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A young lady named Julie wrote to us and said, "Thanks to your reviews, I'm now undergoing major music reconstruction. You've given me that extra push to dump some really misdirected bands." Refreshing! What's even more reassuring is that Julie isn't the only young Christian choosing to practice discernment in this media-soaked culture.

I also received an encouraging letter from a seventh grader named Rachel. In recent years, Rachel has been an X-Files junkie. But after talking with her mom and reading our review of the eerie TV series in Brio magazine, she made a command decision. "Tonight I tore my posters off my door, put all my books, T-shirts and tapes in a box, and put the box down in the basement. I feel so good about what I did. It's strange. I've been watching The X-Files for three years, and what I did tonight is something I would never have thought I'd do. I just wanted to say thanks for your help."

Concerned about games promoting mysticism and the occult, 13-year-old Jeremy wrote to Dr. James Dobson, "I hope you consider starting a Christian consumer buying guide. I believe Christian kids all over the country are buying things that can eventually make them change religion, or at least their attitude about their religion." What inspired Jeremy's letter? A brush with the game Dragon Strike.

Katie, "disturbed" by what she found in a free, sample issue of Seventeen, said, "There was an article called 'Sex: Dealing with Pressure, Guys and What You Really Want.' I was so grossed out because I'm 13 and people my age are reading it when even 17-year-olds shouldn't be reading it. They have a totally wrong perspective about love, and say the only way to feel like you have fulfillment is to have sex. They also encourage condom [use] and say that it's safe sex when 'safe sex' is waiting until you're married."

Meanwhile, Cori took issue with a Christian singer lending her voice to "a movie that was nothing but trash." Cori went on to ask, "How can she stand against sexual immorality, drinking and cussing, and then go and sing a song for a movie that promotes that kind of thing?" A valid question.

Over the years, we've heard from thousands of teens on the subject of entertainment. Sure, many dig in their heels in defense of MTV, explicit musicians and salacious sitcoms. But the sound judgment shown by Julie, Rachel, Jeremy, Katie, Cori and others offers hope. It proves that pockets of wisdom do exist among adolescents. Young people are asking tough questions, and challenging the notion that pop culture has the answers … even if they can't possibly dodge every offensive image or message aimed squarely at their innocence.

Last year, my wife and I bought a golden retriever puppy. For the record, Scout is a bright, generally well-behaved dog perpetually eager to please us. But on one cold winter day, our furry friend came bounding toward the door after playing outside, her once-silky paws now wet, gray and matted with dirt. I was just about to scold her when I quickly scanned the backyard. The ground was saturated with several months' worth of melted snow, creating a muddy mess from one end of the property to the other. The poor animal couldn't help but get some mud on her paws. Instead of reprimanding her, I gave Scout a big hug and thanked her for not rolling in it!

Pop culture is a muddy mess. And these days, even good-hearted, compliant, spiritually discerning kids trying to navigate the entertainment landscape will wind up with some dirt on their paws. It's inevitable. While channel surfing, they stumble upon a scene of televised violence. They hear lewd music in the mall or on the school bus. They're assaulted by ads selling immodesty and materialism. Dirt. Mud. Slime.

As for the letters I shared earlier, each of those teens walked through some media muck on the way to discernment. Some by choice. Others by accident. Yet they all deserve credit for deciding not to roll in it. Let's lovingly encourage our children to make the same commitment.

Published May 1997