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When You Can't Tune It Out, Try Teaching

I remember a time when my wife, Leesa, our two children (Kelsey, 9, and Trevor, 6) and I got away for a few days of snow skiing. After an afternoon of schussing, falling and sunburning, we headed to a nearby pizza restaurant. As our meal arrived, someone dropped a pocketful of quarters in the jukebox. The first song that blared through the establishment was "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. As the music started, I looked across the table at Leesa. She rolled her eyes to communicate, "What’s this trash we’re stuck listening to?"

We felt stymied. Nirvana is not welcome in our home. But what were we to do now that we were being "force-fed" Kurt Cobain and his nihilistic ramblings? My instincts wanted to yell, "Okay, kids, grab the pizza and let’s head to the car right now!" I resisted the urge. There had to be a better solution. Indeed, there was (and is): turning these incidents into "teachable moments."

I don’t want you to think we’ve got this down to a science. We don’t. But we’ve begun using such moments to reinforce the principles of discernment we regularly talk about and model at home. And I know it’s sinking in.

I was keenly reminded of that when Kelsey and I were in the car together. I’d been channel surfing, and the radio was tuned to a country station. I’m usually good about changing the dial when I need to, but I got distracted. "Daddy," Kelsey asked, "is that a good song?" It wasn’t. I turned the radio off, a bit embarrassed, but well-pleased that Kelsey had recognized it on her own.

A similar teachable moment occurred when I met Leesa and the kids for lunch. Seated catty-corner to us was a mother and her teenage boys. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the boys had a t-shirt emblazoned with "KORN" in big letters across the front. Later, the teens took off, leaving mom (and her VISA) to cover the bill. I went over to her and privately asked, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" She didn’t. "I was just wondering how you handle the fact that one of your sons wears a t-shirt of a band whose lead singer fantasizes about brutally torturing his step-mother?" With a shocked expression, she gaped at me and replied, "I had no idea."

I don’t know what became of mother and teen, but I imagine they had a heart-to-heart talk later that day. At least I hope they did. When I got back to my table, I told my family what I’d done and why. Later, I asked Trevor what he’d learned. He said, "It was bad music. The teenager knew about the music, but the mom didn’t." Kelsey agreed.

"What is bad music?," I asked. "Music about killing people," my daughter replied. (I’ve heard her on another occasion say "music with bad words.")

Later in life, my children and I will talk about other problematic elements—sexual issues for one. But for now, "killing people" and "bad words" are things they understand. I’m pleased that they are developing discernment and making it personal. One thing’s for sure, there will be plenty of teachable moments in the days and years to come.

Published March 1997

Plugged In Plus
As I re-read this article recently, I couldn’t help but wonder where all the time went! Perhaps an update is in order. My daughter Kelsey, who was nine when the pizza/ski teachable moment occurred, is now happily married and assisting her youth pastor husband with teen ministry. Trevor, who was six, is working toward his college degree and, afterwards, a military career. As you can imagine, my wife and I experienced plenty more teachable moments as we raised our children. For instance, we lived through the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Whether we liked it or not, both of our children were forced to learn more in their teens about sexuality than I knew as a young adult. And the same "rules" applied as they got older. When we couldn’t tune it out, we talked.

Our kids still have a lifetime ahead of them, and I refuse to assume that they will always stay on the right track. But I have reason to believe they will. I’m proud of the decisions they have made thus far. I’ll highlight just one example to make a point: When Kelsey was in high school, she served on a team that ministered to the 5th and 6th graders at our church. She regularly had an opportunity to share the message. I’ll never forget when Kelsey called me at work to say she wanted to talk to the kids about media discernment. She asked for my help. Needless to say, I was thrilled. More than anything she had said or done to that point, this simple request let me know that the teachable moments had been getting through. Making wise entertainment choices was not something she was doing for Dad and Mom. This had become personal. She genuinely wanted to honor the Lord … and help teach others to do the same.

So, parents, continue to use your own teachable moments. Now that I’m an "empty nester," I can personally testify that training young people to be discerning in the area of entertainment is doable, and can have a lasting impact!