Three Buttons Parents Should Use on Their Remote

GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

Last year half of America sat on their couches watching two wholesome young contestants battle head to head on the American Idol finale’. Emotions were high all around as parents and children alike watched one of the few remaining shows on television that families actually watch together.

Cut to a commercial.

Back to American Idol. Lady Gaga takes the stage, dancing provocatively, eventually lying down, literally spreading open her legs as one of her dancers seductively crawls on top… that’s all that most families saw because they were scrambling for the remote control.

Every Christian parent had a decision to make at that moment. Did American Idol go too far? Should parents discard the whole show? And if we do turn shows like Idol off, are we teaching our kids discernment… or just setting them up to rebel?

Most parents would agree that some TV is clearly inappropriate for our kids (Sex and the City, Two and Half Men). Others would agree that some shows are clearly appropriate…although you might have to go back to the 80’s to find them (The Cosby Show, the Waltons). The question is… what do we do with the shows in between?

Perhaps parents need to learn to use three buttons on their remote control.

Let me explain. Thanks to the invention of the DVR, I now record all TV. This allows me to pause and fast forward shows at any time. Call me spoiled, but I don’t even watch live TV anymore. This freedom has allowed me to make good use of three buttons every parent should use on their remote control:

1. The Pause Button: The pause button is a great button for provoking conversation with my kids. It works like this. Our family will be comfortably nesting in our couch watching our favorite detective show. The show is clean overall, but isn’t free from an occasional questionable comment. For example, a single female character will make a comment about not having sex in 3 months. Her friend gasps, “Really, 3 months!!!”

That’s my cue.


Let me be the first to admit that this action isn’t usually met with cheers from my house. As a matter of a fact, it’s usually met with groans. But I always continue forward. The key is to not lecture, but just ask questions.

“So, these girls are obviously implying that sexual activity is recommended for single young women. What are some of the benefits of being sexually active at that age?”

My girls usually answer pretty quick, because they want me to start the show. I usually ask a follow up question. “What are some of the drawbacks to this kind of lifestyle?”

Questions are fun because they require our kids to think through the issues enough to have to provide the answers. It also removes the burden of lecturing from the parent (and kids don’t mind that).

But sometimes the “pause” button isn’t enough. Sometimes a show requires…

2. The Fast Forward Button: The Lady Gaga moment on American Idol was an example of that. The fast forward button comes in handy during many of the performances by pop stars on shows like Idol. I’m not one to totally shelter my kids, but sometimes the stuff on TV is purely gratuitous. It’s times like this that the fast forward button is really handy.

Those parents who have young boys will find this button handy during football games… for the beer commercials. Some of these commercials are really funny. But many parents might notice how wide our sons’ eyes get when a Super Bowl commercial shows two girls in tight t-shirts start to get into a fight in a fountain (remember that one?). Fast forward.

But what if the show has too many of these moments. Good question. That’s when I like to use…

3. The Off Button: You can only watch so many minutes of Desperate Housewives before you realize you are going to wear out your pause and fast forward buttons. It’s times like this we need to teach our kids how to use the off button. It’s okay to say, “This doesn’t belong in our house.”

Every parent is going to make these discerning choices a little differently, and that’s okay. The key is to teach our kids to make these decisions along the way. The remote is a cool little tool to help you do that.

Question: Do you have any TV “rules” that you apply within your family? Share them here.


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  • Ben Patterson

    Our tv rules are currently “The channel stays on Public Television.” Often referred to as “Channel 8″ in our household.

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  • Rob.

    Tv rules are NO TV in our house, not a single bit of it is wholesome anymore, and if you find a “wholesome” program the commercials around it are trash!  we cut the cable years ago and recently  got rid of the tv altogether.  I couldn’t find anywhere that it was God honoring.

  • Brandon Weldy

    This was a great post! I really like how you take those moments to teach your children, even if it is met with groans. This will cause them to think when they are off on their own and they run into questionable material. My son is just over one so the only thing he watches is about the first 20 minutes of Sesame Street but I like thinking about the rules we will have as he grows. Maybe by that time we will have DVR. 

  • ScottTinman

    Great post…have noticed when watching television like Wipe Out, Amazing Race or other shows that would seem “Family-friendly” that we have to have the remote close by to change the channel to the Weather Channel during commercials because of things we don’t want our kids to see…whether it is an advertisement for a product, movie or even another show on that network. Our kids have also gotten used to covering their eyes or looking away when we are not quick enough to turn the channel or forget. We don’t have a DVR…still on the old school tape with VCR but when we watch these shows “live” it is more of a challenge.

  • Matt Markins

    Doug & Jonathan, Great post. Thanks for challenging us to think critically as well as giving us practical steps.  Relevant. 

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  • Sheila Edeliant

    Our “TV Rules” go about like this: Let’s find something better to do!  Parents, if you are “forgetting” to pause/fast forward/turn off the TV…you are becoming numb!  By beholding, we are changed.  I don’t think there is a soft way to say that.  It is just plain dangerous!

    Our family does watch the occasional recorded sermon, instructional video, or nature program.  Those give plenty of opportunity to discuss values and discernment of truth.  You don’t have to be purposely exposed to evil to know what is good.  

    “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true…honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of even today’s “family” shows are simply trash in disguise.  Instead of trying to decide if a show has “too much” evil, maybe we should be deciding if it passes the Philippians 4:8 test.  I like this “TV” verse: Psalm 119:37: “Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity.”

  • Kyleelton

    Interesting thoughts. A father of a 2 year year old myself she sticks to mostly commercial free TV that is geared toward her age. (NickJr, PBS & Disney) We are starting become more aware of what we are watching now that she repeats so much of what she hears. But, I of course have to realize the time will come very soon when we have to decide what she’ll get to watch. As someone who’s TV watching was never regulated as strictly as some of my church peers as I grew up, my tendency is to make sure there is an established understanding between life on TV and real life, and to forbid the most agregious offenders while they’re still too young to understand what they’re watching. My mom always liked to remind me that sex isn’t like they show on TV. I just can’t imagine trying to shelter my kids to the point where they will not have any clue what is going on in the rest of the world. That seems to be setting them up for a rough road or, like you said, rebellion. Also, I’m also of the strong belief that just because the source of art may not be gratuitously Christian doesn’t mean it doesn’t espouse Christ-like values. Again the key is always to follow up the watching of any program that seems to depict behavior that we do not want our kids to emulate with discussion and context provided by the parents.

  • Becky

    Love these buttons you suggest. I’m not a parent yet but they can come in handy when you babysit or when you’re watching tv alone too. Definitely think these are a good way to instill healthy tv choices in kids and help them choose what they watch without you monitoring it if you know they can make wise choices. In my house we don’t really have rules though generally know what would be approved of and what wouldn’t be. 

  • Joyce Poetker

    As a parent of older teenage boys they have become aware of some of the filth that has been displayed on tv not regularily and not on purpose but accidentily We have also used the mute button and asked them to turn thier heads, because somtimes that stuff you don’t want them to see or hear creeps up quickly, and you need a fast relief. I truly believe that it is our responsibilty to show our kids how to live with the good and the bad of tv to learn how to deal with the real life around us and not to form a cacoon for them that can lead to rebellion

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  • Guest

    None of the programs you mentioned are family programming. Can’t we be more discerning than this?

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