The World, Our Kids and Sandbagging (Nov-Dec 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Keith and Angela Brenton
November – December, 2002

Most of us parents are sandbaggers.

Not the kind of sandbagger who tries to deceive a fellow pool shark by doing poorly at first. The other kind; the kind who tries to wall out the waters.

We all know in our hearts that at some point our kids will be exposed to the world and its flood of quirks, vices, sins and even atrocities. But we try to protect them from the rising tide as long as we can.

We try very hard to stem the flow of what seeps into our kids through those enticing world-spigots we keep in our homes – the ones with stereo sound, cable, DVD-quality wide-screens and high-speed Internet connections.

Some of us put our children in Christian schools or home school, hoping that will help insulate them from the encroaching outer world. In some ways, it certainly helps.

A few families go to extremes, moving to remote rural locales. They eschew modern communications devices. They get as far from the waters as they can. They isolate. (And, come on, who among us parents – at least for a few seconds – hasn’t entertained the notion of doing that?)

But for most of us, isolation is too much of a sacrifice … or completely impractical … or both.

So we settle for sandbagging.

We try to edit what our children watch. All the new TVs have V-chips required by law, and we can choose to wade through the documentation and set about the onerous task of masking out the unwanted channels.

We survey a sea of Internet software to help keep our children on the straight and narrow of the information superhighway: NetNanny, CyberPatrol, KidDesk, to name a few. Some filters let us choose not only which Internet sites our children can access, but also which applications on our computers (such as e-mail) they can launch. A few even have links to child-friendly sites that we’re likely to approve.

There are Internet sites, such as www.hollywoodjesus.com and www.dove.org that let us read reviews–sometimes even let us preview movie trailers—of current (and some classic) motion pictures before we shell out the bucks to go see them or rent them. Some have ratings systems that break out different ratings for content of sex/nudity, violence, language, even drug use.

And if we’re still not comfortable with the tape or DVD we bring home, we may even install a device like the “TVGuardian,” a black box that filters out offensive language by reading the closed-captioning and muting your sound output. It doesn’t claim to be foolproof, advertising that it reduces the 66 instances in Men in Black to one and has the same success for E.T.

But sandbags leak.

Absolutely none of the filters can be described as foolproof. Or twerp-proof. The twerps who just can’t express themselves without certain language. Creeps who create gross and filthy Internet sites with domain names based on candy, or games, or kids’ television and movie characters. Predators who shotgun lurid e-mails and hang out in chatrooms, hoping to prey on the young.

Someone else still ultimately decides what our kids see and hear. Even if we block one channel with a v-chip, we have no control over the content of the one we allow. But some twerp at a cable network might.

If we don’t believe that, we’re sandbagging ourselves—in the “pool shark” sense of the word.

So what do we do? Give up and open the floodgates?

Well, either that or build our houses on the Rock. We involve Christ. We ask God’s blessing. We plan ahead, set rules, enforce them.

We supervise our kids.

Nobody is perfect about this in all areas. At our house, Dad will occasionally watch a “Spongebob Squarepants” or a “Rocket Power” with the kids … even asking a relevant question now and then, like “Spongebob and Patrick felt bad when they took the balloon without asking, didn’t they?” or “It didn’t work out too well when Otto lied, did it?”

Unfortunately, our standing rule – no unsupervised Internet browsing – has the effect that no one browses the Internet but Dad! We know we need to take the time to browse with them, so they don’t miss out on the wonderful educational and spiritual blessings this medium can offer. We just haven’t been doing it.

We also need to experience with them the movies and CDs we get for them…to be ready to react wisely when the twerps sneak through, with phrases such as this: “Well! That’s a word I thought I’d never hear in this house!” or “Hmm. I can’t imagine Jesus saying or doing that. Can you?”

And if trying to keep our own sandbags filled isn’t tough enough, there’s the issue of how our kids interact with families with different rules.

So far, we’ve faced that mostly when children from homes with stricter rules visit ours and announce, for instance, “I’m not allowed to watch ‘Rugrats.’” We’ve always just chosen something else. If our kids raise an issue (they haven’t yet) it would be a great time to discuss Romans 14. If their friends bring an item we don’t approve, we can say, “Sorry. House rules.”

Preparing our children for situations outside our home in which they may encounter movies, TV shows, games and Internet sites we wouldn’t endorse – that’s trickier.

For now, it’s easy enough to be careful about the families they visit. As they grow older, we hope we can shape their character so they’ll stand up for their consciences if their friends are watching something questionable.

To do that, we need to dedicate ourselves to training and preparing our children, among many other things,

  • To be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16)
  • To be transformed in mind, not conformed to the world (Romans 12:2)
  • To speak words seasoned with salt, not peppered with expletives (Colossians 4:6, James 5:12).

As much as anything else, we need to be watchful and prayerful for the right opportunity. A friend of ours recently confided that she thought she had happened upon a “teaching moment” when a certain word was uttered on the television. “That’s not a word we need to repeat,” she said casually. Her eight year-old daughter looked up and said, “What word, Mommy?” It was a conversation-stopper, because that word was one of many her daughter didn’t understand. (You’ve got to admire her mom for being ready, though!)

Maybe nothing can beat the teaching moment when it comes to those little world-spurts that are too subtle for the sandbags: The portrayals of all adults as idiots. The smarmy attitude. The put-downs. The cruel teenage gossip. The rampant consumerism and the glorification of greed.

As they get older, our kids will understand more … make more of their own decisions about what they hear and see and say and do (and buy!) … move farther out of our protection and launch their own boats into the world. They’ll build their own homes, on sandbars or on stone. It’s inevitable. We might as well get them ready for it.

If we choose wisely now—and they choose wisely later – there will be no sandbagging the world against their influence for Christ.

Click here for list of resources on movie and TV reviews, internet and TV filters.New Wineskins

Keith and Angi Brenton are the adoptive parents of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. She is the dean of the Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is on the board of Zoe/New Wineskins magazine. He writes a weekly parenting column for the Abilene Reporter-News and helps design/maintain Reporter-News Online, working at home. Contact Angela: [albrenton@ualr.edu]. Contact Keith: [wryterkb@swbell.net].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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