Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What Can a DAD Do About…

Combating The Negative Influences Of Today’s Media?

Imagine someone trying to break down your front door, threatening your family’s safety and seeking to steal valuable items from your home. What would your reaction be? The warrior-protector in you no doubt would immediately be triggered and you would be willing to put yourself between the intruder and your family.

Now let’s change the scenario slightly. This time, imagine that the intruder is ALREADY IN YOUR HOME and in order to wreak havoc upon you and your family members he is deceptively handing out worthless trinkets while robbing your home of items of REAL and LASTING value. Now what would you do? Is this situation any less dangerous than the first one?

This second imaginary situation is very close to what faces us as fathers of faith, as spiritual heads of our homes today in regards to the potentially harmful influence of the media upon our families.

Marshall McLuhan, in the 1960’s, was somewhat of a prophet concerning the growing negative influence of the media. He was able to clearly see, even back then, the danger that the media’s increasing power presented to both the individual and the family. He is the one who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” He also gave the simple warning about television’s power to change our lives when he said, “We become what we behold.”

Today, 73 percent of Americans say that the entertainment industry has a negative impact upon the moral values in their families. And a survey among 695 pastors of all different denominations, conducted by the Southern Baptists’ Lifeway organization rated “Negative Media Influences” as second only to “Divorce” as the biggest threat to the American family today. (Divorce had 43 percent while Negative Media Influences came in a close second with 38 percent.)

If we feel such a threat from the media, why do we seem so powerless to thwart its impact upon our families? Why do we allow the media to do so much damage, even when we know it is doing it?

I believe that McLuhan provides us a very insightful tool, that we can call “The Extension and Amputation Concept," in order to understand the unique challenge that the media presents to our families. This tool will help us understand how the “intruder” (the media) has been so readily welcomed into our homes and why, once he is allowed in, he is able to do so much harm.

As I write this article on my laptop computer, I am sitting in the park across the street from my Redmond, Washington office, watching cars whizzing by on the side street. In a real sense, every person who drives one of those cars has decided to extend his or her feet by sitting in a car and pushing on the gas pedal. They are utilizing these vehicles to extend their natural walking abilities to become more mobile. But, correspondingly, each has accepted an “amputation,” in that by driving, the physically beneficial activity of walking has been sacrificed. The trade-off is generally deemed acceptable and many compensate for this exercise loss by driving to the gym or doing some other physical activity.

Now in the same way, let’s take a look at what has been gained by our families when we utilize the media as we do today. In other words, let’s start by first asking, “How has the media extended, or bettered our lives?”

Television and the Internet open up and extend our eyes into new worlds, to an almost unlimited amount of perspectives and experiences of others. They are enjoyable and entertaining. We can become like omnipresent voyeurs, peering into the lives of people all around the world. MySpace and YouTube have not only extended our eyes but also our voices. We can be heard by literally thousands of people, providing a heady dose of empowerment to both youths and adults. The cell phone, with its ability to provide instant text messaging or phone calling, extends the ears and the touch of a person anywhere at anytime. The iPod allows people to hear what they want when they want and not bother anybody else while listening.

Certainly these “extensions” can have positive payoffs. But at what price do we pay for these gains? And is the cost of the “extensions” worth the cost of the “amputations?”

Let’s first think through what goes on with our teens. Granted, the exercise of watching, listening, and speaking peer-to-peer, is part of normal, healthy, social growth. However, the additional media involvement becomes time consuming and distracts our teens from doing some very basic things, such as homework and sleeping! (Have you been around a teen lately who is a little sleep deprived?!)

Negative peer influences likely will increase through the devotion to interactive media. And even the more passive media, such as the television and music downloads, clearly pose a threat to the formation of a young person’s faith.

Then what is lost in our teens as they grow up in homes that consume media (television, Internet, iPod music downloads, cell phones, etc.) without restraint? What are the potential “amputations?”

The teen that is a voracious media consumer can easily become blind to others in the home. As his or her eyes are focused upon “friends” or the message of the medium, he or she finds it increasingly difficult to “see” parents or siblings. They soon become deaf to the message that their parents seek to pass onto them, a message that seeks to instill faith and values. As they travel through cyberspace they absent themselves from the only real space they do inhabit, their own home. As they hear the many voices of their peers and of the culture they have an increasingly difficult time hearing the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and can lose any real desire to read the seemingly less compelling, by comparison, black and white pages of God's Word.

Here are a few simple ideas that my wife and I have found helpful that I pass on to you:

#1 - Monitor and limit your children’s television and computer time, as well as their music consumption. If you allow your kids on MySpace, check in regularly to see what they are doing. Figure out a reasonable amount of time to be on and then hold them accountable to get off. If they don’t get off they lose the privilege to be on for the next day or so. Keep the computer in a visible place in the house and not tucked away somewhere. Occasionally listen to what your kids listen to on their iPod or CDs, and if it is unacceptable, tell them why.

#2 - Watch television programs together as a family when you can. With TiVo and excellent family-friendly CDs to rent, this is doable. There is a difference between just “watching TV” solo and choosing to watch a particular program together. Some families have a regular “Family Movie Night” once a week, complete with the popcorn. This is a great idea to build family togetherness.

#3 - Talk about the messages that are coming at your family through the media. The Hebrew father was instructed to talk about God’s word with his children when he rose in the morning, as he walked along the road and as he went about daily business. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) Fathers today need to see the media as a part of everyday life, of their way of “walking along the road” with this generation, and seek to capitalize on media messages as much as possible.

#4 - Unplug at least once a week. You WILL survive, once you get through those nasty withdrawal symptoms! Board games don’t have to be “bored games” and reading together (when the kids are young) or separately in the same room, when they are older, can be a very healthy, positive family-bonding experience. Also, spend some unplugged time at home every night. For example it could be a good rule of thumb that after 10 p.m. computers are logged off, televisions and cell phones are turned off (unless you have a teenager out there at night, and in that case, keep that cell phone on!)

Okay, so now what? If you have read this far in the article you may be thinking, as I have had to admit, “Guilty as charged!” You may feel it is too late, that the intruder we call “the media” is already well entrenched in your home and you know that he isn’t going anywhere.

As I see it you and I really have only two choices. Choice #1: We kick him out all together and agree with our wives that it is time to get unplugged; that it is time to throw out our television set (or sets), get off the Internet and throw our cell phones into the nearest lake. Choice #2: We sit him down and give him some tight, well thought through boundaries of what he IS and what he is NOT allowed to do in our homes!

Click to comment. How have you dealt with the media in your home? What have YOU found helpful?


Anonymous said...

It would be nice to be able to zoom back 50 years when young kids (elementary school age) found things to do OUTSIDE the house like playing a pick-up game of baseball, riding bikes, thinking up creative games with sticks and rocks and rubber balls. Today, too many kids are inside doing inactive things like watching the stupid TV, zooming the internet, sending emails (like I'm doing right now, AHEM!), etc. The fact that there are more obese children than at any time in America's history is not a surprise.
Realistically, we cannot toss out the TV, the iPods, the computers. But, we can and must control them. I thank the Lord that my children are grown and didn't get hooked into the hypnotic media obsession. My wife and I don't have an iPod, we use the computer in our work and just emailing friends, we watch a minimal amount of TV (99% is watching the news). We are basically boring, but we have a genuine life...one that is outside of the media glitz.
I encourage everyone to pass Jamie Bohnett's article along to friends and loved ones. We need to take heed AND take action.

Bill Wippel said...

Jamie: I missed part of your wonderful essay as the artwork covered some of your text.

My background is the media, 57 years of being a broadcaster. I record commentaries and radio spots for 6 Eastern and Central Washington Christian radio stations right from kitchen. It's amazing how easy it is to edit sound. When I stated we had to cut the tape, splice here and there and hope the splice would hold when it crossed over the recorders "heads".

My point is that we as Christians do not demonstrate enough to our children how to use the internet and the media in a positive way; expressing our Christian stand in comparison to the World's stand.

When a moral issue rises in a newspaper or electronic publication, I try and get my comments to the media outlet. Often, I am laughed at. But occasionally I do get published. But that one story tells my kids and my 9 grandchildren how to be sane, sensible and sincere where morality counts.

Christianity started with 4 reporters and look how the Holy Spirit uses it today! The Bible is still the best seller in the world. Forget Harry Potter.

The old Disney Movie "Song of the South" was right. "..accentuate the poisitive, eliminate the negative and don't mess with Mister (God) in between."