GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

Last year half of America sat on their couches watching two wholesome young contestants battle head to head on the American Idol finale’. Emotions were high all around as parents and children alike watched one of the few remaining shows on television that families actually watch together.

Cut to a commercial.

Back to American Idol. Lady Gaga takes the stage, dancing provocatively, eventually lying down, literally spreading open her legs as one of her dancers seductively crawls on top… that’s all that most families saw because they were scrambling for the remote control.

Every Christian parent had a decision to make at that moment. Did American Idol go too far? Should parents discard the whole show? And if we do turn shows like Idol off, are we teaching our kids discernment… or just setting them up to rebel?

Most parents would agree that some TV is clearly inappropriate for our kids (Sex and the City, Two and Half Men). Others would agree that some shows are clearly appropriate…although you might have to go back to the 80’s to find them (The Cosby Show, the Waltons). The question is… what do we do with the shows in between?

Perhaps parents need to learn to use three buttons on their remote control.

Let me explain. Thanks to the invention of the DVR, I now record all TV. This allows me to pause and fast forward shows at any time. Call me spoiled, but I don’t even watch live TV anymore. This freedom has allowed me to make good use of three buttons every parent should use on their remote control:

1. The Pause Button: The pause button is a great button for provoking conversation with my kids. It works like this. Our family will be comfortably nesting in our couch watching our favorite detective show. The show is clean overall, but isn’t free from an occasional questionable comment. For example, a single female character will make a comment about not having sex in 3 months. Her friend gasps, “Really, 3 months!!!”

That’s my cue.


Let me be the first to admit that this action isn’t usually met with cheers from my house. As a matter of a fact, it’s usually met with groans. But I always continue forward. The key is to not lecture, but just ask questions.

“So, these girls are obviously implying that sexual activity is recommended for single young women. What are some of the benefits of being sexually active at that age?”

My girls usually answer pretty quick, because they want me to start the show. I usually ask a follow up question. “What are some of the drawbacks to this kind of lifestyle?”

Questions are fun because they require our kids to think through the issues enough to have to provide the answers. It also removes the burden of lecturing from the parent (and kids don’t mind that).

But sometimes the “pause” button isn’t enough. Sometimes a show requires…

2. The Fast Forward Button: The Lady Gaga moment on American Idol was an example of that. The fast forward button comes in handy during many of the performances by pop stars on shows like Idol. I’m not one to totally shelter my kids, but sometimes the stuff on TV is purely gratuitous. It’s times like this that the fast forward button is really handy.

Those parents who have young boys will find this button handy during football games… for the beer commercials. Some of these commercials are really funny. But many parents might notice how wide our sons’ eyes get when a Super Bowl commercial shows two girls in tight t-shirts start to get into a fight in a fountain (remember that one?). Fast forward.

But what if the show has too many of these moments. Good question. That’s when I like to use…

3. The Off Button: You can only watch so many minutes of Desperate Housewives before you realize you are going to wear out your pause and fast forward buttons. It’s times like this we need to teach our kids how to use the off button. It’s okay to say, “This doesn’t belong in our house.”

Every parent is going to make these discerning choices a little differently, and that’s okay. The key is to teach our kids to make these decisions along the way. The remote is a cool little tool to help you do that.

Question: Do you have any TV “rules” that you apply within your family? Share them here.


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