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American Idol the Family Show?
How Much is Too Much?
An article from Jonathan McKee at

Appropriate, inappropriate, appropriate, inappropriate… which is it? American Idol is proving to be just a bit bi-polar.

If you’re like me, you might find it difficult to find clean family entertainment today. “Let’s see—Discovery Channel, rent the Narnia films, catch Soul Surfer in the theatre… now what?” Is there any appropriate TV programming? Or more specifically, is American Idol a good choice for families?

Blurry Lines
My family watches a few shows together each week, one being American Idol. But episodes like the ones we’ve seen the last few weeks have made media discernment a little more difficult.

A few nights ago we witnessed some heartfelt moments on the show as we watched “the top three” go back to their hometowns for a welcome that even brought a security guard to tears. This year’s top contestants, particularly the top two, Scotty and Lauren, are proving to be pretty wholesome kids (emphasis on “kids” –these two are the youngest final two in Idol history).

Cut to a commercial… and 5 minutes later the Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger is strutting around half-dressed, literally singing about being dirty while rapper 50 Cent is trying to grind up against her.

Did someone switch the channel?

This seems to be the template for most the shows of recent. A week ago we had some touching moments with the contestants we’ve grown to love, then a moment later we watched Beyonce move and gyrate her femininity in a way that would probably provide a dictionary definition of the American Psychological Association’s term “sexualization.” The week prior, Gaga, and Enrique Iglesias pushed the lines. Katy Perry and Kanye West before that.

I don’t want to come off as a prude, nor do I want to preach the opposite—no boundaries! But American Idol has been bouncing me back and forth like a ping-pong ball. In one moment, I’m seeing good family values, but in the next moment, overt sexuality.

Parents have a decision to make. How much is too much?

Preparing Our Kids to Choose
Sadly, our kids are going to be literally saturated with this kind of media in the real world, and we parents need to teach our kids discernment so they will learn to make good media choices. After all, some day they’ll be out on their own and they can watch whatever they want.

This became a reality to me this week. My son Alec just turned 18. He’s heading off to college in just a couple months, and I am well aware… he can watch whatever he wants then. Who’s to stop him?

The question is, did I prepare him for those choices?

In the handful of years that parents have with their kids, they need to teach their kids to make responsible media decisions. This is easy with some channels:
    Animal Planet- yes

    MTV- no
In the same way, some shows are blatantly irresponsible, shows like Two and Half Men that are littered with casual sex with no apparent consequences. Reports like the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Sex and the Media report make it clear that this kind of programming is harmful to our kids.

But what about shows like American Idol. After all, that same AAP report encourages parents to co-watch shows with teenagers (rather than letting kids have free reign with the television). Is American Idol okay to co-watch?

Whether or not you decide to allow your kids to watch the show, here’s a few considerations to ponder:

  • Who are the role models on this show? What kinds of character qualities are required of these role models? Are teenagers influenced by the people on this show? (people vote with their wallets)

  • We don’t even need to ask the question, “Are teenage boys ‘turned on’ when they watch J-lo, Beyonce or Nicole Scherzinger dance provocatively on the show?” The answer is yes. The question is, is this lust? What does the Bible say about lust? What does the Bible say to do when we encounter sexual immorality?

  • At what point does a TV show need to be turned off? What Biblical values support this?

If you decide to let them watch the show, take the advice of the experts and at least “co-watch” it with your kids. That way, you can look for teaching moments, even discussing some of the above principles.

The last few episodes of American Idol have given me and my family plenty to think about. We’re tired of being “sidelined” with questionable content from questionable personalities. We’ll have to seriously consider whether this show is even worth it for season 11. It's too bad because the list of "family" entertainment on TV is growing more and more slim.

But there are other shows on other networks. We’ll be paying close attention. I suggest you do, too.

What do you think? Where do you think parents need to draw the line? Post your comments below.

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   dan manns         5/28/2011 7:30:46 PM

oh my gosh Jonathan! The finale was horrible! They saved the WORST for Last! I was embarrassed for Jennifer Lopez. There were way too many 'fast forward moments' and not enough 'family moments', Worst show of the season from a family friendly viewing standpoint. it was nice of them to invite kirk franklin and recognized his accomplishments but his appearance was trumped but the abnormally excessive lewdness of the other performances.

   James         5/26/2011 6:27:13 PM

We don't have any kids at home now but I have already decided not to watch the show next year. I probably should have nixed it shortly after it started this year. It's not fit for kids or adults. It it not a family show anymore and the stuff they are selling including the commercials are trash. I don't want to pollute my mind anymore.

   Bryon         5/25/2011 10:02:12 AM

Great many who have posted, we also co-watch AI with our kids (10 and 13) and have been equally puzzled by the choices FOX seems to make. I love it when my 13 year old daughter expresses her sadness and disgust about what Lady Gaga and all these others who make their appearances are doing. Your article made me think about how I need to be talking about the sexual content with my 10 yr old son. He's repulsed by girls now, but it wont be long before that changes and I need to be the one doing the teaching...not FOX or all these other networks! thanks!

   Karen Limkeman         5/24/2011 11:35:58 PM

Imagine this scenario. Jesus rings our doorbell right after the dinner dishes are done and says he is in the area on business and has a free night. He wants to know if he can hang out with our family tonight. He says, "Just do what you normally would do. I just want to be with you." If suddenly we're squeamish about doing what we normally would do, then we need to make some changes. Every single thing we watch on t.v. or in the movies should be something we could imagine Jesus enjoying right next to us, because that is where he already is.

   Jill With         5/24/2011 6:15:13 PM

Enjoyed your article about American Idol, we co-watch and fast forward almost all the commercials and parts of the show too. Our middle school kids live in the real world at a public school and tend to find the sexual stuff on TV disgusting. Music in general is a little more difficult to curb with our son because he likes rap music,some of which is christian yet most of it is secular .. Argghhh! We are doing a music theme for youth group right now and we were able to use your resources last week on Lady Gaga . Thank you soooo much!

   Julie         5/24/2011 3:28:41 PM

I totally agree with you Jonathan. I'm glad that my kids go to bed before 8 while they are still young, but I'll definitely be investing in a DVR when they start to stay up later. Personally, I hope Scotty wins even though he isn't my favorite singer. At least he won't turn into a diva. No doubt Lauren will be just like all the others after a few years.

   DeNova         5/24/2011 10:58:51 AM

Thank you Jonathan. I value your comments. We simply don't watch TV in our household. Our 9 and 11 year old children have grown up not even knowing what AI is. Instead they watch DVDs like Gilligan's Island, Andy Griffith, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes. We also subscribe to Netflix, but it's completely under parental control. As for other screen time, they play a little Mario Kart, Mathletics, or American Girl games, etc too. Do our children feel deprived? NO. They have developed a taste for more wholesome fare. So when they come across questionable shows away from home, they have an innate sense of whether it's good to watch. Help your children develop a taste for what's good and pure early on. Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things

   Sylvia Lazo         5/24/2011 9:33:50 AM

Sadly enough, you are right on re: American Idol, as well as some of the other shows that were once( some recently) billed as wholesome family entertainment. My husband and I also watch AI, and were unpleasantly surprised at the grinding and filth that this 'family' show allows on now. While our 3 children are now married and on their own, the 2 of us turned the show to another channel when the 'dirty' sining, dancing, whatever, began. The Billboard Music Awards were no different. How we thank God for Christians who are producing some good family entertainment. Yet we know, we need more of it! Thank you Jonathan, for your stand, for your willingness to speak out for the kids~ We loveyou, Don & Sylvia

   Brenda Berry         5/24/2011 9:20:47 AM

I never watched American Idol until a few seasons ago. The "professional" acts shown on AI are totally inappropriate at any age. If this is the way the show is going to be, I won't be watching it.

   Janet         5/24/2011 9:11:11 AM

I am so glad you posted these comments about Amer. Idol. My husband and I were watching the other night, and thought the exact same thing -- wondered what families with small children were thinking, and if the children were old enough to weigh in, what kind of questions were being asked. They do the same thing on So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars -- Was thinking I'm just an old poop (at 53) -- so glad to know I'm not alone out here. Thank goodness for DVRs where you can fast-forward through this stuff. Keep up the good work!

   Mary Olson         5/24/2011 8:37:47 AM

TV is a love-hate relationship, although lately it's definitely leaning heavily towards the hate side. I remember back in the early days of TV, getting to watch a snippet of the Beatles performing the first time in the USA and my mean, terrible mother ruining my life (NOT!) by turning off the TV. She didn't just turn it off and leave it at that though, she proceded to tell me in love why she thought the Beatles were not a good influence on us as her kids and on the world in general. At the time I just thought she was narrow-minded and a destroyer-of-my-life but at the same time I could sense that she was at least caring about us and wanting to teach us discernment. I have used that same method with our kids as they've grown up - setting boundaries but talking about them, the heart issue of our choices and why Jesus cares very much about what we view. That being said, we have been watching AI also with remote-in-hand. The channel gets changed (we don't have DVR) when the guest singers come on stage. Which makes me wonder why I want these kids to succeed - so they can develop into that type of performer? (Like I said, it's a love-hate relationship!) And thanks for your articles, Jonathan. I always appreciate your honesty and taking on the tough issues of life.

   Dan Manns         5/24/2011 7:59:55 AM

jonathan, as a parent of 4 i feel the same way regarding appropriate media for our family to watch together. when it comes to american idol, my kids love it and we do watch it as a family with a stipulation. this is where the beauty of the DVR comes in - a benefit the previous parenting generation did not enjoy. since we are watching it together and mom and dad have the final say - we're able to breeze past all the inappropriate performances. this of course does not help you when steven tyler decides to drop a lude comment (for a former rock star i actually thought he'd be worse in the language department than he's been!). And yes, the teaching moments abound! as much as i don't like his voice i really appreciate scotty and his character - he hasn't compromised his conviction. the episode with lady gaga was disappointing for me listening to her talk lauren into singing the 'i'm evil' line in her song. again, another teaching moment! thanks jon for another great article!

   Rich Jones         5/24/2011 7:24:46 AM

Great post, Jonathan. Our family watches AI, together, too. However, we almost never watch any programming live, and that way we have control over what is seen in the house. I believe that is why God created the DVR. (Yes, of course, I know that God din't create was probably Al Gore.) However, it's become a great teaching moment in our family, and my kids (15 & 10 year old girls) are usually as quick to react to something we should not be viewing as my wife and I are now. Is AI ok to co-watch? I would agree, that it is worth attempting, as long as you are having meaningful dialogue with your teens about why people's behavior or values are different than yours, and if you can control how much of the "trashy" parts enter the home. I can say that I am quite pleased with the discerning kids we are raising. That being said, I am not in favor of the sexually-driven direction of the show at times, but I love the good moments. Scotty & Lauren have been awesome, and as a family, we are looking forward to their careers, and we are hopeful for the potential marks THEY will leave on our culture. Thanks for the post. Great stuff.

   Kenny         5/23/2011 1:36:21 PM

It's not easy being a parent today. Thanks for this, especially the questions to ponder.


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