expected them to do right, and for the most part they did. But they also always knew that if they made a bad decision, I was still there. I think that’s an important distinction–part of the relationship thing you’re talking about. We expect the best, but we don’t abandon them if they make a wrong choice. We’re still there. And that’s a beautiful picture of God, too!

  3. Melissa

    I don’t have teenagers yet, but my brothers and I were all teenagers at the same time (God bless my parents! My mom says her grandchildren are God’s reward to her for surviving those years!), and my mom has talked a lot about how she prayed for us during those times. One of the things she always said when she was praying for us was “Thank you Lord that my children are your sheep and they hear your voice.” She never ceased praying that over us and still does it to this day. Well for me it definitely stuck! When I had friends pressuring me to read 50 Shade of Grey I would shrug and say “No thanks, it’s not my thing.” They would argue I needed to read it before I formed an opinion. “No thanks, it’s not my thing.” There was just that feeling in my gut – aka The Holy Spirit – that I knew what it was about and reading it would do nothing good for me. Gratuitous graphic sex is not my thing. And knowing that is the content of a book or a movie should be enough for anyone to know that’s not their thing either. I don’t have to read or watch or experience something to know it’s not my thing. I don’t have to stick my hand in a boiling pot of water to know whether or not I’m going to get burned. “When I was a child I thought like a child, spoke like a child, and reasoned like a child. But when I became a man I put childish ways behind me.” Remind me what Scripture that is? Maybe an actual child would stick their hand in that boiling pot because they don’t know any better. But at some point we grow up and have to stop thinking like that. Kudos to your daughter for speaking up for the younger generation. I look forward to her future videos!

    • Sheila

      Hi Melissa! I pray that Scripture over my girls (and now my son-in-law!) too: that they would always hear His voice and know that it is Him. That’s so true–when we know His voice, we really do make the right decisions.

      I’m glad you like her videos! I’ll pass it on.

  4. Ashley

    I love Katie’s video! This might be a little radical for some, but my parents chose not to have a TV in our home. I think I’m better for it. Now I’m 31 and am making the choice as an adult not to own one.

    The whole marketing thing is REAL. I worked at Hallmark for 8 years, and each Valentine’s Day we would offer a plush animal promo. Some years there would be 3 to choose from at a reduced price. And wouldn’t you know, the one everyone asked for was the one on the TV commercial! Even if that one wasn’t half as cute as the other ones offered! That made me really glad I wasn’t always seeing commercials. I know inappropriate shows have to have the same level of effect. It’s sad that a lot of people don’t realize it.

    • Sheila

      Yeah, Ashley, we didn’t have a TV either! Still don’t. But once you have the internet, you essentially have EVERYTHING anyway. My kids did miss out on some shows, but there are always ways around it. And we got Netflix about two years ago.

      That’s wild about the people choosing the one in the commercial from Hallmark. Marketing does affect us!

  5. Keelie Reason

    Wow…this must have been hard for you to hear. I know that I have done a lot of things my parents never found out about. Even now, I haven’t told them everything. Not because I want to be dishonest, but it just hasn’t come up. If it ever does, I would be honest. I don’t even want to think about the amount of things my boys will do that I will never know about.

    • Sheila

      Yep, I’m only just learning how much the girls did without me knowing! But God still led them, and they still have always followed Him. And you know what? I did, too, even though I did things my mom didn’t know. My heart was always God’s, and it really did turn out totally okay!

  6. alchemist

    mmm. I probably read and watched some stuff that I really shouldn’t have growing up. But I also remember deciding not to read Goosebumps books when I was 10 or 11 years old, because I noticed it made me grumpy and all round unpleasant. It was affecting my spirit, so I got rid of it. I went through a sort of questioning phase when I first moved to the US at 23. It was my first time living by myself. And I had unfettered access to internet. I was watching way too much youtube; specifically vlogs from very liberal people. Probably also some anime that I shouldn’t have been watching. But the end result was that I critically re-evaluated my beliefs and came to the same conclusions as before. So I re-affirmed and probably strengthened my faith. I started reading Christian blogs instead. It turned out well.

    I would say that if raised your child to where she can censor herself, you’ve probably done a good job. Perfect love drives out fear. God has perfect love. He cares about your child making good choices even more than you do. Relationships is definitely the way to go. The funny thing is, I’ve noticed living by the spirit is both harder and easier than living by a list of rules. You don’t have a list you can check off, but you have guidance in all situations and you’re not weighed down by a list of rules.

    I’ve noticed what makes it easier for me to turn down stuff is the thought that there is just so many shows and books in the world. You will never in multiple lifetimes be able to get through it all. So why waste your time on questionable content? Move on and find something worth watching/ reading.

    On the subject of possibly inappropriate books: I got assigned Intended for Pleasure as part of my premarital counseling. Is this perchance the book you unceremoniously drowned in the bathtub?

    • Sheila

      No, Intended for Pleasure was not the book! 🙂 I think it’s fine to read! 🙂

      I love what you said here, “The funny thing is, I’ve noticed living by the spirit is both harder and easier than living by a list of rules. You don’t have a list you can check off, but you have guidance in all situations and you’re not weighed down by a list of rules.” That has totally been my experience, too. I think people would rather have a checklist so that they know they’re doing all the right things; but God asks us to walk by faith, to have a relationship with Him, where we’re communicating. That’s a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding.

      I totally agree about the books, too. So many to read, so little time!

  7. Anonymous

    I think what you’re saying makes sense for teens (as indicated in the post title). However, for younger children, I still practice hyper-vigilance in terms of what crosses their eyes. One image can stick with you for the rest of your life, particularly if it crosses at just the right time of development.

  8. Lisa K

    Ok, where do I even start? My parents have the all-or-nothing mindset. More so my mom than my dad. She is scared that if have to wear pants to a job that I am throwing out everything she has ever taught me just to have an excuse to wear pants.I grew up in church, but as you put it in the post, the rules were stricter than the devotion. I didn’t even have much of a personal devotion to God. Being saved was as deep as my relationship with God went at the time. Growing up, we didn’t get a computer till I was 11 and I was 12 when we got a TV, and that was only for watching movies. I also pretty much had zero freedom. Now I have pretty much 100% freedom, but I don’t really know a lot about the outside world. Wasn’t allowed to explore at all. My parents kept us pretty isolated. I honestly with that my mother had not only been looser with rules, but also allowed us some sort of freedom. Now that I do have a stronger personal devotion to God, I’m doing better, but I’m still trying to change my mindset from strict list of rules to stronger relationship with God. I so wish my mother could see this blog post!

  9. Tove C

    I just stumbled across this blog today. A few days ago, my husband and I found out that our 14 year old has been leading a secret life for months. She has a horse stabled up nearby, and when she had said that she was with her horse, it turns out she was getting buses and taxis (!) to her secret boyfriend. Then I found her pills, she has went to a doctor ( I am a GP myself) and asked for contraceptives!!!! To have sex at 14!!
    I now feel so let down, and so disappointed. I feel she is not the one I thought she was. I feel it is “dirty” and I don’t know if I can manage to see her as the child she should have been again. I have to struggle to not push her away. We can’t understand how she could do this.
    I know I am not dealing with this very well. I was sexually abused as a child from the age of four, it only ended when I was six. Sex in my head is dirty, but I can see that in marriage it can be ‘pure’. I have had 25 years of therapy, work as a doctor and have a lovely family. My daughter had the chance to be ‘pure’ until marriage and now she has thrown it away. I don’t want to see her as “dirty’ but I feel it all the same. I feel so angry with her. How can I manage this situation?

    • Sheila

      Oh, that must be so heartbreaking! Really heartbreaking.

      I do have another post that may help in more detail for this case: What to do if you discover your daughter is having sex. I hope that has what you need. God can heal even this, though. And do show your daughter love. She needs you right now, too, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

  10. George Wafula

    Wao!Loving your divibely endowed insights on parenting.

    I am yet to get married but I do teach teenagers in my church and public speaking in schools.I am very passionate about young people mentorship.

    My request:Despite the general roles of parents in a teens life,please if possible highlight for me the unique roles of a mother and a father in a teen’s life.Thanks

  11. Julia

    I’m just reading this for the first time and have to say “thank you.”. The timing is just right for me. Yes, my children have watched stuff they shouldn’t. We are in that struggle right now. Great reminder to talk and have a relationship and also trust that the Holy Spirit works in their lives too.

    My older girls were tickled to meet Katie at our church in the fall…

    • Sheila

      Oh, so great! I’m glad it was timely for you!



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