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Preschool career day. It's basically show-and-tell for grown-ups, but with the added pressure of making your job sound cool enough that your child's classmates don't treat him like a pariah. I was up next. My palms glistened. How was I going to relate an abstract concept like media discernment to 4-year-olds steeped in Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer?

Then things got really scary.

After passing out snacks, the teacher slipped away to take a phone call. On her way out the door she mouthed the words "You'll be fine." Or maybe it was "Lord help you." Not sure. Either way, all eyes were on me. My nightmare had begun.

"Hi, kids. I'm Colin's dad. I write about movies, music, TV shows and video games …"

"My big brother hates you." That encouraging word came from a large boy sitting in the back with his arms crossed. "He says your magazine is why Mom won't let him listen to Eminem."

"Well," I replied, "sometimes teenagers don't like it when we tell their parents what's in popular entertainment. But it really is for their own good." Nooo! Please tell me I didn't just use that expression. So much for winning over my audience. I wondered if it was too late for a knock-knock joke. Since I couldn't think of one I settled for an analogy. "You see, when we eat things that aren't good for us, they can make us sick."

"I throwed up once," said a little guy who'd been the victim of a bad haircut.

"Oh? I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yeah. Mom said not to mix milk and lemonade, but I drank it anyway."

"I see …"

"Cuz I needed something to wash down the bug."

Sensing the sugared-up natives getting restless, I pressed on. "Just like bad food isn't good for our bodies, bad entertainment can make our spirits sick." A hand shot up in the middle of the classroom. Someone wanted to know if I had ever met SpongeBob. Sore subject. Before I could answer, a girl yelled "Teacher!" My heart leaped. Had the sainted instructor returned? Was I to be rescued at last? Then I realized the child was talking to me.

"Actually, I'm just a parent," I said.

She needed to tattle and I was over four feet tall. My lack of certification didn't seem to bother her. "Jacob stuck his string cheese in the fan!"

"I wanted it cut up!" he protested.

That's when I heard it—a sweet voice somewhere amid the din, singing a familiar melody: "Be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little eyes what you see. There's a Father up above who is looking down with love so be careful little eyes what you see."

She sat there coloring, oblivious to the chaos now swirling around her. Wearing a lavender bow and sandy brown ringlets in her hair, this angel gently bobbed her head back and forth as she sang almost to herself, eyes fixed on the predrawn cloud she was filling in with a blue crayon. It didn't occur to her to leave the cloud white and color the sky behind it. No matter. In the meantime she had grasped a much more important concept. She continued, "Be careful little ears what you hear. Oh be careful little ears what you hear. There's a Father up above who is looking down with love, so be careful little ears what you hear."

Speaking of ears, I felt something whiz past mine. A paper plane? A Ring Ding? Who knows. I also vaguely recall cries of "Teacher!" but couldn't tell you where they came from. It was all a blur. For a moment it seemed the only one in the room was that innocent little girl who had just reduced biblical media discernment to its essence. She put down her crayon and triumphantly folded her hands. Then she looked straight into my eyes. And smiled.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Tangled in my T-shirt, I rolled over and smacked the alarm, trying to get my bearings. What day was it? Oh yeah … career day. But for some reason I no longer dreaded the thought of explaining media discernment to preschoolers. In fact, I knew exactly what to say.

Published February 2005


Plugged In Plus
After this column ran in Plugged In magazine, a number of people asked if this story really happened or if it was simply a work of fiction generated to make a point. Well, journalistic integrity prohibits me from making up anecdotes. Believe it or not, I had two separate dreams within days of each other that, combined and polished for narrative clarity (let's face it, the subconscious is rarely concrete and linear), became this article. One involved the singing girl. The other featured a classroom full of kids challenging my take on entertainment while angrily accusing me of ruining their lives. (It must have been a heavy mail day.) Indeed, the revelation was real, and I thank God for it every time I'm asked to speak to young children about this issue.