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12 Principles for Media Use in the Family

I realize that a study on the 12 principles for media use in the family is going to be outdated as soon as it released.

But one study found that teens are consuming NINE hours of media a day, not including texting, school and homework. Another study put it at 11 hours because teens were multitasking. More than 70% of households said they had TVs in the bedrooms and 66% reported a TV on during the meals. Not surprisingly, only about one-half of parents had rules for media use.

As anyone who knows a teen or tween can attest, media is among the most powerful forces in young people’s lives today. The TV shows they watch, video games they play, songs they listen to, books they read, and websites they visit are an enormous part of their lives, offering a constant stream of messages about families, peers, relationships, gender roles, sex, violence, food, and values. Neil Postman said that the TV curriculum competes with the school curriculum and nearly obliterates it.

Media can be a very powerful tool for good or evil.

The Teaching of JesusJesus said,
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Disciple-making parents will equip their children to rule over this temptation.

How? Here are 12 suggestions.

1. Be intentional in your own media use. Are you always watching TV? Always checking your phone? What are your kids learning by watching you? 

2. Be intentional about any media you allow in your home.
Don’t put TVs in the bedroom. Don’t put screens in the bedroom.

3. Don’t give them more responsibility than they can handle. Don’t worry about being counter-cultural. Start them out on a dumb phone. There is nothing wrong with having a “dumb” phone. There is nothing wrong with that. A smart device is very powerful and addictive. If they are laughed at, tell them it’s good for them. Are they going to be a leader or a lemming? You are training them to be a leader.

4. When you take the next step to more freedom, make sure they understand the responsibility that goes with it. I would suggest having some sort of written contract.  Kids forget that all the benefits you give them are just that – benefits.

5. Make sure they know that it is your phone/device. My children didn’t own a cell phone until they were 18. I, however, owned six cell phones that I lent them to use. See the difference? We need to remind our kids of this. 

A well-known comedian tells a story about his kids coming home from school after being teased about how rich they were. He said, “Your mother and I are rich. You are very, very poor.” He was making the point that the children lived off the generosity of the parents. We should have this attitude too! You are the parent, aren’t you? This should go for grandparents, too. I would suggest that it is wise for extended family NOT to give your children electronic devices. Otherwise your children will think these devices are theirs.

6. Make sure you have controls in your house. We should have controls in our house like Covenant Eyes and Circle. The Internet is a sewer line plugged into your home and device. Are you going to filter it or let it pour into the heart of your child?

7. Have family rules. Besides an individual agreement (see #4), what are your family rules? It is your house. You might set up rules of time like 30 minutes a day for a certain electronic device. You might set up rules of place. One family I know has a basket and when kids come over with phones, they all go in the basket.  With changing technology, our old family rules are out of date now. But you need to control tech or it will control you and your family.

8. Be in a community that will work with you. When your kids think you are strange because you aren’t doing what everyone else is doing, you want to be able to point to other families and say, “Well, we are strange, but so are the Smiths and the Joneses and the Johnsons.” Stay informed by talking with the youth leaders and the teachers of your kids who are keeping up with the latest trends and electronic problems.

9. Make sure you are talking to them on your donut dates, listening to them, and asking hard questions. Ask them about what they have seen. Ask them to tell you about cyberbullying they know about.

10. Have family fasts. In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch argues for fasting “One hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year.” Another wise father of a three children who are 11-years-old and under has a media free week once a month.  Our kids want this structure and freedom.

11. Go after the heart. Media magnifies our idols. Is our temptation lust, money, gossip, fear of man, loving approval, coveting a lifestyle? The media we chose amplifies and feeds our idols.

12. Assume they have seen explicit content. This is beyond the scope of this article. We don’t want to be naïve, but move toward this awkward conversation. 

We need to take Jesus’ warning seriously.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.

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