Effective parenting calls for new ways of communicating the Faith to children. In essence, parents must answer the call to the New Evangelization in their own homes with their own children. As parents, we’re called to find ways in every day life to convey the truths of the faith in ways that, perhaps, are a little unorthodox (the method of teaching the content, not the content being taught).
As our children grow into, through, and out of their teen years, one of the most effective new ways we’ve found to do this is to use current television shows (that we all enjoy and watch as a family) to show them how the faith applies, particularly certain reality shows. As a family, we watch several of these shows together – American Idol, Restaurant Impossible, Dance Moms, Duck Dynasty, The Next Food Network Star, The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette) – to name a few. DVR or TIVO allow us have them fit into our schedule around our other family commitments at appropriate times. Of course, risks exist, as we cannot always control certain indecencies that inevitably occur in these shows. However, in addition to the teaching of the faith, it provides us an opportunity to talk about moral teachings as well – modesty, chastity, appropriate language, etc. to name a few. Of course, we didn’t use these shows when the kids were younger. Parents have to prayerfully discern their use of this technique. It requires time and effort along with a willingness to be open to discussions about topics that you may not have seen coming. It can be adventurous. It can even be a little scary, but it also can also be quite effective for several of the following reasons:
- It’s Real - We could probably disagree over and over about what is staged vs. what actually happens in reality on these shows. However, in most of these shows, the people are not actors, and the situations are unscripted. As such, we often are exposed to real emotions – anger, sadness, fear, joy, etc.. This provides an opportunity to discuss, for example, what caused the anger. It allows us to witness appropriate and inappropriate expressions of that anger. It gives us the ability to talk about how to respond to anger. What do we do with that emotion? How do we use it? Do we flee? Do we fight? Do we do something else? Yet, we still control the reality in a sense. With a remote control and a DVR, we can skip through commercials, over inappropriate situations, and past unnecessary portions of the shows. In other words, it’s reality, but we can control the dosage so to speak.
- It’s Relevant – Through these shows, we, as a family, are exposed to the culture and the things that the culture holds out as true. We hear the new songs that our children listen to. We learn the language of the day. We are able to engage the culture on our own terms and on our own turf. Like it or not, as our children grow older and incrementally move out of the house, they will be increasingly made aware that there are people who don’t hold our beliefs about God, on the Catholic Church, on marriage, on sexuality, on homosexuality, on so-called “same-sex” marriages, on abortion, on contraception … the list goes on and on. Through watching these shows together, our children “meet” people in a controlled environment (our tv room) that hold these beliefs and even express them on these shows. The children have learned quite a bit. For example, they’ve learned that these people who disagree with us are actually likable in many cases. They are caring. They are generous. They are even kind. This allows us to address the fact that everyone who disagrees with us on any, or even all, of these issues is not necessarily a horrible person. We can discuss the need to pray for them. We can talk about the fact that we can engage in dialogue with these people when we go out into the world without expecting the worst. They also learn some more subtle tricks of the culture. On one show, the contestants were participating with the hope of winning money for the charity of their choice. One of the openly “gay” contestants spoke about the charity of his choice. It was called something like “Happy Marriages”. One of our younger children (almost 13) heard this, put two and two together, and turned to us. He said, “the name sounds like a good thing, but he (the contestant) said that it supports the legalization of ‘same-sex marriages’. That’s tricky.” That child will now always look beyond the name of an organization to see what it actually supports.
- It’s Relational - We do this as a family. We allow time to discuss what we watched. In certain circumstances, we even stop the DVR in the middle of a situation to discuss what we believe and how we could or should respond when a situation like the one portrayed in the show happens. Often times, it is best to ask an open-ended question as opposed to lecturing. For example, we might stop the show when a person in the show says or does something that we either admire or disagree with. At that point, we might say, “so, what do you think about that?” or “how would you deal with that situation if you were in it?” An important point to remember on this is that you do not want to do it too frequently during a show as it can frustrate the kids. However, once in a 30 minute show or maybe twice on an hour show should be acceptable to everyone involved. We also think that it is important to tell the children that we are watching for the purpose of helping them enter into the culture with an awareness of what is out there and of how to respond. We want them to be lights in the darkness. They need to be aware. Finally, because we do it together, it is something that we all look forward to, even the older teenagers. It’s important to have everyday things that all of us – parents, 13 year olds, and 18 year olds – can do together.
Obviously, particularly with regard to the shows I mentioned above, this technique is for older children. Parents should prayerfully discern whether this technique will work for them. It can lead to awkward situations that need to be dealt with. However, if parents are active participants and guides in this process, it can help prepare our children to go out into the world ready to engage the culture and the people they meet with the truth and love of Jesus Christ. That is, they will be prepared to be New Evangelists.
Do you have any tv shows that you watch as a family and use to teach your children?