As the news broke that Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast includes the company’s first-ever portrayal of an openly gay character, many parents, although not necessarily surprised, responded with shock and anger. However, in this age, it should not be a surprise to any parent that both the good and bad of culture is increasingly infused in all entertainment, including that specifically made for the youngest audiences.
Parents, please consider this issue first: most entertainment companies are not Christian value-based companies. There are many places where biblical values are challenged or outright undermined in pop culture’s media options. Examples are many and include instances such as adultery, premarital sex, LGBTQIA depictions, disobedience to parents, disrespect of parents, use of the supernatural, violence, strong language, and total self-indulgent living – just to name a few. None of these behaviors reflect the biblical worldview. Our response to our children must be balanced with self-reflection. Do we strive to pay attention to and address all areas of worldview conflict or only those we find particularly disturbing?
So how do you respond as parents?
- Make sure you teach your children the purpose of everything in life – to live a life that honors the Lord. The apostle Paul taught, “Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is the matter of first importance for our children. Handling sexuality and one’s personal desires of any kind, much less sexual attraction, fit under this overarching life principle. The motivation for everything in life should consistently reflect a Christ-like character that honors God, which includes what children watch as entertainment (cf., 2 Corinthians 5:9). This is where the conversation must begin – not just for entertainment but for all of life.
- Another issue that parents should consider as they engage their children is biblical authority. As God’s words to mankind, the Bible reflects the Creator’s design and desire for His creation. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Since the Bible is God’s words for mankind, it carries the authority of God for living life to God’s glory. It helps us know how to think, desire, and live in ways that honor Him.
- Furthermore, parents need to teach biblical sexuality in age-appropriate ways to their children, possibly much differently than their parents or grandparents ever even considered. Entertainment choices of all types, what is available through the plethora of internet resources, and social engagement with other children, all force parents to actively teach their children God’s design and desires for sex. This conversation must begin early and continue throughout the teenage years.
- In each of these conversations, make sure as parents you engage your children at the heart level. Honoring God in life is not a matter of just the behavior of your child. Living a life that honors God begins with the heart. Jesus taught that all good behavior or bad behavior comes from the heart, “for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Therefore, as you talk with your child, recognize the issue includes more than just a particular behavior.
- Help your children understand sin, how it impacts people, and the need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Children need to develop discernment that begins with their own hearts (Matthew 7:1-5) as they see and engage sin. Yes, it is vital that they learn to identify and evaluate anything that does not honor God. However, it is also equally imperative that parents teach them how that evaluation should fuel a passion to see others reached with the gospel. The goal is not just informed children; rather, it is gospel-centered children with a love for Jesus and a burden for others.
So when should you discuss the worldview with your children and watch it versus when should you avoid it altogether?
This is a great question that I have received several times over the past months. Many parents have said, “There’s no rule saying that my children and I have to watch every new thing. Why watch it at all?” Others have said, “When does it cross the line so that it is unwise to allow my children to view a particular kind of media or episode?” Consider the following three questions:
- Should you or should you not allow your children to participate in particular media? Parents must make this decision in view of what they believe is best for their children, in their context, with their particular family dynamics. Just because others allow certain media does not mean it is wise for you to allow it. Other parents’ decisions are not the standard for your home. There may be variables related to your children and situation that suggest avoidance altogether. You do have permission as a parent to make your own decision. It is okay to do so.
- How do you help keep your children from becoming bitter? If you choose to say, “No” when others are saying, “Yes,” then how do you keep from exasperating your children? The solution to this issue is in the family dynamic that extends beyond any one particular media choice. On a regular basis as part of normal, daily conversation, parents need to help them understand the principles listed above and help them think through how to apply them at the macro level. Then, in relationship to a specific issue or item of media, they help the children apply those conversations on the micro level. When the parents’ daily choices in regard to everyday living reflect these same biblical principles, and then they apply them in a particular situation, the children are not surprised.
- How do I teach my children how to make the right choice? The ultimate goal of every parent is to have their children make the God-honoring, wise choice when alone or with friends without the parent’s influence. This is a learned response by good parental teaching and example. You want your children asking three kinds of questions: 1) “Is this God-honoring or not? Is this sinful?” 2) If it is not sinful, and you believe that God is honored, you want your children to then ask, “Will this generally help or hinder my growth as a follower of Christ?” This question helps them determine generally if engaging in this media is wise or unwise. The answer to this question takes discernment and has to be learned over time. 3) Finally, the children need to ask, “Would I consider this as good, better, or best?” Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it; just because something is possible does not make it the best choice. The goal is applied wisdom or regularly practiced biblical evaluation. Parents want their children considering multiple issues at once in order to test what is best or most valuable in a particular moment.
All parents are under pressure to both make the best decisions for their children and to teach them to make the same kinds of God-honoring decisions in the future. All parents also are totally dependent upon the grace of God in the process. At times children will understand why parents make a particular choice and at times they will not. They may or may not appreciate the parents’ choice. In each of these decision-points, we must depend upon God for wisdom and trust Him with the heart of our children.
Practically speaking, take heed to your children. Listen to your children as they respond to your decisions. Watch their demeanor, body language, and expressions. Parents also need to be sensitive to what is sung or repeated or acted out as their children respond to media of all types. Pay attention as you see and hear your children play with each other, participate with other children, or play individually. As you do, be ready to engage with your children in helpful conversations as they seek to make sense of the world around them.
Join the Conversation
What specific principles do you typically use to make this decision in your home?