Pastor Gregg Matte, Houston’s First Baptist Church

The TV is on, the station is set, and my son and I sit down to enjoy America’s pastime. More than just wanting to know the final score of the game, this is a bonding moment between my 8-year-old son and me, his 40-year-old dad. He is still young enough to think I’m as good as the major leaguers on the field. Why correct him? He’ll find out soon enough.

The stage is set for a great father/son moment as we watch the first three outs and they break to commercial. Then the bottom drops out. Words like Cialis, Viagra, and ED roll through the air before I can find the mute button. Now the sound is off, but we see an image of individual bathtubs with a couple in their late 50s sitting in them, outside nonetheless, holding hands and giving us a glimpse of that “right moment.” Now, instead of fielding questions about the infield fly rule and my little league super stardom, I’m on the hot seat. “Dad, what is ED? Do people really take baths outside together? What does the “right moment” mean?”

Good, the game is back on. Whew! After a couple of hits, I hear, “We’ll be right back after a short break.” Like a fisherman grabbing for a rod with a spinning reel, I seize the remote. But, it’s just a Ford F-150 commercial. “No son, I’m not getting a truck. Sure, if you save up your money, when you get your license you can buy one.”

My safety doesn’t last long as Bud Light rolls out a well-done comical display of clumsy men and beautiful women saying with everything except words, “People, especially seductive models, will like you if you drink our brand.” What question will come now? “Daddy, is beer bad? What does it taste like? Why does so-and-so drink beer?”

All I could muster up after Cialis and Ford Truck Month was, “Well, son, what does it look like?”

“I don’t know, Dad.”

“To me, it looks like a pitcher of horse pee,” I replied. “When you are 21 you can decide whether or not you want to drink horse pee. Until then, it’s off limits.”

Not my best fatherly moment, but the “yuck” equine urine seemed to kick the can a few innings down the road. Sex, cars and brew: not what I expected to put in my 3rd grader’s mind when I clicked on the TV. We were just looking for a little bonding over baseball.

Maybe I’m an old fogey at 40. I readily admit I can be judgmental, or maybe–just maybe–parents care more for their families than marketers. So how do we parent in these rip tide currents that try to pull our children away?

1. Realize you have to be involved.

Today’s world requires parents to be engaged. Unfortunately, the days of ‘be home when the street lights come on’ and “Love Boat” being as racy as it got on TV are long over. My wife and I caringly stay tuned in and have the guts to say, “We aren’t going to watch or listen to that.”

2. Ask questions about what they are watching to decide if it is appropriate.

a. Is this activity or attitude acceptable in the ‘real world’ or in our home? Behavior seen on many TV shows would mostly likely land your children in detention or time out.

b. How is authority portrayed? Are adults seen as bumbling and looking for direction from the kids, or are they respectable leaders? How our children see authority on TV will translate to how they see their parents and teachers.

c. Is evil portrayed as good, desirable, or something to cheer for? Darkness portrayed as light is the height of deception.

d. Finally, does it hurt or help your heart for God? The shows we watch have the ability to influence how our children view and relate to our Heavenly Father.

3. Realize the goal is discernment.

There will soon be a day when your children are out of the house and have to make their own decisions. A discerning heart lasts far longer than a hovering parent. We have to help that discernment develop. Discernment comes from teaching “why” – not just “what.”

4. Set parameters of screen time (computer, video games, and TV).

If there are no parameters, children will spend the majority of their time at home looking at a screen eating Oreos. Then, in a few years, everyone will wonder why the family doesn’t communicate.

Parameters are tough on parents, too. Screen time is the cheapest babysitter in town. But we are also creating in our children a need for a certain amount of screen time that we won’t be able to control once they are in college.

In our home, more screen time can be bought back by reading. One hour spent with a good book earns thirty additional minutes of screen time.

5. Use the subject matter in commercials to start conversations.

If you’re not already talking with your elementary school children about drinking, drugs, and sex, you better get started. You want the facts to come from you – not the locker room. Simply put, truthfully and clearly answer their questions. Whatever they don’t understand will simply go over their heads – no harm done. However, whatever they do understand will help them make decisions and build the foundation for future discussions.

6. When all else fails, grab the remote.

Crucial buttons exist on every remote: mute, fast forward, last channel and finally (drum roll please) – power. Simply turning the TV off and doing something together is a memory builder for kids.

The world has shifted and the marketers are not in your corner. Your money, not your child’s character, is their goal. Not even a father/son baseball moment is safe anymore. But be encouraged! With a bit of thought, bravery, and conversation, it can be used to your advantage – not theirs.

I have to run now. Instead of watching a game, my son and some neighborhood kids have their gloves and bats in the front yard ready to play. Outside, there will be laughter, sweat, fun and memories – but no need for the remote.