“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept. 1990, 72–73
Joseph Walker, national news placement specialist in the Church’s Public Communications Department and former film critic. The challenge to live in the world but not of the world is especially troublesome when it comes to participating in entertainment. Contemporary standards are such that no fail-safe way can predetermine the propriety of a film or television offering if you don’t actually see it—or at least hear about it from someone you trust.
The Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) ratings system is arbitrary at best, with offensive material slipping into many PG- and G-rated films. Of course, many of the movies that attract young people are rated PG-13 or even R—two categories in which graphic violence, sexuality, and coarse language are staples. Judging a movie—for good or ill—solely on an MPAA rating is a little like playing Russian roulette with your standards: Maybe your values won’t be assaulted, but maybe they will.
Television, meanwhile, has no rating system with which to cloud the issue. But it is just as confusing to determine appropriate television viewing as it is to decide on appropriate movies. Sexual innuendo and even blatant sexuality are beginning to permeate every prime-time genre; violence is presented as a viable problem-solving option; references to Deity are almost always profane; and family-oriented situation comedies can, without warning, turn into pro-abortion rallies at the drop of a laugh-track.
And that’s just commercial TV. Public television includes programs that contain nudity in some of its “artistic” fare. Another alternative, basic cable, has the same problems associated with over-the-air TV. And pay cable has all the problems of PG-13 and R-rated movies—sex, violence, nudity, vulgarity, and profanity.
To be fair, the film and television industries are capable of producing some wonderfully enriching entertainment programs. During the past five years as a television critic, I have been motivated, informed, educated, and, yes, even spiritually edified by programs I have seen. And many programs have just plain entertained me—effectively and wholesomely.
So the answer to the dilemma, in my view, isn’t to teach children to return home the minute a friend turns a television set on, tempting though that alternative may be. Rather, I believe that help can be found in Moroni’s scriptural reminder that “the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” (Moro. 7:16.)
Moroni goes on to give us simple yet extraordinary counsel about how to separate the good from the bad in any earthly pursuit. Anything that persuades men to do good things, to believe in Christ, and to serve him, he writes, “is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ,” and you can feel pretty comfortable with it. (Moro. 7:16.) On the other hand, anything that glamorizes evil, de-emphasizes the importance of God in our lives, or persuades men to do things that are wrong is inspired by Satan and should be avoided at all costs—even if the cost is popularity. (Moro. 7:17.)
The real key for parents, then, lies in teaching children to recognize the Spirit of Christ and in strengthening them so they can have the courage it takes to respond to it. And the most powerful way to teach children is by example and by creating the kind of home environment that enhances spiritual sensitivity for the entire family.
For instance, it seems illogical to expect a youngster to feel uncomfortable about watching R-rated films on the sly if Mom and Dad bring R-rated videocassettes home for their private viewing. Justifications like “Well, it won an Oscar” or “There’s only one little scene (or word, or grotesque special effect) that gave it an R-rating” are just that: justifications, hollow excuses for going contrary to the Spirit of Christ. Never mind that Mom and Dad won’t allow the kids to watch the show with them. The only thing that particular limitation teaches is that it’s okay to assault your values with video violence, profanity, and sexuality, as long as you’re an adult.
No scriptural or doctrinal support exists for such double standards. There are only admonitions to “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45) and reminders such as the thirteenth article of faith that Latter-day Saints should seek after things “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”
These are the standards we should hold to in our homes. Any film, television program, or video game, for that matter, that isn’t “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” should not be allowed on our TV sets, regardless of the rating or critical acclaim. And when we watch a program and something unacceptable comes on, we ought to have the courage—then and there—to turn it off, perhaps taking advantage of the opportunity to point out why we are doing so to children who watch with us. A child who has grown up in a home where the Spirit of Christ shines unobstructed by parental hypocrisy would be more likely to recognize that spirit when it prompts him, even in a difficult social setting.
Of course, even when we are confident of that recognition, our children still need some tools to combat social pressure in such situations. One family I know has a standing policy that the kids call Mom or Dad to clear all non-Church videos with them—even at Church functions. Sometimes a youngster needs a little parental direction to make a correct choice. And a side benefit is that Mom or Dad can play the “heavy” if a child needs an excuse to get out of a tough social situation.
Another technique that works well for some people is to use alternatives. Having a couple of video options at home that are both entertaining and acceptable to the Spirit of Christ allows your children to say, “I’d rather not watch that, but we have a couple of good movies at home. Shall I go get them?”
Nonvideo entertainment is an option, too. I’m convinced that a lot of video parties are born of boredom, or at least a lack of creativity. Families could brainstorm for games and activities enjoyable at any social function. Church leaders could help by discouraging videos at class and quorum parties. After all, the point of such functions is fellowship and unity. How can you effectively meet those objectives with the lights dimmed and nobody talking to anyone else because everyone is watching a video?
But even with those tools and options at our children’s command, they still may be faced with situations that require courage to just say no. From an eternal perspective, movies and television programs that weaken us spiritually are potentially just as harmful as substances that damage us physically and emotionally. The just-say-no approach is as viable for dangerous video images as it is for dangerous drugs.
Developing that kind of courage is a challenge for parents and youth alike. But if we address that challenge from a shared foundation, valuing purity of thought and mind, then we stand a much better chance of teaching our children that virtue is, indeed, its own reward.