Today, in a denominational course, the class had a small debate about the influences of culture and the media. While some–particularly youth pastors–believed that you can watch TV and movies without being influenced by them, I strongly agree with recent social scientists who affirm that we are continually influenced and socialized by our environments.
In reponse to this, I want to share the following small article that I wrote 2006 after reading Marva Dawn’s book, Is It a Lost Cause?
In today’s North American culture, the media bombards us with messages with which they urge us to agree. This car will give us pleasure. That drink will make us popular. These tools will make your life a breeze.
The media is well aware of the susceptibility of children and they readily prey on these young minds in an attempt to sell their products. About 60% of the 20 000 commercials that the average child sees on TV endorse such harmful products as candy, sugary cereal, and the latest toys. How, in our culture of greed, gluttony, and instant gratification, can parents possibly compete with the media? After all, they are the ones who spend millions of dollars each year with the sole purpose of creating commercial that speak directly to the wants of twenty-first century children. What on earth can we do about it?
I am not suggesting that we should all go home and get rid of our televisions, for it is impossible to completely rid one’s life of the media. Susan Douglas, in Remote Control: How to Raise a Media Skeptic, writes, “we parents shouldn’t beat ourselves up for failing to quarantine our kids [from the media]. But we can inoculate them—which means exposing them to the virus and showing them how to build up a few antibodies.” Let your kids watch television (but not excessively). But, when something harmful appears on the screen, talk to your kids about the trickery and deception of the media. Toys are never as exciting as they seem to be to the screen. Eating a certain “Irish” cereal won’t make a thrilling leprechaun appear. Watch closely to see the deception of the media for what it really is. Remember—the media industry is great at hiding harmful messages in seemingly wholesome places. When you recognize something dangerous, stop everything and expose it for what it is. Teach your children that the media is trying to get them to think that Fruit-Roll-Ups will make them popular or McDonald’s is the happiest place on earth.
I know that this can seem like an impossible task. As you trudge through your television time with your kids, remember that you are not alone. The church is called to be an alternative community and all of us are on the same journey, attempting to reveal truth from falsehoods. Start small, perhaps only discussing one commercial with your children every couple of days. You could soon be surprised when, with some encouragement, your children are able to pick out a dangerous commercial for themselves.
Don’t forget that, although television can be entertaining, relaxing, and thought-provocative, the media is constantly attempting to make you want their products. We, however, can help our children become aware of these deceptions. By giving our children the “TV shot,” we can raise them up to be conscientious television viewers, interacting with what they see and recognizing the dangers of being influenced by the media.