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I didn't always care so much. I didn't always prayerfully ponder the moral merits of a movie before trekking to the theater. I wasn't fond of scrutinizing the steady stream of stuff I saw on TV. And I certainly wasn't open to anybody lecturing me on the social and spiritual downsides of my favorite music. I simply watched, listened and absorbed. Does that sound like anyone you know?

Raised without much media exposure—and no TV—I devoted my late teens and early twenties to overindulgence. I quickly reached a point where, with a straight face, I could argue the spiritual benefits of Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor was a brand-new name at the time) and the cathartic intensity of films such as Die Hard.

In the summer of 2003, I came across some rather dry survey results that reminded me of how I used to feel about the seamier side of pop culture. The Gallup organization announced that 73 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds didn't think there was too much violence in movies. Single out teen boys and the percentage jumped to 80. Asking the same group what they thought about sex onscreen, 60 percent said they didn't feel there was too much of it.

Another entertainment study from Common Sense Media focused not on teens, but on their parents. It indicated that their feelings about sex and violence in media were precisely the opposite of their kids'. Eighty-five percent of parents said they believed popular media prompts children to be more physically aggressive. Eighty-eight percent said it influences them to be sexually promiscuous at a young age.

The numbers are staggering in their divergence. After all, parents of teens are basically former teens with crow's feet and tax credits. But maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. We change our minds, therefore we are. We feel one way as children, another way as parents. One way as students, another way as teachers. The Apostle Paul had that in mind as he wrote, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me" (1 Cor. 13:11).

God did an amazing work in my heart when he pulled me back from my entertainment indulgences. He used the words of friends, the loving actions of my insightful bride and the power of Scripture to gradually convince me that my entertainment was changing me. And it was changing me. Changing my perception of God. Changing my interactions with the world. Changing my attitude toward myself. To me, my slide was undetectable. Others saw it right away. That's why Plugged In's discernment message and critical reviews are so important. If teens can't see that they're drifting away from the truth, the best thing we can do is give them a yardstick that reveals how far they've gone.

It's our responsibility to protect our children from dangers they can't see or fully understand. Just as we instinctively keep little 3-year-old hands from touching a hot stove, we must prevent impressionable 13-year-old eyes from seeing things that will burn them. But as our teens tilt toward adulthood, efforts to limit exposure should gradually transition into efforts to fortify personal responsibility. The evidence of growth is not that you've already arrived, but that you're headed in the right direction. We all forge our own paths to maturity. As tempting as it may be to try, we can't duplicate our experiences in our children's lives. The greatest gift we can give to our teenagers is to offer them the perspective and wisdom age provides, the surety that God's Word will always be relevant, and the knowledge that God wants to mold our minds, attitudes and hearts in His image.

Equip your young people for the journey and don't despair if they haven't crossed the finish line by next Sunday. Chances are you took a little longer than that. And so did I.

Published June 2004

My Life Without TV
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