It wasn't all that long ago that the typical American family was very different from that of today. They had no second (or third) automobiles, no home entertainment systems, no cell phones. Some had no television, and those that did often received only one or two stations.
And there were a lot more things they didn't have, either—such as drug problems, rampant sexual promiscuity, huge numbers of broken homes, violent schools and crime-infested neighborhoods.
People worked long hours helping their families make a living and keeping food on the table. Family entertainment often amounted to eating a cold watermelon on a warm day or making ice cream from scratch. Most families spent much more time together then. Parents showed their children love—not by showering them with money and things but by giving them of their time and lives.
When relaxing in the evening watching television, family members often watched together. "Family hours" programming on TV really meant something—programs the entire family could watch together.
Many parents also would read to their children—children's stories and stories from the Bible. Sometimes the family would pray by the bedside together.
Voices in the wilderness
It seems that those days are long gone. Some counselors note that many families today are narcissistic, meaning that they are so caught up in themselves that they seem to be pursuing the American daydream rather than the American dream (see "The Culture of Narcissism," page 6). Everyone wants something for nothing; isn't that what TV teaches?
Indeed, modern media bears heavy responsibility in this. More than street drugs, random sex and violence, the subtle, degrading effects of the media are steadily undermining the family. Certainly there are voices crying out against the destructive effects of mass media.
The late comedian, talk-show host, musician and author Steve Allen wrote 52 published books on a variety of subjects. Perhaps his most effective was his last, Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio—Raising the Standards of Popular Culture (2001). In this book, Mr. Allen discusses the role of mass media in endangering the family. Who better to admonish media than Mr. Media himself?
Mr. Allen's book lays bare the unembarrassed and amoral attempt of the media to undermine and erode the family by producing all kinds of lewd scenes on prime-time television. Sexual innuendos and filthy language are common fare in television series, even those aired during the family hours. Writers and producers are continually testing the waters to see what mainstream society will allow and endure.
About a decade earlier, movie critic and author Michael Medved, now a popular radio talk-show host, alarmed many people with his exposé on how Hollywood has set itself against traditional American standards and values. In his book Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values (1992), he gets to the heart of the matter.
In a section of his book titled "The Assault on the Family," he wrote of popular culture's "clearly demonstrated and uncompromising contempt for conventional family values."
"The music industry shamelessly promotes promiscuity, motion pictures focus relentlessly on family dysfunction and divorce, while television programs broadcast the deadly message that kids know better than their doltish and irrelevant parents," he explained.
". . . The contrast between private contentment and public pessimism that shows up in major polls mirrors the huge chasm between our own view of the world and Hollywood's—between the relatively happy real-life experience of most American families and the grim and poisonous visions that regularly emerge from the entertainment industry. Those antifamily images have become so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that few Americans can summon the courage or the strength to dismiss them as the destructive distortions that they are" (p. 96).
Modern media reshaping the mind
We live in an age of discordant, corrupting entertainment. In decades past, many parents enjoyed relatively clean entertainment when attending a theater or stage show, if they had the time and money. True, some relatively moral entertainment exists today, but it's increasingly difficult to find. The ratio of redeemable to raunchy entertainment has changed dramatically in the past few decades.
Some parents are becoming aware of blatant media decadence. As Mr. Medved wrote in the beginning of his book: "America's long-running romance with Holly-wood is over. As a nation, we no longer believe that popular culture enriches our lives. Few of us view the show business capital as a magical source of uplifting entertainment, romantic inspiration, or even harmless fun.
"Instead, tens of millions of Americans now see the entertainment industry as an all-powerful enemy, an alien force that assaults our most cherished values and corrupts our children. The dream factory has become the poison factory.
"The leaders of the industry refuse to acknowledge this rising tide of alienation and hostility. They dismiss anyone who dares to question the impact of the entertainment they produce as a 'right-wing extremist' or a 'religious fanatic.' They self-righteously assert their own right to unfettered free expression while condemning as 'fringe groups' all organizations that plead for some sense of restraint or responsibility" (p. 3).
That was written more than a decade ago. Today we find that the entertainment industry hasn't changed its basic thrust.
Programs such as Sex and the City have openly discussed and depicted all kinds of lurid sexual situations. The series first aired on cable TV because, as its producer explained, "I wanted to do an R-rated show about adult sexual relationships that had no kind of censorship, moralizing, or judgment" (quoted by Allen, p. 50).
While that series glamorized sexual promiscuity, another series, The Sopranos, glamorized Mafia activities. Countless other series have introduced gay characters in an overt attempt to portray homosexuality as normal and equivalent to any other lifestyle.
Renowned clinical psychologist and TV talk-show host Dr. Phil McGraw, in his book Family First, discusses the degrading influence of media: "A huge influence is the massive media machine—five hundred TV channels, the Internet, the radio, the newspapers. If you don't think so, just consider the now-unequivocal evidence that violent television and films, video games and music increase aggressive and violent behavior in children, teenagers and even adults" (2004, p. 8).
Children have great difficulty evaluating what's good and what's bad for them. That's where we parents come in.
Origin of the war against the family
The war being waged against families and children isn't new. In fact, it has been going on since the very first family was formed on earth—the family consisting of Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel.
They had no television, no magazines and no movies to seduce and addict Adam and Eve's sons. Yet Cain murdered his own brother and pleaded innocence before His Creator (Genesis 4:8-9). Still, Cain didn't murder his brother alone; other factors played a big role in this sad event.
What were these factors, and how do they play a role in the war against the family today?
Human nature is a consistent factor not just in the war on the family, but in all human relationships. Jesus Christ said that human nature is a mix of human good and evil (Luke 11:13). The evil part of our human nature didn't come from God (Genesis 1:31). Instead, because we were created with freedom of choice, we often willingly choose evil because it appears more appealing to us (compare Ephesians 2:1-3).
Adam and Eve learned this the hard way. Humankind hasn't looked back since, assuming that human reasoning is the best and only nature there is. This, of course, isn't true (Proverbs 14:12).
Because today's mass media appeal so strongly to our baser instincts and cravings, they are a powerful motivator and shaper of our thoughts, attitudes and habits (compare Romans 7:18-23). Inevitably this spills over into our families and relationships with others.
Another factor also plays a major role—Satan the devil. Few people understand his influence, yet it is so powerful that the Bible refers to him as "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is this world's unseen ruler at this time.
What most parents don't know is that this evil being is out to destroy mankind (1 Peter 5:8). If he can't influence us to kill one another through warfare, violence and crime, he'll make us miserable in any way he can—including through the destruction of normal marriage and family relationships. And the evidence shows he's been remarkably successful. Of course, our own selfish nature and cravings play right into his hands.
Creating the best family environment
You can protect and nurture your family in down-to-earth, practical ways. Helpful books such as Dr. Phil's Family First identify practical steps in building a strong family. But no book is better when it comes to protecting and nurturing the family than God's Word, the Holy Bible. Here, then, are some practical, effective steps we can take to protect and nurture our families, using the very best manual as our guide.
• Put God first (Matthew 6:33). God says that He must come first in our lives for us to reap the blessings of a successful family. How do we put Him first? We honor God by keeping His laws.
This may be an unpopular concept in today's societies. But consider this: You and I keep the laws of the land automatically, do we not? Why, then, must we assume it's too difficult to obey God's laws?
We honor the rules we find in an automobile manual to help our cars run better and last longer. So why would we spurn the very manual God gives us so our families can run more smoothly? Don't let the god of this world continue to fool you into thinking that the true God's laws are too hard for us to keep.
• Secondly, love your children in the way God defines love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It's one thing to say you love your children, but it's quite another to show them and tell them.
Personal example speaks much louder than words (James 1:22-25), so if the parental example is poor, the child can be damaged for a lifetime. A good parental example can help your child grow up in a positive environment, able to withstand the many battles waged against him or her.
• Third, show a genuine interest in your children. Parents can throw money at their children and presume this is a good thing. Yet people who do this usually wind up with spoiled, disrespectful and uncontrollable brats. Your children need something far more valuable than money—they need you!
• Fourth, communicate with your children, keeping in mind where they're coming from. The old saying that children should be seen and not heard is wrong. Just the opposite works best: They should be heard so the parents can discern what kind of example they are setting and what values they are imparting. Children will often reflect what they see in the parent's example.
Of course, they are going to pick up wrong habits from other students at school and from friends. Still, parents influence their children more than anyone else or any other institution, especially during their most formative years.
Studies show that by age 5, 80 percent of a child's future outlook and values have been set. These formative years are the most pliable; these are the years that attentive and sensitive parents set their children's future for good. Teach your children in these formative years. Read good literature to them.
• Fifth, add humor to your family's life. Sometimes parents take themselves too seriously. Adding a little humor here and there is helpful to the family. Life is serious enough and families have to face plenty of trials regardless of their situation. Humor is like the spice of life. It helps to balance out the tediousness of life and gives children a healthier perspective toward their future.
• Sixth, be directly involved in your children's lives. They need their parents to pray with them, read the Bible with them and talk about God's way. Parents should give children the gift of an intimacy with God by including them in their prayers, especially during their formative years.
One couple I know laid their children on the bed as one or both prayed kneeling beside it. Their children absorbed a natural intimacy with God before they could even talk, hearing their dad and mom pray to God regularly that way.
• Finally, parents, monitor your children's media. See what they're watching on TV, listen to their music, check out the games they're playing. If you allow your children to watch prime-time TV and it's a little dicey here and there, watch it with them and offer a balanced perspective on what you see. If it gets too bad, turn it off or turn to another program that the whole family can watch.
My wife and I always talked with our son and daughter about TV programs while they were on, asking them questions about what they saw. Your children will still look to you if you provide them the loving concern and care they so desperately need in a world set against your family's welfare.
Fight the good fight
The stakes in this battle against the family are high. Modern popular culture is robbing our children of their innocence while undermining their character growth through a steady diet of violence, foul language and explicit sex.
Thankfully, you can still win the war being waged against your family if you create the best family environment possible. In a successful family, the parents put God first, applying practical principles to help prepare their children to enjoy happy and productive lives. Get to work now to win the war being waged on your family! GN