“Controlling the Media’s Influence in Your Home,” Liahona, Feb. 2000, 44
Our children are growing up at a time when mass communications are both widely available and highly influential. This accesibility is at once a blessing and a problem. The media can educate and entertain, inform and inspire, but it can also debase and corrupt.
Just as we would never think of allowing uninsulated, exposed electrical wires in our homes for our children to tamper with, we must also insulate and control our family’s exposure to television, radio, movies, music, video and computer games, the Internet, magazines, and newspapers.
Of all the media, television is perhaps the most widely influential. For that reason, this discussion will concentrate primarily on television. But the specific comments made about television can be applied to all forms of mass communication.
Programs available on television today allow more people than ever before the opportunity to experience great music, drama, and art and to be exposed to the thoughts and lives of great men and women. Unfortunately, too few families take advantage of these superb presentations. One reason we may miss them is that less worthy programs, extraordinarily promoted, often attract more attention.
And that is the problem. Television producers inundate us with so much that is base and unworthy of our higher natures that it is impossible for those who do not manage their television viewing to escape the violence and other inappropriate behaviors portrayed on TV.
Furthermore, television programs do not need to be overtly violent or sexually oriented to affect our families negatively. Wendell Berry, a thoughtful contemporary writer, describes the TV cord as “a vacuum line, pumping life and meaning out of the household.” He continues: “TV and other media have learned to suggest with increasing subtlety … that it is better to consume than to produce, to buy than to grow or make, to ‘go out’ than to stay home. If you have a TV, your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought” (The Gift of Good Land , 156).
Television not only portrays culture, it also influences it. Some programs, for example, make family life appear foolish and unrewarding. They portray fathers and mothers as weak and unhappy in their traditional roles. These programs distort reality and can persuade children to develop false expectations about life. Such shows imply that life’s complex problems always have quick, simple solutions that can be worked out in a single half-hour or hourlong episode.
Often the problem is simply that time spent watching television could be spent on more worthwhile activities. What would you and your family be doing if you weren’t watching TV? Would you be reading more, singing more, playing more games together, and getting to know each other better? Would more such activities make your family life more fulfilling and help you grow closer to Heavenly Father and to each other?
A few years ago, a mother wanted to reduce the time television was taking from her neighborhood’s school-age children. She started a campaign to encourage more time away from television, calling it “Turn Off Your TV, Turn On Your Mind.” She challenged the students at her children’s school to stop watching television—except for two to three hours a week of news or educational programs—for one month. Support came readily from the school’s principal and faculty. Teachers contributed ideas for how the students could use their time, and the children undertook special projects like participating in reading marathons, building models, and performing experiments.
The “Turn Off Your TV” campaign proved to be a memorable experience, especially for the children and their parents. Local news media covered the event and praised the efforts of those involved.
Like this mother, we can make television an intentional rather than incidental influence in our lives. How we control this media will determine whether it is a useful servant or a dominating master of our time and mental energies.
Different management methods work for different families. Some families choose not to have a television set at all. Others watch TV only a certain number of hours each week. Others have rules that regulate when the television can be turned on. Regardless of the method, the important issue is that families determine together how to be selective.
When exploring ways to control television use, parents might want to conduct a media influence survey in their families. The following questions could serve as a guide:
Make a list of what family members watch, listen to, and read for one week. Include television, videotapes, movies, music, the computer, radio, books, magazines, and newspapers. How much time is spent in each of these activities?
Calculate how many hours each week you use television as a baby-sitter for your children. Does it vary with the ages of the children?
Do you help select television programs for your young children? For your older children?
Which programs do you as parents watch?
Which books, magazines, and other reading material are available in your home?
Where is the television located? Is it the central piece of furniture, with the couch and chairs situated around it? Are television sets located in any bedrooms? How do they influence sleep, work, or study habits?
How often is the television on during meals? Does it influence the quality or quantity of dinner conversation?
How often do you take time as a family to discuss a television program after you watch it? Do you ever talk about how the message delivered by the program compares with the gospel?
Are you satisfied with the influence of television in your home? What would you like to change?
After conducting this survey, you may want to discuss your family’s media appetite in a family council and evaluate it together. If you determine as a family that you need to make changes, agree upon them together and praise good choices already being made. If viewing is excessive, your family may want to establish a set of rules or guidelines to regulate the influence of television in your home.
Parents may consider adopting any or all of the following ideas to regulate what their family watches on television. Of course, these ideas can be modified to cover all forms of media.
As a family, determine the values you want to use as a standard for conduct in the television programs you watch. Standards are the same for parents as for children.
Agree as a family that if a program does not meet these standards, the television will be turned off.
Parents won’t use the television inappropriately as a baby-sitter.
Parents will monitor children’s shows. Even children’s educational programs may at times not meet the standards the family agreed upon.
When a particularly excellent program is scheduled, it will be put on the family calendar so the family can enjoy it together.
On the Sabbath, if the television is turned on at all, the program should be in keeping with the Sabbath day.
The house must be tidy and schoolwork finished before the television is turned on.
Media—whether good or bad—can be habit-forming. But it is a habit that can be broken. One woman who was “addicted” to watching daytime soap operas decided to rearrange her priorities and to stop what she felt was a time- and mind-wasting practice. She succeeded and later wrote: “Sometimes our whole family watches shows together, and it’s fun. But now I’m the master. When I want to invite newsmen, actors, or entertainers into my home, I do so. But it’s because they have informative and/or morally, spiritually, and emotionally uplifting programs to offer—not just because they’re there” (LeRee Farrar, “How I Kicked the TV Habit,” Ensign, March 1977, 19).
Together with the Lord, parents and children can learn to escape the barrage of negative media offerings and engage in more productive activities. As families manage the media in their homes, they will find they talk more to each other, listen more to each other, and discover more about each other than they ever have before. Such activity will foster a more important kind of communication than any that comes through the mass media.
Like television, the Internet can be a source of much valuable information. But individuals who search for filth, violence, and depravity can find it on the Internet without much effort.
Parents can take several actions to control the influence of the Internet on their family. One option is to install software that blocks access to inappropriate web sites. Another way to control Internet use is to set up access via a password only the parents know. One of the best precautions is to locate computers connected to the Internet in high-traffic areas and limit access to hours when other family members are awake and can monitor activity on the computer.
Parents need to know when, where, and how their children are using the Internet. Access at school is usually controlled; that may not be true at a library or a friend’s home.
Those parents who know how to get around on the Internet themselves are in a better position to guide their children in its proper use. Parents who don’t know how to use the Internet can usually find ready teachers. Their best and most eager teachers might be their own children.
Wise parents make online activity a family activity and set rules about computer use. Among the rules a family could adopt are these:
Keep online conversations with strangers public; don’t go to a private chat room online with them. People are not always who they say they are.
Do not reveal personal information to anyone online.
Never agree to meet an online acquaintance in person or by telephone without parental permission.
Immediately tell parents about uncomfortable online experiences, including requests for secrecy.
Of course, rules are effective only when firmly and fairly enforced. When following through on family rules, parents will find greater success by setting an unblemished example themselves, teaching their children correct principles, and letting them know they trust them to make wise choices.