Family Movie Night
by Dr. Ted Baehr
According to USA Today, 80% of parents are very worried about their children and the mass media of entertainment’s influence on them. A new study of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Research Group shows that America’s youths are growing more resistant and skeptical to Christianity than were people of the same age a decade ago. Thus, currently only 16% of young non-Christians said they have a “good impression” of Christianity and only 3% have a favorable view of evangelicals, compared to 25% of young non-Christians viewing evangelicals in the Baby Boomer generation.
Recently, USA Today noted that 70% of Americans were unable to name the Ten Commandments. In a culture where physical health is a higher priority than spiritual vitality, another recent survey found that more Americans are familiar with the specific ingredients in a McDonald’s hamburger than know the individual commands that comprise the Ten Commandments.
Many Christian parents are concerned about the influence of media violence on their children, but many of those who are concerned don’t know what to do about the problem. The good news is that there are effective ways to teach your children to be media-wise.
As the director of the TV Center at City University of New York, I helped develop some of the first media literacy courses in the late 1970s. Since then, years of research have produced a very clear understanding of the best way to teach media literacy. Specifically, there are five keys of media wisdom that will help build the culture-wise family.
Key 1: Understand the influence of the media on your children. In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, CBS President Leslie Moonves put it quite bluntly: “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot.” The major medical associations have concluded that there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and aggressive behavior. Of course, media is only one part of the problem—a problem that could be summed up with the sage biblical injunction, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33). As the results of thousands of studies on youth violence prove, watching media violence causes violence among children. Bad company corrupts good character—whether that bad company is gangs, peer pressure or violent movies, video games and television programs.
Key 2: Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development. Not only do children see the media differently at each stage of development, but also different children are susceptible to different stimuli. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health revealed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid, and many become desensitized. Just as an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so certain types of media may tempt or influence your child at his or her specific stage of development.
Key 3: Teach your children how the media communicates its message. Just as children spend the first 14 years of their lives learning grammar with respect to the written word, they also need to be taught the grammar of twenty-first-century mass media so that they can think critically about the messages being programmed for them.
Key 4: Help your children know the fundamentals of Christian faith. Children need to be taught the fundamentals of Christian faith so that they can apply their beliefs and moral values to the culture and to the mass media of entertainment. Of course, parents typically have an easier time than teachers with this key because they can freely discuss their personal beliefs. Yet, even so, it is interesting to note that cultural and media literacy and values education are two of the fastest growing areas in the academic community—a trend most likely due to the fact that educators are beginning to realize that something is amiss.
Key 5: Help your children learn how to ask the right questions. When children know the right questions to ask, they can arrive at the right answers to the problems presented by the mass media of entertainment. For instance, if the hero in the movie your child is watching wins by murdering and mutilating his victims, will your children be able to question this hero’s behavior, no matter how likable that character may be?
We need to help our children discern between the good, the bad and the ugly. Help them to refuse to waste their time on immoral, anti-Christian movies, but rather choose to support good quality family movies that honor God. Help them to take control over what is filling and forming their mind. Help them to be selective in their viewing choices.
Get informed. Be discerning. Every time you purchase a cinema ticket, rent or buy a DVD, you are casting a vote. Be sure that you only invest in family-friendly and God-honoring films.
Before Viewing a Video:
- Talk about the title, images and ideas about the plot.
- Predict the character types and action in the movie.
- Ask what your children know that they can bring to the movie.
- Use Movieguide’s “In Brief” as an introduction to the movie.
- Plan to stop the video for predictions of a character’s actions or plot twists, but too much stopping is not recommended as it may disrupt the rhythm of the movie.
“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”
– 1 Kings 3:9
For more information on protecting your children from the influence of the mass media of entertainment by teaching them how to be media-wise, please read Dr. Ted Baehr & Pat Boone’s new book: The Culture-Wise Family. The Culture-Wise Family.
Ted Baehr is Founder and Publisher of Movieguide® and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission®, as well as a noted critic, educator, lecturer, and media pundit. His life’s purpose is to be used of God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.
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