Category Archives: Parenthood

What Causes a Kid to Join a Gang?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A couple of months ago I read a blog post written by J. Warner Wallace about the importance of fathers that struck a nerve in me. I had a good father while I grew up (still do), and I have tried to be a good father for my kids, but I see too many examples around me of fathers who are absent, or who are around, but don’t seem to engage at all with their children.

Wallace worked as a Gang Detail officer in the early 90’s and listen to what he saw:

Our city was culturally and ethnically diverse, and we had a gang problem that seemed to transcend ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries. We had wealthy Korean gangsters, middle class white gangsters, and upper, middle class and lower class Hispanic and African-American gangsters.

Wallace wondered what the common denominator was that drove kids from so many different backgrounds into gangs. Here is his answer:

Many of the white gangsters had fathers that were uninvolved, alcoholic or “deadbeat” dads. Many of the Korean fathers were first generation Koreans who never learned the English language, started businesses in our community and worked so hard that they had absolutely no relationship with their sons.

Some of the Hispanic fathers were incarcerated and most of our Hispanic gangsters came from a multi-generational gang culture. Many of the African-American gangsters told me that they never even knew their father; they had been raised by mothers and grandmothers without their biological dads.

Over and over again I saw the same thing: young men who were wandering without direction or moral compass, in large part because they didn’t have a father at home to teach them. Many studies have confirmed my own anecdotal observations.

Wallace’s advice to Christian fathers: teach your children. Citing Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Wallace says the following:

This is the role and duty of fathers; to teach our kids to embrace the image of God in which they were created. So today, . . . I would like all of the fathers who read this post to recognize their debt to their own fathers. If your father was absent, be grateful that you have a chance to do what he never did. Be a dad. Start teaching your kids. Take the words of Dr. Tony Evans to heart:

“It is a fool who says. ‘I do not tell my children what to believe’, because if you don’t, someone else will. The drug addicts are commanding your children and your children are obeying. The lust mongers are commanding your daughters and your daughters are obeying. For God’s sake YOU command something!”

There is some solid advice.

Why Should I Care What Your Kids Are Watching?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The conventional wisdom these days is that what you do in your home is your business.  If you have children, and you let them watch inappropriate TV shows or movies, then who am I to judge?  After all, what you allow your kids to consume doesn’t affect me.  Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “If you don’t like that movie or TV show, then don’t watch it.  Change the channel.”  You have your life and I have mine.

In the real world, however, everything you do in your home, and especially everything you let your kids do in your home, does affect me and my family.  None of us lives on an island by ourselves.  We are all interacting with other individuals in our community every day.  The media that your kids consume influence how they think, talk, and otherwise behave.

Since my kids go to school with your kids, then how your kids behave is going to directly impact my kids every day of the school week.  When your kids speak on the phone to my kids, they are influencing them.  When your kids play with my kids on sports teams, they are influencing them.

All of us impact the people with whom we interact.  C. S. Lewis uses the metaphor of ships in a fleet.  As the ships sail in a tight formation toward their destination, it is imperative that each ship be in proper working order.  If one ship is damaged and loses its steering mechanism, then it can accidentally run into other ships, causing them damage, and negatively affecting the entire fleet.

In the same way, each person is a ship in the fleet of our community.  As we damage ourselves, we will end up damaging others around us.  Living in a community gives me a reason to care about what your kids are watching.  Ethicist Francis Beckwith elaborates on this point:

These [inappropriate TV] programs convey messages and create a moral climate that will affect others, especially children, in a way that is adverse to the public good. Hence, what troubles [concerned] citizens is that you and your children will not change the channel. Furthermore, it concerns these people that there is probably somewhere in America an unsupervised ten-year-old who is, on a consistent basis, watching late night HBO or listening to radio shock-jock Howard Stern. Most of these people fear that their ten-year-olds, who are not watching or listening to such programs, may have to interact socially with the unsupervised ten-year-old. Others, who may not have young children, are concerned for the declining moral health of their communities, which is sometimes manifested in an increasing level of rudeness, disrespect, incivility, crime, or verbal and physical violence.

Let me be the first to say that our household is not perfect; there is much we could do to improve our media consumption.  My point is not to cast my family as completely innocent victims.  My point is to make a case for why we should be concerned about how people in our community are raising their children.  I am trying to raise awareness of the concept of the public good.  We are all sailing in a fleet together.

If you aren’t concerned about the media’s effect on your children, then think about my children and change the channel.

What Movies Should Our Kids be Watching? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Part 1 of this post discussed the use of Internet sites to help parents decide whether a movie is appropriate.  Today, we talk about how we know something is inappropriate.

There are at least two kinds of appropriateness, which I think a lot of parents miss.  First, there is age appropriateness.  A movie that is dealing with subjects like romance, or realistic war depictions, or other historical events that include intense human pain and misery, is not appropriate for younger children.  Their immature minds cannot process what they are seeing and they will not understand these themes until they are older.

A couple examples would be The Passion of the Christ and Band of BrothersThe Passion depicts the excruciating torture and death of Jesus while Band of Brothers portrays the true story of World War II soldiers.  Both of these are inappropriate for younger children because of the thematic content, but worth seeing once a person is well into their teenage years.

When deciding age appropriateness, you also have to consider your child.  My children do not struggle with violent streaks.  They are not aggressive toward other kids and they also have a good understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality.  So, we may let them watch movies that include violence, as long as it isn’t too realistic or intense.  If your child is aggressive toward other kids and is obsessed with violent role playing, you need to steer them clear of violent movies.

On the other hand, we are very concerned about exposing our kids to sexual themes and profanity.  We believe that there are real consequences if we allow our children to be inundated with foul language and sex.  When they enter their teenage years, their thoughts and deeds will be impacted by the language and sexual situations they see in movies.  Those things impacted me, so I assume they will impact my kids.  Therefore, movies that major on these themes are off-limits.

The second kind of inappropriateness is more difficult for parents to accept.  Some movies should not be seen by anyone because they are garbage.    These movies may glorify extra-marital sex, gratuitous violence, drug use, and so forth.  I can remember watching Natural Born Killers (lots of gratuitous violence) about 15 years ago with my wife.  When it was over, we both looked at each other and said, “That was a complete waste of time!  Why did we subject ourselves to that kind of filth?”  The movie actually left us both depressed.

Not only should your kids not watch these kinds of movies, but neither should you!  Unfortunately, many parents go ahead and watch these kinds of movies and their kids know that they watch these movies, and their kids see their parents as hypocrites.  Mom and Dad are always talking about certain movies being inappropriate but they routinely watch inappropriate movies!  If you, as a parent, expect to have any credibility when it comes to movies, you need to practice what you preach.

Some of you may object, “I’m an adult and I can watch whatever I want.  These kinds of movies don’t affect me like they affect a child.”  I used to think that until I came across Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  God expects you to expose yourself to media which contributes to your wisdom and virtue.  This verse is directed at adults, not children.

I’m not saying that you can’t watch movies for the sake of entertainment.  I am saying that entertainment should not come at the cost of your soul.  Every time you expose yourself to movie sewage, you are shriveling your soul.  You are growing away from God and therefore away from wisdom and virtue.  Christian adults need to restrict their own movie viewing.  If they don’t then they shouldn’t expect their children to take them seriously as God’s representatives.

I don’t think I have all the answers on this topic, and I’m sure some of you would disagree with my conclusions.  Please let me know how you see this issue.  I am truly interested in other perspectives!

What Movies Should Our Kids be Watching? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

As a parent, one of the perennial battles we fight with our children is over movies.  Our son, in particular, started pushing us to watch every movie under the sun when he was about 7 years old, and he has not let up since that day.

My wife and I had to make a choice.  Either we let him watch whatever he wants, which is the approach some parents take, or we restrict his movie selection.  But restricting movies is easier said than done.  There are a couple approaches I have seen.

The ad hoc approach is the parent who decides what their kids can watch based primarily on the movie rating and their gut feeling about a movie from what they see in a TV commercial or some other advertisement.  Many parents I know follow this approach.  They argue that they don’t have time to study every movie and so they just make their decision based on the rating and their parental instincts.

I thought this approach might work until I started seeing that movie ratings and instincts were often wrong.  Some movies that looked benign were not, once we saw them.  And some movies that I thought would be objectionable just were not, once we saw them.  My conclusion was that if I was going to decide what movies the kids could watch, I needed more than movie ratings and instincts.

I should mention this is especially true about movies rated PG before the PG-13 rating was introduced in 1984.  Some of the movies from the 1970’s and 1980’s that were rated PG contain really bad language and even nudity!  If you, as a parent, are counting on the PG rating to ensure the movie is appropriate, think again.  In fact, you might want to read this Wikipedia article on the MPAA ratings system for more information.  The standards that have been applied to rate movies have changed often throughout the years.

So, if I can’t trust the ratings and my own instincts, what can I do?  I can’t see every movie first before I allow my kids to see it (kudos to the parents that do this, but it’s totally unrealistic for most parents).  What we decided to do was use Internet movie ratings sites to get more information on a movie before letting the kids see it.  We have used many sites over the years, but our present favorite is Commonsense Media.  This site provides a lot of details about each movie with the goal of helping parents decide whether it is appropriate.  We review this site before we allow the kids to watch any movie.

Using a web site is fine, but the hard part is determining what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.  The web site only gives you information about a movie.  It cannot tell you whether it is appropriate for your kids (although Commonsense Media does recommend minimum ages for each movie).

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the issue of appropriateness.  See you then.