A few weeks ago, I was around a few teenagers who were talking about quarantine life. They were comparing family stories, moaning about online school, and talking about how they were filling their time. Pretty quickly in the conversation the focus shifted to the shows they were streaming online. They listed off a number of series on several platforms that they were binge watching. I’m pretty sure they are watching on their phones, and I’m assuming their parents aren’t paying much attention to their entertainment choices. I’m also fairly certain that most teenagers have settled into a life of watching shows like this on demand.
One of the shows they talked about caught my attention. I had heard about it before and the premise was intriguing to me. I’ve never been a “watch on my phone, binge” kind of guy, but our family was headed into a few days of vacation so I decided to dive in. I was a little sad to see that this show (that is clearly targeted at teens) had consistent bad language of the worst kind, sexual innuendo and activity, murder, stealing, drugs, alcohol, a defiance of authority, unhealthy pursuits of money and materials, and a glorification of it all. And that was just in the first few episodes (yes, I got hooked!). In a conversation with my own teenagers about why I thought they shouldn’t watch, I got convicted about why I was watching myself.
Back in the day if you wanted to watch anything that was deemed “inappropriate” you had to either stay up later than your parents to catch a flick on HBO, or somehow smuggle yourself into an “R” rated movie at the theatre. Today, all kids have to do is click a few buttons on their phone. When smartphones became the norm for kids a few years ago, we were all worried about how easy it was for them to get access to porn. There has obviously been a big push to pay attention to that. But what may be flying under the radar is the tremendous amount of content that, on the surface, may seem fine. The story lines are real world and exciting, but the seeds these shows are planting in our kids may sprout into weeds that grow out of control if we’re not careful.
If you dig deeper and actually pay attention, you’ll learn that our kids and teens are consistently filling their minds with the things of this world. The disturbing thing to me is the fact that most of this behavior and mindset is so normalized. As kids and teens encounter this content, they have no way to process their thoughts about it all and how these ideas and images are shaping their world view. The can simply access the family streaming account, watch these shows that are filling their minds with all kinds of ideas that they are not ready for, and move on to the next show. I’ve never thought of myself as a prude or someone who wants to over-shelter my kids, but I do think we as parents might be missing something in this on demand culture our kids are allowed to live in.
As I dream about how I want for my kids to grow and develop, I couldn’t get away from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Years ago as a young youth pastor I heard a speaker remind a group of teenagers that “garbage in = garbage out.” What our kids are filling their minds with will no doubt shape their future thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As parents we need to do the best we can to know what is shaping the hearts and minds of our kids and help them live in an environment that will move them in a positive direction and help them know what it means to live into a life of faith.