How do you teach values or morals to your children in the 21st century? Actually, the same way it has been done at any time in history. As a parent or teacher, you use the environment around you to identify what is good and true and expose what is wrong and harmful.
The Bible says this very eloquently in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
Perhaps one of the best teaching opportunities for our consumer-focused younger generation is to challenge the choices they make, especially in entertainment, that can have an undue influence on developing minds.
Today there are 31.6 million 12- to 19-year-olds in the United States —the largest generation ever—with plenty of buying power. In 2000, U.S. teens spent an estimated $105 billion and influenced their parents to spend an additional $48 billion. The choices made by teens are thus quite relevant to merchants. Perhaps there has never been a time when so many young people have had so much leisure time plus money in their pockets to just have fun.
Choices, choices, choices. What movie, CD or video game should I spend my money on this time? What's cool, and what's going to be exciting and fun?
Not all options are good
One author succinctly summed up what's on TV: "Most television programming is insipid, illicit, and idiotic" (Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., "How the Bombarding Images of TV Culture Undermine the Power of Words," Modern Reformation, January-February 2001, p. 39).
It's obvious to those who've been watching TV and movies for a few years that there is more violence and sex than ever before—actually, quite a lot more. Every major network has a show, often in prime time, featuring a homosexual character, not to mention all the shows that glamorize extramarital sex.
Are these shows, which admittedly entertain and stimulate people, really good for you? Are the big screen's latest flicks appropriate for Christians?
In 1939, Rhett Butler, talking angrily to Scarlet O'Hara in the cinematic blockbuster Gone With the Wind, appeared without his shirt and also used a four-letter word considered shocking if said in public. These two issues made this epic movie controversial.
Today, nudity or partial nudity is considered normal. The use of expletives is so commonplace that some characters would have virtually nothing to say if you deleted curse words. Casual sex, graphically depicted, is almost natural between the main characters in most movies.
Ratings of movies (seldom enforced, as most teens know) have been steadily getting looser—meaning less and less is censored. Full frontal nudity, lots of blood and guts, and generous quantities of profanity are not that big a deal anymore.
Media analyst Marshall McLuhan remarked, "We become what we behold." Joshua Meyrowitch, a professor of communication, complains that his students tend to have an image-based standard of truth: "If I ask, ‘What evidence supports your view or contradicts it?' they look at me as if I came from another planet" (ibid., p. 33).
Ideas for making choices about movies and music
Here are some questions to ask when it comes to entertainment choices.
• Is this appropriate? Are the words of the song or the plot of the movie good for us? It is true that options are often few, even at a major multiplex with 10 or more theaters. One recent marquee offered three R-rated flicks that had adult language, nudity and violence, two movies dealing with the paranormal (spirit world including demon possession), and one thoroughly gross picture labeled a comedy.
That didn't leave much to view, which is very sad. The powerful combination of surround sound and high-definition digital technologies allow for stunning imagery. It seems we get addicted to special effects and need more and more to be thrilled. But what about the mind? Do we need to guard this important gateway to our character? Of course we do.
• Will this be uplifting and positive? It's great to have powerful music that lifts your spirit and makes you feel good. A few years ago I visited Epcot Center in Disney World. Toward the end of the day, there was a colorful parade with puppets 20 feet high, dancers and rolling drums with the accompaniment of the most intriguing and inspiring music I've ever heard. I was so taken that I had to find the CD for my collection.
Music should fit the mood but not create a negative or destructive one. You can select from a huge variety of music today. Make wise choices. Choose music that inspires and uplifts you.
• What are the options? Suggest to your children that it might be more fun and rewarding to do something else instead of taking in a movie, if there isn't anything worth watching. Why not go do something or get with a group and talk about ideas, plans, etc.?
Have you ever thought about going to a park and throwing a Frisbee or football around? Your imagination is the limit of things to do that are fun, creative and friendship-building.
Going to a movie is getting to be more expensive and often injects ideas into your mind that are not clean and pure. Just talking in a peaceful environment with good friends might actually be the most fun of all. Learning from others while sharing your concerns and fears can be healthy and helpful in building lasting relationships.
Teach your children about underhanded media marketing
Sadly, companies that see the youth market as a real bonanza produce many of the things considered cool. The intention of most sponsors is to make money, not help build character. MTV (Music Television), which seems to have turned into one big continuous commercial, does not always have the purest of motives.
In a PBS Frontline documentary titled "Merchants of Cool" (first aired Feb. 27, 2001), media analyst Douglas Rushkoff spoke with teens at a concert by the Detroit-based Insane Clown Posse, purveyors of a genre of music that became known as "rage rock."
When asked to describe what appealed to them about such music, the teens invariably responded that it belonged to them; it hadn't yet been taken and sold back to them at the mall. Full of profanity, violence and misogyny, rage rock is literally a challenge thrown up to marketers—just try to market this!
But marketers accepted the challenge. Rage rock became big business. Not only did Insane Clown Posse become mainstream, but much bigger acts like Eminem and Limp Bizkit were breaking sales records and winning Grammy nominations and other mainstream music awards.
In the documentary, Mr. Rushkoff detailed how MTV and other huge commercial outlets orchestrated the rise of Limp Bizkit—despite the group's objectionable lyrics—and then relentlessly promoted them on the air.
But in doing so, critics ask if MTV is truly reflecting the desires of today's teenagers or stoking a cultural infatuation with music and imagery that glorifies violence and sex as well as antisocial behavior and attitudes. In today's media-saturated environment, such questions, it seems, are becoming increasingly difficult to answer.
If you want your teens to be aware of godly values, you will have to teach them. The world around us attacks what is good, pure and right. I was struck by Paul's use of the word "if" in Philippians 4:8: "If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
As parents, we must search for what is appropriate for our children and guide them toward making right decisions. Their future success and happiness will depend on it! GN