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Family Room

Getting Family Discussions Started

Be a good listener.
Many times, parents think they’re listening when, to some extent, they’re busy making assumptions or thinking about the response they’re going to give. Don’t prejudge your teen’s entertainment. Make sure you hear your child out before coming to any conclusions. Put down the newspaper. Turn off the TV. Stay focused and be a fact collector. Ask questions before rendering an opinion. This requires a significant investment of time and energy. By the way, listening is not the same as agreeing. It is a demonstration of respect for another person’s feelings and ideas, not an endorsement of them.

Carry on a conversation, not an argument.
A conversation involves speaking, listening and thinking. An argument is mostly speaking (with the volume turned way up). If a conversation turns into an argument, end it. Separate. Agree to revisit the issue when you both cool down and feel you can return to a civil discussion of the facts. If we want our teens to be, as James 1:19 states, "quick to hear and slow to speak," we need to set the example.

Don’t resort to sarcasm.
By definition, sarcasm is caustic. It can provoke hurt feelings, and words uttered in a "humorous moment" can continue to cause pain later. Parents who communicate by issuing a steady flow of sarcasm can expect casualties. We’re not suggesting a moratorium on playful sarcasm, but there should be boundaries. Also, we tend to reap what we sow. When sarcasm comes back at us from our teens, we probably accuse them of being disrespectful. It never hurts to say what we mean and mean what we say, regardless of the topic being discussed.

Don’t use silence as a weapon.
Silence itself is a powerful form of communication. It’s easy to think of silence as being neutral. But the absence of a positive message can sometimes be as damaging as the presence of a negative one. Children will always assign meaning to silence. Coupled with their own insecurities, it can suggest: "She’s mad at me," "What did I do wrong?" or "He doesn’t really care about me at all." If you must be silent, try to offer at least a few words of explanation—if only to put your child’s mind at ease. Some parents use silence to "send a message" to their kids. They punish with silence and withdraw affection in order to stir specific responses. It is very likely young people won’t get the intended message, and even more likely that their response will compound the problem. We should be honest about our motives and resist the temptation to hide behind silence.

Refuse to be patronizing.
If we "talk down" to our children (teenagers in particular), making them feel stupid or childish, they will resent it. Condescension often triggers defensiveness and anger. We should give them whatever credit we can for being mature and able to use common sense, because in most cases they tend to live up to—or down to—our expectations.

Deal constructively with anger.
Usually, anger results from some combination of hurt feelings, disappointment or anxiety. Discuss the deeper issues. It may be an unmet need or an unfulfilled expectation. It often helps to find the "what if" phrases lurking in a teen’s thinking ("What if I can’t …" or "What if my friends think …"). Never attack one another’s character. Anger can be verbally expressed with respect when it’s aimed at specific behavior or the issue in question. "We need to honor God in our home" will get you further than "Are you blind? Can’t you see the foolishness of the choices you’ve made?" Also, don’t let anger serve as a smoke screen. Teens and adults often use anger to derail a conversation. It can be a diversionary tactic for turning attention away from one’s own negative actions. Stay focused on the core issue.

Choose battles carefully.
As your child moves through and out of the teen years, "rules" should be slowly giving way to "advice." Even with entertainment. This transition will usually be slower than the teen wants and faster than the parent wants. Still, it needs to take place. It may be time to rethink the old rules. Determine which battles are really worth fighting, and which issues are important enough to risk damaging the relationship. Some absolutes are worth that conflict, but they are few, and should be chosen carefully. Once you are confident about which rules to keep intact, clearly communicate your position on those key issues and don’t waffle when challenged. All other areas are now open for negotiation in a whole new context.

That said, here are some questions that may help you engage your family and crack open the door to discernment:
• What is it about this form of entertainment that attracts you? Why do you like this particular style/genre/show more than others?

• Why do you listen or watch? (If it’s simply because friends do, ask, "Why do your friends listen to or watch it?")

• How does this form of entertainment make you feel?

• Do the themes reflect reality? Do they reflect truth? If they reflect reality do they also gloss over evil?

• How do the messages conveyed compare with the values you’ve been taught here at home, or in church?

• Do you think these messages have any effect on how close you feel to your family, friends or God? Why or why not?

• Would you feel comfortable if Jesus sat here listening to or watching this with you? (See Matt. 28:20) Do you think He’d care? What do you think He’d say about this particular entertainment product?

• Does this entertainment have an opinion of God? What is it?

• What would happen if you imitated the lifestyles and choices of the characters in these songs or this program?

• Is there inappropriate entertainment? Where would you draw the line? Where does scripture draw the line? Are they the same?

• How does it make you feel to know that, by purchasing a CD, going to a movie, playing a video game or watching a TV show, you are supporting the morals and ideas it promotes?

• What are the major, minor and subtle messages being conveyed through this entertainment? Do you agree or disagree with them?

• Do you think some people might take the messages literally? What could that lead to?

Adapted from the booklet What’s Up With Today’s Entertainment?: Raising Media-Wise Teens by Bob Smithouser and Bob Waliszewski, copyright 2003