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Have you talked about media with your boys and established ground rules in your home?
Most Plugged In readers have experienced challenges in this area that Jean and I haven't encountered yet. Our 8-year-old, Trent, is just getting to the place where he's asking about certain things outside of our influence. But we've been fortunate. He and my little guy, Troy [age 6], have been enjoying Adventures in Odyssey, McGee and Me and VeggieTales. We've also let them watch some of the tamer Star Wars movies, which are great studies in good and evil. You can be critical of the spirituality, but parents willing to work through the Star Wars ethic—honor, loyalty, sacrifice, fighting for what's good and true—and use it as a parable can draw certain connections from Scripture. My boys have really picked up on those points.

How has entertainment played a part in your own life?
I've never been big on music, even when I was a kid. I don't think I owned a CD until I was out of college. On the other hand, watching movies has always been relaxing for me. Jean is less inclined to unwind by watching a movie or something on television, which has been a bit of a discussion point for us (laughter). I can jump to news and sports and do the typical "guy thing" of flipping the clicker and watching eight things at one time.

As both a dad and the president of Focus on the Family, which medium concerns you most?
I think the Internet has the most potential for harm. We don't let our boys go online alone. There are some good Web filters and other tools that can help protect them, but even then it's something you have to monitor very closely. The Web is a real frustration, because on one hand we have a fascinating amount of information at our fingertips, which lets my boys and me study the planets or learn more about the Denver Broncos. Yet at the same time, if you don't manage that well, kids can be easy prey for people who would like to destroy them. We got a letter here recently from a single mom who found her 13-year-old son on the Internet looking at pornography. That's probably a fairly common story, so we want to do everything we can to prevent that kind of mishap from occurring.

What about latch-key kids or those whose parents just aren't as involved in their entertainment choices? Do you worry about the way modern media is shaping their value systems?
I do, because if I were growing up today, that would be me. I was the child of a single mom and the youngest of five kids. With six years between me and my closest sibling, I was practically an only child. They had driver's licenses and were off running around when I was still in elementary school. When I got home my mom was working, and my brothers and sisters weren't exactly supervising me, so I watched a lot of television.

Yet nothing like what children are stumbling on today.
I was thinking about that the other day. In the late '60s I was watching Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Batman may have been one of the edgier things I was exposed to. Back then, the culture didn't tear down the values you were trying to build into your child, even as a single parent. My mother, to some degree, could trust that while I was sitting in front of the television, there wasn't much content that would harm me. It typically reinforced the values she was trying to teach me, like being honest, telling the truth, treating people well. You know, all the stuff that's now on [cable's] TV Land. That's what I was exposed to as a child.

I know how you hurt for parents in that position, especially moms left to wonder how the culture is raising their children when they can't be there to monitor things.
A lot of them can't be home at 3 o'clock. What do you do? How do you help your child in that context make those choices? I'm really fearful for kids in that situation, and it's a difficult one. Personally, I'd seriously consider not having television in the home if there isn't a parent there to make sure that kids are choosing wisely. Shows are so raunchy today that I would not leave it to chance that my child is going to find TV Land. There are hundreds of other channels ready to impart some pretty poor values.

And yet many of the parents you hear from are engaged, aren't they?
I'm always impressed by the number of people I meet with 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds who take this issue seriously. They're teaching their children discernment skills. Many have been supporting Focus financially and praying for us. That's why we're so committed to giving them tools to manage their media decisions wisely.

Published January 2009