A Battle Plan for Letting Go of Parental Control
“Mom, can I watch IT 2 with my friends?” This was my 10-year-old daughter calling late one night last Summer while at her first sleepover with a bunch of other 10-year-old girls. My wife pulled the iPhone away from her face and looked at me for some quick advice. What should we do?
Cue the Parental Controls . . .
Parental control is about everything from TV, video games, music, internet, computer use, device use . . . you get the idea. It’s exhausting just thinking about all the areas in which we need to use parental controls—both tech-driven and heart-driven.
In the many years I’ve worked “in the fatherhood field” and in ministry, I’ve come to understand the challenges parents face. I work specifically with dads and over the last few years at Manhood Journey—the fatherhood ministry that helps dads disciple their kids—I’ve asked thousands of dads, “What’s your biggest challenge as a dad right now?” Most dads answer this question by saying something like:
- “Motivation. I’m in a rut. It’s easy to just come home, sit on the couch, and just watch TV.”
- “I’m unsure where to start. I didn’t have a good father growing up.”
- “I don’t know how to lead my children and wife.”
The majority of parents feel ill-equipped most days, especially dads. Whether we had a good or bad upbringing, we’re facing challenges now that dads have never had to face before. Parental control has taken on a whole new meaning for the generation of kids we’re leading.
A Never-Ending Battle
If we don’t want to lose the battle, we need to understand how to engage. The war is on and the challenges will arise often. Go back to my daughter’s 10-year-old sleepover. Imagine these precious girls with pizza, popcorn, and ice cream—all huddled around the TV. They’re ready to watch the latest scary movie together. But my daughter senses that something’s not right.
The War Rages . . .
As your children get older, you’re going to run head-on into the issue of “What am I allowed to watch?”. It may start out with movies or TV shows, but the question will quickly bleed into apps, books, games, YouTube videos, podcasts, music, and other forms of writing, audio, and video.
Man, it’s all so tiring . . .
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15 ESV
We have to remember the battle over parental control is spiritual. Even after you’ve done all you can with internet filters and tech security, what matters is how you’re leading your child to think—and how you’re either pointing your child to God—or not.
When my daughter called that night, I quickly snatched up my iPhone and Google searched the rating of IT Chapter 2. “Yep, R-rated. No way. I haven’t even seen it. It’s Stephen King. He’s a great writer and I’m a fan. But, remember the first IT and the remake of IT? They were both super creepy. Like nightmare-creepy. She’s only 10!”
My wife, Tonia agreed with me and when she returned to my daughter who was waiting on the other end of the phone, she offered suggestions of other things they could watch. This is probably not the answer my daughter was hoping for but it’s the one we were willing to give; the one that is in line with our values and beliefs about the things we allow into our minds.
What’s Your Battle Plan?
Maybe you haven’t yet gotten the “Can I watch this?” or “Can I do this?” call. But you will at some point in your child’s growing up years. As parents, we need to be ready with a battle plan when our kids look to us for permission. We need to determine before we encounter these questions, what type of parent God wants us to be.
Four Types of Parents: Which One Will You Be?
The no-rules parent.
If this parent were in a movie, it would be set in the wild west where there are no boundaries and anything goes. The no-rules parent believes you live and learn. Sure . . . if we adopt a no-rules parenting strategy, we’ll definitely learn a thing or two . . . the hard way!
Parents who aren’t monitoring what their kids see and do, are bound to run into trouble. We wouldn’t allow our young kids to wander in the street. Similarly, if we let our children wander aimlessly down the digital street, they may get hurt.
When my daughter called from the party that night, I could’ve said, “Whatever you want to do, Sweetie. It’s your first sleepover. It’s your choice. I just want you to have fun!” But chances are, that movie would have made an incredibly negative impact on her heart, filling her mind with scary thoughts and fears.
The whatever-others-say parent.
This parent overly relies on rules and “standards” from others – so, if a leader, author, pastor, or politician says it’s “Okay” or “not Okay”, they defer. This parenting approach is tricky because it works pretty well early on. With babies, you pretty much have to follow others’ advice as you are learning and finding your way. As your kids age, informed and expert opinions are helpful, but they’re not entirely sufficient.
Back to my daughter’s sleepover . . . I could’ve said, “Oh, all the other girls are gonna watch the flick? If their parents say it’s okay, then I’m fine with it.” The message this response would have sent my daughter: We don’t hold our own family values and boundaries. We’re just going to follow the world.
The I-Have-Rules-In-My-House Parent.
Much like the whatever-others-say method, the I-have-rules-in-my-house parenting approach will only work for so long. This approach says “we decide, you abide” and won’t go over well with teens or teach kids to make good choices into adulthood.
Don’t get me wrong. There should be boundaries our kids can rely on. I’m a fan of parental control apps, internet filters, website blockers—all the things. Maybe your family says NO R-rated movies until a certain age or explicit music is a clear NO. Great. But while some rules are better than no rules, rules only get us so far.
Back to the party story . . . we took this approach at that moment. The quickest explanation by phone was to abide by the rules that our family and the Motion Picture Association of America set forth for film ratings—flawed as they may be. We simply said, “No.”
Here’s the thing: this approach is necessary much of the time, depending on the age and stage of our children. It’s also what really good non-Christian parents might do. A family holds moral values and they make decisions based on them. That is good. But as Christians, we are called to be different.
Which is why there’s one more type of parent . . .
The Godly Parent.
The godly parent not only puts boundaries and guidelines in place, but they also teach their children how to make the best, most Christ-honoring decision in tough situations. Their kids know why a rule exists. Imagine, over time, if we trained our kids to make their own decisions. The godly parent helps their kids develop their own moral compass. With these values and skills, kids ultimately learn how to think and act on their own. They are guided by Scripture.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
Back to the sleepover story . . . when we picked our daughter up the next morning, she was fine. The girls all decided to watch something more Disney-scary and not Stephen King-scary.
No harm done. But, here’s where I could’ve done better. I could’ve brought up a Scripture we’d gone over that week. I could’ve said, “Remember what we talked about over dinner just last Thursday? How does Psalm 101:3, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” square with watching IT 2?” Boom. Truth bomb deployed. The goal? That recalling God’s truth would help our kids make their own wise decisions, even in the midst of peer pressure.
It’s About the Long Game . . .
As Christian parents, we’re playing a much longer game than any one decision. This night was about a movie at a party. Looking back, it was super innocent. At 10 years old, and late at night during a party, the answer may have to be, “My parents said NO.”
Imagine having to be my daughter after hanging up the phone. “My mom and dad said no. I can’t watch the movie.” Can you hear the echo in the room of all the other girls sighing? I can. I can hear those girls saying, “Gosh, your dad’s lame.”
I can’t lie. I went through something that night. I felt all kinds of emotions after saying no. Mostly because I wasn’t with my daughter to see her reaction—whether she understood or not. I wanted to get in my car, drive over to the party, and smooth everything over. Make everybody laugh. Maybe show up with Toy Story 1 and take the lead in a “retro movie night.” I don’t know.
Here's what I do know . . . as I tried to sleep that night, I reminded myself this night wasn’t about this night. As Christian parents, we are called to be different and to train up our children to love God’s Word and His ways more than the world and to apply God’s truth to their everyday lives. Movies, relationships, school, priorities . . . all of it.
If raising Christian kids in today’s world has you overwhelmed, ask yourself these questions:
1. What guidance am I giving my kids now so they don’t fall “in love with the world”?
2. Does my family know the values we desire to uphold as followers of Jesus?
3. Do my children have good media options that require less parental control and more freedom to explore?
4. Do I have the support and camaraderie I need to face this parenting battle?
Parental controls—both tech and heart—are merely tools to be used in training. We are in a battle with culture. But someday, the battle won’t be ours to fight anymore.
. . . . . . . . . .
Ryan Sanders is the Director of Outreach at Manhood Journey. He is married to Tonia and they have three children. He is currently a Th. M. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he also received the Master of Divinity. He is a Fellow at The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and serves as Lay Pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C.