Is Your Family Manipulated by Mass Media?

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Is Your Family Manipulated by Mass Media?

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Believe it or not, your family is probably being abused - by a manipulative seducer you welcome into your home.

Many people unknowingly let media merchants - the creators and marketers of television programs, movies, videos, music and video games - abuse them. They do so when they allow such outsiders to intrude into their family affairs and exploit the negative side of their human nature.

Although the entertainment media can be informative and beneficial, we need to recognize that evil media exist, and we must learn how to make use of the good and avoid the bad. We should realize, too, that too much of even a good thing can be bad.

How great is the media's influence on the family? According to a 2001 report of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average American child living at home spends 42 hours weekly, the equivalent of a full-time job, immersed in watching TV or videos, listening to music on the radio, tapes or CDs, playing video games or using a computer. Many adults admit that they waste much of their time on passive viewing, letting television and other media monopolize their time.

Excessive television viewing is associated with depression, obesity and poor mental health. While many people think it is a stress reliever, research has shown that, at current usage patterns, it actually induces stresses in our lives while discouraging exercise and other forms of positive motivation.

Regaining control

What about your family? Most people let media abuse continue. They don't understand that stopping media abuse is simply a matter of setting and enforcing firm rules. Establishing principles of media use for your family to live by has been shown to be the best way you can use electronic devices productively rather than letting them use you. The mass media are purposefully designed to stimulate and control your mind through attention-getting techniques - to the point that some researchers compare its effect to addictive drugs. Because media are so prone to abuse, unless you consciously temper your media use by decisions based on solid biblical values within a consistent and positive lifestyle, you will probably find yourself a victim of media abuse.

Positive media use is advocated throughout a growing field called media literacy, found in many educational systems in many countries. Ironically, in the United States, which because of heavy media use needs it most, media-literacy efforts sadly lag.

Although mass media's negative effects on public education, criminal behavior and deteriorating physical and mental health are increasingly well documented, state and federal lawmakers and administrators consistently fail to fund media-literacy efforts. Why? Largely because the election processes at all levels heavily involve media manipulation by all parties and candidates. Too many elected officials, both conservative and liberal, are themselves largely creations of mass media. Effective media-literacy efforts involve helping students and parents develop critical thinking skills to counteract a culture and lifestyle that conditions us to passive mindlessness. Psychological and brain-wave studies have shown that TV and other electronic-media use, including many video and computer games, put people in a mild trance - what some call passive mindlessness - after only a few minutes.

Surveys by educators show that firm but fair family rules limit the amount of television viewing - along with rules restricting or banning sexually suggestive and violent content - are important in helping students develop into academic achievers.

Ten principles of healthy media use

The good news is that you can change many of these negatives. Your family can learn to use media as an asset instead of a liability. However, it requires that most of us change long-established habits.

Not surprisingly, the best advice from educators, the American Academy of Pediatrics (representing 55,000 children's doctors) and government-funded research agrees with a common source - the Bible - when it comes to basic principles in properly using mass media. Without quoting scripture or academic citations, the following basic principles are easy to understand and not difficult to follow - once you make a firm commitment and apply them for a month.

Understand, though, that when making these changes you'll need to be sure to talk them over with other family members if they require a change in their lifestyle. Parents should agree together on what the rules should be and explain them to children as they are instituted.

For a family's new mass-media program to be effective, it needs to involve genuine change. You don't have to throw out the TV, but these principles require real action. There's no better time than now to begin healthy patterns of media use for yourself and your family.

Principle 1: Focus on doing, not viewing. Make sure you and your family maintain a variety of activities for a rich life based on action, talking and thinking. Limit passive consumption in every arena in life. Like eating too much of the wrong foods, media consumption is negative when it tilts your life out of balance. Make sure your family is doing far more than passive viewing.

The American Academy of Pediatricians holds that children should not be exposed to more than one to two hours of television, videos and popular music per day. They say young children should view television no more than 30 minutes daily. This requires cutting out 65 to 75 percent of television time in the typical child's life from age 2 to 18. Adults likewise need to make adjustments to make sure they have a life full of meaningful activity.

Principle 2: Place your television carefully. Keep the television set where you and your family members have to go to it and be intentional about using it. If you don't want the TV and Internet to dominate your time, then don't place them where they are easy to access. That means keep the TV out of the kitchen or bedrooms if that's where family members spend the majority of their time.

Wise parents place the TV where they can monitor their children's viewing. Even though you may think you may have a war on your hands - 65 percent of American schoolchildren have television sets in their bedrooms - patiently explain to your children the reasons that viewing in the bedroom is not a good idea. Virtually all experts agree that TV in children's rooms will lead to more viewing, the tendency to obesity and incomplete homework and increased isolation from the rest of the family.

Principle 3: Establish and follow family rules. Make realistic rules and keep them. No media before homework and chores are done, for example, is a common rule. Others may say no more than one hour of TV before dinner, then homework, and then one hour before bed. Some advocate no media at all after 10 or 11 p.m. Whatever the rules, live within them, but don't be unreasonably inflexible or overly arbitrary about following them when circumstances warrant otherwise. Of course, there is always a tendency to decide that some media event is so important we must bend the rules. Don't believe it. With rare exceptions, there's nothing that can't be videotaped and seen later. Those who had their television viewing time limited as children generally grew up to be more action-oriented. Interestingly, many of these people who have now become parents themselves want to keep their own children from wasting their youth on passive media consumption. They are among the strongest supporters of consistent rules for media use.

Principle 4: Plan viewing ahead of time. Make a schedule of the upcoming week's viewing and stick to it. With the exception of disasters, emergencies and late-breaking stories with intermittent specials, you should be able to learn all TV programming in advance. You can even plan that any major news stories will be reported on the hour.

Be sure to keep the television off when dining. It is critical for family health and well-being. Don't give up family dining time for television viewing.

Principle 5: Teach your children media-literacy skills. Talk about what you and your family members watch and listen to. Point out the impact television and music has on our attitudes, thinking and emotions. Ask your children questions. Their answers will reveal how they perceive the information presented to them while watching television. Doing so will sharpen your own skills in analyzing media.

What do the messages targeted at your family mean? Considering and talking about content will help you realize how your family is being affected by their viewing habits.

Principle 6: Have fun with what you watch. Some programs are both fun and healthy. But even when a program isn't, sometimes you can have a good laugh when you see entertaining commercials. Laugh and joke about the clever methods producers of TV commercials and programs use to sell a particular point of view. Be alert and aware! Principle 7: Talk about media violence and destructive sexuality. Explain the differences between manufactured horror and real-life suffering. Explain that playing with sex outside of marriage always has damaging effects - contrary to the way it is almost always depicted in movies, TV shows and music. Discuss the realistic and unrealistic use of sex as it is presented by the mass media. Talk about the many sensational portrayals of violence with no ill consequences to the heroes and villains in contrast to more realistic programs that honestly show the inevitable consequences.

Principle 8: Choose quality TV, video and computer media. Make it a part of your daily routine to view educational programs and videos. Many excellent programs on history, culture, science and classic drama are available which can enrich and inform us, even humor and inspire us.

Principle 9: Model good viewing habits. Intentionally decide what you will watch, and make it clear to your spouse, friends and children that you make decisions about viewing based on your values. Of course, your children will not restrict their viewing to good material and keep your family rules if you don't do so yourself.

Principle 10: Use TV and video to support biblical values. Make your media-content choices support your biblically-based family values and your personal quest to have the best family life possible. Should negative media intrude into your home and life, analyze and discuss why the content doesn't support the ideals and goals you are striving to maintain. All 10 principles lead to a better life with a realistic view of the world. We live in the media age, but that does not mean we are forced to be slaves to it. God wants us to be the greatest we can be, which requires that we live a principled life - controlling media input rather than letting it control us. Gaining control requires us to make three simple changes: (1) acquiring knowledge about the problem, (2) committing to a solution and (3) consistently following through.

One of the major themes of the Bible is "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). If you sow these principles of success when it comes to using the electronic media in your home, you can reap rich rewards in a balanced, positive life.