When Chao-Koh Ai Jin realised what her youngest daughter had been watching on TV, she felt rather disturbed. The 10-year-old was watching Hollywood sitcoms that featured adult themes like sex and romance, which Ezrela was not quite ready for.
“I explained to her why I didn’t want her to be exposed to these themes yet,” she says. “We had a conversation about it, and we agreed on what she could or could not watch.”
At home, all her three children—Ezrela, 11; Emma, 14; and Elijah, 16—have to keep to certain screen time guidelines: No TV on weekdays except Fridays, and not more than three hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
But on top of this, Ai Jin monitors what they watch and how they use their phones and mobile devices.
She sees her parental role not just as one of a shepherd guiding his sheep, but also as a “gatekeeper”.
“I am the gatekeeper of my house,” explains the senior counsellor at Barker Road Methodist Church.
“If our kids know God’s voice, they won’t follow a stranger.”
“I watch the gates, windows, and doors—TV, mobile phones, computer—to check what worldviews come into the home to make sure I know what influences my kids. There is a deluge of information streaming in through their devices and I keep up as best as I can. Instead of worrying about what’s going on outside, I watch what comes into the home.”
This is not an easy task, given her busy schedule. Apart from being a full-time counsellor, Ai Jin is also pursuing a masters theology degree in recovery ministry.
But she believes that it is an important task that she has to carry out as the shepherd of her children.
“Gatekeeping is about protecting the home and keeping my children safe,” she says. “It is not only a primary responsibility, but also the most important God-given role for me as a parent.”
The Gatekeeper’s Role
Ai Jin’s role is based on Jesus’ description of His role as a shepherd and gatekeeper in John 10:3–16.
This passage lists out the gatekeeper’s duties: He opens or closes the gate (v. 3), is known by the sheep (vv. 3,4), calls the sheep by name (v. 3), leads them out and goes ahead of them (vv. 3,4), and finds pasture for them (v. 9).
It frames Ai Jin’s relationship between herself and God, and her role as a parent. She explains: “As a parent, do I know and listen to God’s voice? Can I tell apart His voice and that of the world? Will I be misled by a thief who steals my time or instils fear in me? Or, do I follow God and find pasture in His values and ways?”
As the gatekeeper for her children, Ai Jin tries to monitor what her children are watching on TV and online, what games they play, what songs they’re listening to, and who they’re communicating with.
She does this by asking them about what they do, and sets limits on how much time they can spend watching TV and using their mobile phones, so that they can spend time on other activities.
“I need to know what’s coming through my door, and what and who influences my children,” she says. “I need to discern how these influences impact and shape them, and evaluate them in the light of God’s Word and biblical principles.”
“Our children need to know our voice—our values, our beliefs, our expectations.
Ai Jin stresses, however, that gatekeeping does not necessarily translate into an ultra-strict regime. “We need to have flexibility and have conversations about this with our children. We need to hear their opinions, thoughts, and preferences, with the goal of modelling a respectful relationship,” she says. “In fact, a lot of educational material and new skills are learnt from the internet.”
The conversations also give her opportunities to help her children deal with life’s challenges.
Once, when her daughter complained of being bullied online, she took the chance to teach her how to respond.
Ai Jin also stresses that she doesn’t say no to everything.
“There are positive and negative influences. I pay attention to what they see, but I don’t shut them down. I don’t close all the doors and windows of the home, or else there will be no fresh air or sunlight. You have to keep your doors and windows open, but watch what you let in.”
Knowing Your Sheep
The description of the good shepherd in John 10:1–16 mentions several times how the good shepherd knows his sheep individually and personally (vv. 3 and 14).
Similarly, as a gatekeeper, Ai Jin believes she needs to know her children well so that she can work on boundaries that suit their character and preferences.
“We need to know what’s going on inside the house,” she says. “We need to know our children’s personalities, strengths, passions, and inclinations.”
“We need to have flexibility and have conversations about this with our children. We need to hear their opinions, thoughts, and preferences, with the goal of modelling a respectful relationship,”
For example, she is careful not to over-restrict how Emma dresses. “She is more artistic, and I don’t always see eye to eye with her choice of clothes,” says Ai Jin.
“I’ll set the limit on how short a skirt can be, but I’ll let her choose the colour and style. I don’t stifle her individuality, but promote what’s within acceptable, biblical boundaries.”
And, while being a gatekeeper means monitoring and controlling the influences that enter the home, Ai Jin stresses that it’s not just about making and enforcing rules.
Knowing her kids’ personalities and moods helps her to be flexible—such as allowing them to watch TV on weekdays if she sees that they’re really stressed. “I try to be balanced and flexible,” she says.
Finding Good Pasture
One of the roles of a good shepherd is finding pasture for his sheep (John 10:9). The shepherd also cares deeply for his sheep (vv. 13–15). Ai Jin translates this into making the home a “refuge” for her family.
“I want the home to be a place where they will find peace. Our home is a sanctuary for them, a place where they can rest and not be stressed,” she says.
This, she adds, is an essential part of being a gatekeeper. Not only is she monitoring what comes into the home, but she is also looking at how to help her kids grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—by providing good pasture for such growth.
“I want the home to be a place where they will find peace. Our home is a sanctuary for them, a place where they can rest and not be stressed.”
Says Ai Jin: “I ask myself questions like, ‘How are they doing? How are they growing? What do I need to do to help them grow and anchor them in the Christian faith? What do they need to learn for life? What makes them happy? What are their interests, and how can we go about pursuing them? How can I help them rest and relax from academic pressures? What healthy communities can I build around them? What things can we do as a family, to build a sense of belonging?’ I then go out to explore opportunities and seek solutions that work for us, in accordance to my faith and values.”
This is where knowing her children well is important.
Ai Jin knows which child prefers to talk just before bedtime, which child likes to chat right after returning home from school, and which child needs a little more coaxing to open up.
Leading The Way
Just as the shepherd plays an important role in leading his sheep in the right way (John 10:3–4, 10), Ai Jin believes that she needs to model a godly life for her kids.
“But to model the right behaviour, I need to be an obedient sheep myself first,” she says.
Ai Jin admits that when she used to be more stressed, she would shout a lot more—“even our neighbours could hear”. But she realised that this was giving her kids a bad example to follow.
“If I’m always shouting and screaming in the house, they will do the same,” she notes.
Ai Jin also points to the repeated references in John 10 on how the sheep know the shepherd’s voice (vv. 3–5, 14, 16).
“We need to know our children’s personalities, strengths, passions, and inclinations.”
“Our children need to know our voice—our values, our beliefs, our expectations. We need to communicate to them our faith and show them that our faith influences how we live—how we value and respect each other, how we worship, how we solve problems, and how we relate to other people.”
Ai Jin and her husband Bernard thus make it a point to keep to their regular family devotions, prayer, and worship.
They also talk to the kids about how they approach their challenges in life and how they cope with pressure and people’s expectations.
Letting Them Grow
The ultimate aim of the gatekeeper in John 10:3–16 is to ensure that those who enter “may have life, and have it to the full”.
In the same way, Ai Jin sees her role as preparing children inside the home for what they will face outside.
There is a deluge of information streaming in through their devices and I keep up as best as I can. Instead of worrying about what’s going on outside, I watch what comes into the home.
At a practical level, it means bringing a biblical perspective to what her kids watch on YouTube and TV, like discussing the values that are portrayed and comparing them to what the Bible teaches.
And, it means helping them go back to God’s Word when dealing with everyday problems.
Once, when her youngest daughter came back upset because she had frozen during an interview to be a prefect, Ai Jin took time to talk to her about dealing with disappointment and loss.
“I cannot protect them forever, but I can prepare them for the challenges they might face and model the godly life for them,” she says. “If our kids know God’s voice, they won’t follow a stranger.”
Tips On How To Be A Gatekeeper
- Set limits and guidelines on how much time your child can spend on the TV, phone, mobile device, or computer
- Take time to watch the kind of shows, music and websites they visit, and the apps they download, to get a better understanding
- Be open in explaining these limits (for example, pin them on the fridge), and adjust them as your child grows up
- Establish routines and habits that support the rules (e.g,. fixed bedtimes, no phones at dinner)
- Be consistent and transparent with the rules (especially when there is more than one child)
- Be flexible with the rules, depending on the situation and children’s personality and needs
- Talk to your child regularly about the latest trends and what he does online.
- Be open and stay trendy too!