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, videotapes, music and video and computer 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 they squander much of their health and time in passively viewing-letting television, videotapes and other electronic and mechanical contrivances monopolize their time and keep them from physical exercise and other productive activities and even enough sleep.

Researchers associate excessive TV viewing with violence, depression, obesity and mental problems. Although many people think of television as a stress reliever, research has shown that, at current viewing levels, TV induces stress while discouraging exercise and productive motivation.

Regaining control

What about your family? Many people don’t realize that life can be better when we begin to control media rather than letting media control us. Many don’t understand that stopping media abuse is a matter of setting and then diplomatically implementing firm family rules. Establishing principles of media use for your family is the best way to use electronic devices productively rather than letting them use you.

The mass media are designed to stimulate and control your mind through attention-getting techniques-to the point that some researchers compare their effect to addictive drugs. Because the 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 of study called media literacy , to be 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 the mass media’s correlation with declining education, increased criminal behavior and deteriorating physical and mental health are increasingly and adequately documented, state and federal lawmakers consistently fail to fund media-literacy efforts. Why? Part of the answer is that the election processes at all levels heavily involve media manipulation by all parties and candidates. Too many elected officials, conservative and liberal, are themselves largely the creations of the mass media.

Effective media-literacy efforts involve helping students and parents develop critical-thinking skills to counteract a culture that conditions us to passively accept almost anything. Psychological and brainwave studies show that TV and other visual electronic-media use, including many video and computer games, pushes people into a mild trance-what some call passive mindlessness-after only a few minutes.

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

Ten principles of healthy media use

The good news is that you can change many of these negative situations and outcomes. Your family can learn to use the media as assets rather than enemies.

However, doing so requires that most of us begin to break 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 properly using the mass media. Without quoting specific scriptures or academic citations, and yet adhering to biblical teachings, 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 will need to discuss them with other family members because they will probably require major lifestyle changes. Parents should agree on the rules and explain them to their children. 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 television, but these principles do require action.

Principle 1: Focus on doing , not viewing .

Make sure you and your family involve yourselves in a variety of activities to ensure a rich and balanced life based on thought, talk and action. Limit passive consumption in every area of life. Just as eating too much junk food is harmful, media consumption is bad when it tilts your life out of balance. Make sure your family does more than simply passively and mindlessly soak up what’s presented.

The American Academy of Pediatricians maintains that children should not be exposed to more than one or two hours of television, video recordings and popular music per day. The academy says young children should view television no more than 30 minutes daily. This requires cutting out 65 to 75 percent of television time in the life of a typical 2- to 18-year-old child. Adults likewise need to set the right example by making similar needed adjustments.

Principle 2: Place your television carefully.

Keep the television set where you and your family have to make an intentional effort to use it. If you don’t want the TV and Internet to dominate your time, then don’t place your television and computer where they are easy to access. That means keeping the TV out of the kitchen or bedrooms if that’s where family members spend most of their free time.

Wise parents place the TV where they can monitor their children’s viewing. You might even drape a tablecloth over the set if it’s in the living or family room to discourage leaving it on constantly.

Even if you 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 leads 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 follow them. For example, you might want to allow television watching only after your children complete their homework and household chores. Some parents allow no more than one hour of TV before dinner; then comes homework; then one hour of TV viewing before bedtime. Some advocate no TV, Internet or electronic games 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 a particular media event is so important we must bend the rules. Don’t believe it. With rare exceptions, almost anything can be videotaped to play back later.

Many adults whose parents severely limited their TV time while they were growing up now thank them for those apparently restrictive but, viewed in retrospect, farsighted family rules. They realize they were able to use their time to develop a wide range of skills, from art to sports to musical abilities to auto mechanics. Instead of wasting time on prepackaged audiovisual entertainment, their working hard or reading material requiring them to think helped them develop skills that proved valuable later in life.

Those who watched little TV as children generally grew up to be more actionoriented. They became productive people with higher standards than they would have otherwise had, and they developed a genuine sense of accomplishment. Naturally, having now become parents themselves, they want to keep their own children from wasting their youth on passive media consumption. These parents are among the strongest supporters of consistent rules for electronic-media use.

Principle 4: Plan your viewing ahead of time.

Make a schedule of the coming week’s viewing and stick to it. With the exception of disasters, emergencies and latebreaking stories and intermittent special broadcasts, you should be able plan most TV programming in advance.

Be sure to switch off the TV when dining. That 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 attitudes, thinking and emotions. Question your children. Their answers will tell you how they perceive the information they see and hear and will sharpen your skill in analyzing the media as well.

What do the messages targeted at families mean? Considering and talking about content will help you realize how you may be affected and what steps you may need to institute to build a healthy home atmosphere.

Principle 6: Have fun with what you watch.

Some TV programs are both fun and beneficial. But even when a program isn’t, sometimes you can have a good laugh when you see foolish commercials or absurd programming. 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 seemingly harmless 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 morerealistic programs that honestly show the inevitable consequences.

Principle 8: Choose quality TV, video and computer media.

Make it a part of your routine to view educational TV programs and videos. Many excellent programs on history, biography, culture, science and classic drama are available to enrich and inform us, even humor and inspire us.

Principle 9: Model good viewing habits.

As adults, proactively decide what you will watch and make it clear to your children and visiting friends, if necessary, that your household’s viewing habits are consistent with your values. Understand, of course, that your children will not willingly restrict their viewing to good material and stick to family rules if parents don’t do so.

Principle 10: Use TV and videotapes or DVDs to support biblical values.

Make your media-content choices support your biblically based family values. Make them fit 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.

Depending on the age of your children, if at least some of these 10 principles do not describe your way of life, you may have to exercise diplomacy and patience in implementing them. Applying right principles can require thought and planning, but you will find the results well worth the effort.

All 10 principles will lead to a better life and a realistic view of the world. We live in the mass-media age, but that doesn’t force us to be mass-media slaves. God wants us to be the best we can be, which requires that we live a principled life-controlling media input rather than letting it control us by brainwashing us with its oftencorrupting values and standards.

Gaining control over a problem requires three simple steps to implement change: acquiring knowledge of the problem, committing to a solution, and consistently following through.

A major theme of the Bible is that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7 Galatians 6:7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.
American King James Version×
). 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.

For further information, you can obtain a summary of sound principles for media use from the American Academy of Pediatricians through your local pediatrician, on the Web at www.aap.org or in books such as Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media Literacy , by Gloria DeGaetano and Kathleen Bander, in public libraries and bookstores. GN

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