Years ago, I read the book “The Hedge of Thorns” to my children. The story tells of a sister and a brother and a hated hedge of thorns that rose high and grew wide.

It stood as a sentry along the road, and the brother became consumed to see the other side. One day, he decided that he and his sister would crawl through the hedge. He pushed her ahead, but her painful cries paused his desire.

If he would have succeeded in getting through, he would have pushed his sister to her imminent death. This hedge of thorns, ugly and towering, protected passersby from falling into a swampy abyss.

Hedges of Protection

When our children are young, we plant hedges of protection around our children. We put child-safety locks on cupboard doors and outlet covers in the outlets. We teach them to look both ways when they cross a street and to be wary of stranger’s tricks. We remember to keep them safe physically.

But what about mental, emotional, and spiritual safety? Do we put boundaries in place to guard their hearts and minds?

Our children absorb so much. Before they’re born, we can speak to them and they know our voices from birth. As they reach toddlerhood hood mimicking their parents is a favorite pastime.

Elementary children ooze with possibility. Middle schoolers begin the pivot toward independence and teens learn how to make the decisions that benefit their future. We begin as the gatekeepers of their hearts and as they grow, we work our way out of the job.

Since the eyes and ears are the pathways to the heart, it makes sense to guard what our kids see, listen to, and read.

We provide healthy food for our children because we want their bodies to grow healthy and strong. We limit sweets because we know too much isn’t good for the long-term growth and health of our children.

Music and entertainment reflect the worldview of its creator. It can help or hinder growing faith. But with so much media to rifle through, how can you decide what your kids watch? Especially over different ages?

Why We Should Guard Our Children’s Hearts

The eyes are the gateway to our soul, Matthew 6:22. Our soul is the place where our will, emotions, and thoughts reside.

What we consume consumes us. Discernment is a key skill to teach our children. Until they learn it for themselves, we must protect our children’s hearts and minds. God has gifted us with children, and we need to steward his gifts by doing our best for them.

What’s inside a heart makes its way to the outside in behavior, Mark 7:23.

When my kids were little, their level of disrespect for each other grew when I didn’t limit their viewing time with a certain children’s show. These behaviors increased from their normal attitudes toward one another. Because, siblings, right? But the more they watched this show, the more I needed to deal with behavior that needed redirecting. This was an “ah-ha” moment in parenting, and I saw the importance of guarding what they watched. The less they watched this show, the less these behaviors came up.

Protecting our children doesn’t mean ensuring they have a trouble-free life. It means equipping them with faith skills to navigate the trouble they will face, (Proverb 3:5-6).

Depressing music, violent video games, and horror movies desensitize our children to the influencing nature of music, trusting God to be our avenger, and staying sensitive to the move of the Holy Spirit. This means that we teach them how to turn to God with their sorrow, disappointments, and frustrations rather than to the latest trend in entertainment.

God calls us to be renewed by the transforming of our minds, Romans 12:2. One way to do this is not be conformed to the world but be conformed to Christ.

Music can be a wonderful way to express the heart’s angst, but a constant diet of angsty music does not help conform one to the image of Christ. We can help our children learn to renew their mind by being aware of what they’re listening to, reading, and watching and helping guide them in their choices. Sometimes they need to take a break for a bit, eliminate something completely, or treat it like a “once in a while” desert.

Guarding our kid’s hearts leads to peace, Phil 4:7. The world longs for peace, but worldly peace isn’t the kind that carries us through trials.

God’s peace comes when we guard our hearts and minds. As parents, we get the job and it is a job, of guarding what goes in our kids. Our kids have their own set of issues that God will use to refine them, let’s not compound the problem by opening wide the gate to their heart for anything to march right on in.

God calls us to teach his ways to our children, Titus 2:2. Scripture encourages us to teach, to not hinder someone else’s growth, to bear with one another. It’s tempting to focus on outward behavior because that is what we see in the moment. But behavior indicates heart status.

Focus on the heart by asking these 3 questions that take thought to answer:

1. Does It Help or Hinder Faith in Christ?

It’s important to consider the impact of what our kid’s see, read, and hear has on their heart’s position before Christ.

A litmus test for most entertainment can be found in Philippians 4:8. Very few books, songs, or shows are neutral in their worldview.

Read, watch and listen with a discerning heart.

2. What Behaviors Result Afterward? 

Behavior reflects the inward thoughts and feelings. When my children were young, I discovered a direct correlation between certain shows and certain behaviors. Evaluating behavior after entertainment is one way to guard our children’s hearts and minds.

It also teaches them to consider their own behaviors in relation to their choices in entertainment. As they matured, they were able to differentiate between what they watched and how they responded.

3. What Are the Prevailing Internal Thoughts after the Entertainment?

I like good stories whether they’re in written form or movies. But if I watch too many rom-coms I develop a distorted view of relationships and grow disappointed with my reality.

If that’s my response as an adult, think about how our teens might respond in their developing minds and hearts. We can teach our children to be discerning by encouraging them to pay attention to what kinds of thoughts they have.

Thoughts reveal where our heart is, and thoughts eventually become actions.

Hope for the Parent’s Heart

It’s never too late to start.

Our Lord redeems, regenerates, and renews us. He uses our regrets to make a new way for us to walk in. With young children, start today by having basic conversations around respect and kindness or whatever issues you find you seem to address on repeat.

For older children, I’ve found coming to them with a humble heart and having a series of conversations on what they watch, listen to or read, is the starting point. Bring everything back to the first question.

Does “this song, movie, or book” help or hinder my faith? Does it point my heart to trust in God’s faithfulness or cause me to doubt? Keep having those conversations.

Keep coming back to the Bible and those verses that implore us to guard our hearts. And pray.

Pray for your kids to want to guard their hearts and ask the Lord to keep them soft. Live humbly before your kids, with an awareness that we don’t always get it right, but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us.

He also enables us to follow him and live right lives before him.

This world is a harsh place. By placing guardrails around what we can, it gives our kids a safe place to grow into the young men and women God designs them to be.

It also gives them the power to choose what they allow in their minds and hearts. The instancy of this life sets our kids on a dizzying pace. Giving them boundaries as well as guidelines for what they consume helps them slow down and make choices that grow their hearts and relationship with the Lord.

Mom and Dad, we have so much on our plates. I don’t want to add one more thing you should do, but I want to encourage you to do the best you can with what you have.

Keep things simple and begin by asking the question, “How does “this” help or hinder faith?” Hopefully, this will spark some great discussions in your family.

Boundaries create opportunities for growth.

Related: Listen to Our FREE Parenting Podcast! 

Parenting in this day and age is not for the faint at heart. Mama Take Heart host Robrenna Redl is here to help equip and empower you with resources and practical takeaways, whether you’re looking for ways to intentionally connect or to have hard conversations. So don’t fret. Instead, take heart!

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Jessica Van Roekel is a worship leader, speaker, and writer who writes at sharing hope-filled inspiration addressing internal hurts in the light of God’s transforming grace. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future. Jessica lives in rural Iowa with her husband and family. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.