Teaching Kids to Watch TV Wisely

We hear a lot about how to reduce screen time for our kids, but do they know how to watch it wisely when it is turned on? From selecting programs to filtering content, here's your guide to navigate conversations that will help your kids' have healthy viewing habits.When my girls were small, monitoring their television content was fairly easy. We stuck to PBS Kids and Veggie Tales.

But as they’ve grown, so have their interests. And now discerning safe and healthy content isn’t quite so simple.

My tween is fascinated with cooking shows and reality contests, while my seven-year-old would watch YouTube dog training videos all day if she could. Suddenly our Apple TV menu is filled with unfamiliar titles my children are begging to watch—which I cannot assume are appropriate just because they’re listed in the “Kids” section.

As parents I believe it’s our responsibility not just to supervise what our kids see in the media but also to empower them to make wise choices. That way, when they’re away from us—home alone, at a friend’s house, or even in school—they’ll be able to determine for themselves what content is God-honoring or not. For that reason, my goal as my children grow is not to prohibit television but to help them become smart television consumers.

Here are the steps I take.

Research. If my kids are interested in trying a new TV program, first I do a little digging to see what it’s all about. I might check the show’s website, read reviews on Plugged In or ask trusted friends if they’d recommend the show. At the very least I’ll read the content descriptions on Netflix. If those resources flash any serious red flags, I don’t allow my kids to watch.

Watch with them. If a program passes the first test, then I sit with my children to watch the first episode. This gives me a chance to meet the characters and scope out any questionable content. More than once we’ve started watching a show and quickly discovered it was filled with rude dialog or “good” characters being praised for their bad behavior. In which case, I turn it off—fast.

Talk about it. Entertainment can launch great discussions about moral behavior. I point out issues as we watch together, like “That boy just told a lie. Is that okay?” or “I didn’t like the way that girl talked to her sister. What would’ve been a better choice?” And if the dialog slips an occasional word we don’t use in our family, such as “stupid” or “Oh my G__” (game shows are prime territory for that one), my kids turn to me with wide eyes and I explain the fight we Christians are up against. Our kids are going to hear all sorts of inappropriate words in this world, but that does not make it okay to use them. In a way, well-monitored TV gives me an opportunity to teach my kids about peer pressure and standing up for their own convictions.

Give them space. My tween has been watching TV under my guidance for long enough now that when she asks to watch a program that meets my initial approval, I’m able to say ‘yes, go ahead and watch—but use your filter.’ That means I’m trusting her to judge the content, to decide for herself if it’s appropriate according to our family values. Then we have a conversation about it, to reinforce the importance of being smart about what we allow into our heads and hearts. I ask questions like this.

  • What do you like about this show?
  • What do you learn from it?
  • What do you admire about the characters?
  • What do you dislike about the characters?
  • How do the characters treat one another? Are they kind, rude, smart, disrespectful, honest, etc.?
  • What aspects of this show [the characters’ behavior, the language, the storyline, etc.] would please God?
  • What aspects of this show might disappoint Him?
  • Do you think this show follows the guidelines of Philippians 4:8? Why or why not?

God’s Word says, “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” (Philippians 4:8). As parents it’s our job to help our kids determine what “such things” are and how to evaluate their entertainment choices accordingly.

Ultimately, television and media of all sorts are going to be a big part of our children’s lives as they grow older, whether we like it or not. The good news is we have a lot of influence now while they’re under our roofs, and teaching them how to be wise TV consumers can be an enjoyable process for the whole family.

Becky Kopitzke, BeckyKopitzke.com


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