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I absolutely love that my 8th grade daughter wants to discuss concerns and temptations with me as she gets older. I love that she is learning to stand on her own feet, in her own faith, when confronted by various overt lures, by bullies, or by the damaging in-your-face stuff we sometimes see in this culture. What I am wrestling with right now, though, is how to really get across how dangerous some of the subtle stuff can be.

Every summer we spend a lot of time with our wonderful extended family who live overseas, and who we only see about once a year. My kids love hanging with their cousins, who are similar ages and just the sweetest girls on the planet. But it is interesting to watch the dynamic whenever it is time to put in a DVD movie, read books or listen to music – because their family simply has much different media standards than ours.

Jeff and I have especially tried to keep sexual content out of our kids’ minds, so we’ll fast-forward through questionable sections of PG-13 movies. But their cousins have been watching explicit R-rated movies for years. Similarly, we haven’t allowed our kids to read their cousins’ favorite vampire books or listen to some of their music that has inappropriate lyrics.

The cousins frequently ask what our “rule” is, so they can honor it (like I said, they are good kids). But ultimately, when Jeff and I scratch our heads over whether the answer is “yes” or “no” to a certain book, movie, TV show or magazine, it is not about a certain amount of violence or even a certain amount of bad language or sex – it is the MESSAGE that concerns me the most. How do you explain that to a young teenager in a way that they can “get” – since they think they can handle any message without necessarily absorbing it? Yes, they’ll gradually have to get there – but I can tell they aren’t quite there yet.

None of this was really a problem until this summer, when, inevitably, my daughter was told by her cousins that she would “love” a particular movie starring one of her favorite actresses. It was only PG-13, so she assumed it would be fine to watch it. But when I quickly looked up the reviews on a few sites like PluggedIn.com, I groaned. It was saturated with sex, drugs and lots of more subtly damaging messages she’s probably not yet able to evaluate well; messages like “you should celebrate anything that makes you feel better about yourself.” Along with the more obvious ones like, “sleeping around is okay.”

So, the dilemma on things like this is: do I simply say ‘No’ to my daughter, which certainly is tempting? Or do I use this as an opportunity to talk her through some of the things she will see all around her once she goes to an enormous public high school in one year? Is preserving her sweet and still-innocent spirit the ideal? Or should I let her be exposed to the things she will inevitably see and hear soon enough – while she’s still so willing to talk with me about them? Should I even offer to watch the movie with her (blech) and ask her to try to identify the good and bad messages, with my help?

I am wrestling with this one. Would love the thoughts of any of you who have walked this road before me.