Mixed Signals
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“Mixed Signals,” New Era, June 2001, 10

Special Issue: Standards

Mixed Signals

How’s your media diet—healthy or harmful? Here are some tips for becoming a wise consumer.

From TVs and CDs to VCRs and DVDs, it’s a veritable alphabet soup of media out there. Deciding what is and isn’t appropriate to look at or listen to can sometimes be downright dot-complex.

New Era editors researched the subject and came up with some ideas and guidelines to help readers better select from the various kinds of media available. And in keeping with the alphabet theme, remember President Gordon B. Hinckley gave us the B’s:

  • Be grateful.

  • Be smart.

  • Be clean.

  • Be true.

  • Be humble.

  • Be prayerful.

So when in doubt about that video you plan to watch or that CD you’re thinking about buying, follow the prophet’s counsel, OK?

Quick media evaluation guide

  1. Are you informed? If not, read a reputable review and ask others.

  2. Does it contain vulgarity, pornography, or other unsuitable material?

  3. Does its message build up or tear down the teachings of the gospel?

  4. If you’ve decided your choice is inappropriate, it’s never too late to walk out, turn it off, or put it down.


Be wary of ads encouraging you to purchase music. The goal of the music industry isn’t to produce uplifting music with inspiring lyrics. Its goal is to sell music. A recent study of 55 music recordings labeled with explicit content warnings showed that all of these recordings were targeted to children under 17 (FTC Report on the Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children, Sept. 2000).

Don’t rely on the record companies to tell you what music is appropriate. Although record companies are required to include warning labels on music with explicit lyrics, none of the record companies have written guidelines to define what explicit lyrics are (FTC Report).

“Music can be used to exalt and inspire or to carry messages of degradation and destruction. It is therefore important that as Latter-day Saints we at all times apply the principles of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Spirit in selecting the music with which we surround ourselves” (Priesthood Bulletin, Aug. 1973).

Just as sacred music can inspire us to do good, corrupt music can tempt us to stray. “In our day music itself has been corrupted. Music can, by its tempo, by its beat, by its intensity, dull the spiritual sensitivity of men. …

“Young people, you cannot afford to fill your mind with the unworthy hard music of our day. It is not harmless. It can welcome onto the stage of your mind unworthy thoughts and set the tempo to which they dance and to which you may act.

“You degrade yourself when you identify with all of those things which seem now to surround such extremes in music: the shabbiness, the irreverence, the immorality, and the addictions. Such music as that is not worthy of you. You should have self-respect.

“You are a son or a daughter of Almighty God. He has inspired a world full of wonderful things to learn and to do, uplifting music of many kinds that you may enjoy” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Jan. 1974, 25, 28).

“Instead, we encourage you to listen to uplifting music, both popular and classical, that builds the spirit. Learn some favorite hymns from our … hymnbook that build faith and spirituality. Attend dances where the music and the lighting and the dance movements are conducive to the Spirit. Watch those shows and entertainment that lift the spirit and promote clean thoughts and actions. Read books and magazines that do the same” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, 84).

The Internet

Computers have literally changed the world, including the way we work, learn, and communicate. Part of the computer world is the Internet—a powerful way for gaining access to the abundant knowledge stores throughout the world. Unfortunately, it’s also a gateway into a world of deceit and evil. Because the Internet is becoming so essential in school and in work situations, we need to learn to safely access and use the good things the Internet can bring to our families.

The Internet is valuable for students, even those in elementary school, saving students hours of research in public libraries. The United States Department of Commerce recently released findings on a study of Internet use. A spokesperson said, “The Internet is becoming a vital tool in our daily lives, from international business transactions to keeping in touch with family members. Each year, being connected becomes more critical to economic and educational advancement and to community participation” (Department of Commerce news release, Oct. 16, 2000).

One example of the Internet’s potential for good is the official Church Web site (www.lds.org), with general conference talks from the past four years; all the back issues—more than 30 years’ worth—plus current issues of the Church magazines; the scriptures, with a simple way to search for individual verses using key words; current curriculum manuals; and news and current events of the Church. Information is available in several languages.

As with other areas in our lives, we have to find ways to use the Internet for worthy purposes and avoid what is bad on it. It can be a tool for great good, connecting us to the far reaches of the globe and spreading good and valuable information.

Some guidelines for using the Internet:

  • Your computer has an Off switch. You may have heard horror stories about someone coming upon a pornographic site, and when they try to exit it, the computer cycles through a series of disgusting pictures. This doesn’t need to happen. If, at any time, you accidently come across anything you do not want to see, just turn the computer off. This is a guaranteed way of leaving the site immediately.

  • You are in control. In general, you have to be looking for inappropriate sites to find them. Only on rare occasions will you access an inappropriate site accidentally. Accidental access is usually caused by misspelling a Web address. But remember, you have the Off switch.

  • Educate parents. Young people seem unafraid of computers and have become adept at using them. Take time to help your parents better understand the computer and the Internet if they aren’t already familiar with them.

  • Keep the computer in a public place. Set up the computer in a place where the family regularly can see what is happening on the screen.

  • Don’t believe everything you read. Just as with books or magazines, you can’t believe everything. Being in print doesn’t make it fact. The same is true of the Internet. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Consider the source of the information.

  • Don’t give out personal information. Family members should not give out their address, telephone number, social security number, credit card number, name, or location, without a parent’s permission.

  • Discuss family rules for computer use. Decide as a family how much time can be spent on the computer and how it will be used.

  • Don’t post pictures on a public Web site. Use e-mail to send photos to friends and family. Don’t put family pictures on a Web site that anyone can access.

Movies, TV, and Video Games

You wouldn’t go rifling through a trash can hoping to find a good meal, so why would you go to media with unwholesome content? Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, of the Quorum of the Twelve, says we should take the counsel of the prophets as a word of wisdom for our minds. “Just as we exercise great care about what we take into our bodies through our mouths, we should exert a similar vigilance about what we take into our minds through our eyes and ears” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 77).

Spiritual sensitivity, wise judgment, and the courage to just walk out are the best ways to be sure your media diet isn’t full of trash and you are living a mental word of wisdom.

Video game picks

  1. Be familiar with the ratings, but more importantly, make your own judgments after becoming familiar with the game.

  2. Try renting a game before you buy it.

  3. If there are inappropriate themes on the cover of the game or in its advertising, it’s safe to assume the game is also inappropriate.

  4. Look for games you can play with another person.

  5. Opt for mentally stimulating games.

  6. Try to limit your game-playing time. There’s a whole world outside of that television or computer screen to discover.

Quick stats on media morality

  • Sexual references per hour on American television more than tripled from 1989 to 1999, according to a study by the Parents’ Television Council.

  • The same study showed bad language becoming about five times more frequent in the same time period.

  • Television networks averaged one scene containing sexual behavior every four minutes during the 1998–99 season.

Quick stats on media violence

  • The average American child will see more than 200,000 violent acts on television before age 18.

  • Three major national studies—conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Medical Association, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control—have shown that viewing violence increases violent behavior.

  • Hollywood films average about 46 violent acts per film, according to a recent survey of movies by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Quick stats on media habits

  • On average, children who are eight years of age and older consume more than six and a half hours of media outside of school each day.

  • Most children watch about 28 hours of TV a week.

  • By the time the average American is 65, he or she will have watched the equivalent of nine straight years of television.

Editor’s Note: “Media” is defined as TV, radio, Internet, movies, and video games.

Food for the mind

Elder H. Burke Peterson

“We must not feed ourselves a diet of trash. We become what we think; we think about things we hear and read and see” (Ensign, Sept. 1984, 72).
—Elder H. Burke Peterson
Emeritus Member of the Seventy

Be selective

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

“While fine productions on … media are uplifting and entertaining, we need to be very selective in choosing what we see and how much of our time such an activity deserves” (Ensign, Nov. 1990, 65).
—Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve

Don’t even glance

Elder L. Tom Perry

“Don’t let the wrong kinds of books, pictures, and other reading material be near you to tempt you to take even the slightest glance. Such materials can intoxicate your mind just as surely as liquor and drugs can intoxicate and destroy your body” (Ensign, Nov. 1985, 48).
—Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve

Watch what you watch

Elder Joe J. Christensen

“It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence has no negative effects on us. We can’t roll around in the mud without getting dirty” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 40).
—Elder Joe J. Christensen
Emeritus Member of the Seventy

“R” means don’t rationalize

Elder Cree-L Kofford

“What difference does it make why it is rated R? The fact is, a prophet of God has said not to go to R-rated movies. That ought to be enough” (Ensign, July 1998, 16).
—Elder Cree-L Kofford of the Seventy

Photography by Kelly Larsen