When I was growing up, television was a new, exciting addition to most average American homes. However, it was not unlike most forms of media today; it invaded our consciousness with the wonder of what is possible.  You’ll note I did not say it invaded our consciousness with reality.  Actually, like today, most programming was an escape from reality.

When I was a child, I was bombarded by a picture of family life that surely did not exist within the walls of my home. The television home was spotless. Children were respectful. Parents discussed how they would handle issues with their completely compliant children and everyone lived happily ever after.  You could even catch a family saying grace together on national television.

To me, an imperfect child in a very imperfect family, I was tricked into thinking that this was the way families should or could exist. Later on, life brought me out of the fantasy of seeing a hopeful potential for family life. Television had been dishonest with me. I had been duped.  No one is as nice, as faithful, or as kind as the characters in the movies or on TV.

Although this revelation made me sad, it was clear to me that I had been inspired to do better by these figments of someone’s creative mind.  I wanted to try to be more than my personal reality suggested I would be.  The reality was that these positive characters had become role models inspiring me to try a little harder.  That is what the media of my childhood taught me.

Today, we have reality TV, video games that put us right in the action, films that magnify every human condition, and the Internet that puts information at our fingertips.  It is an amazing time to live.  The possibilities are seemingly endless.  But the one thing about media that has not changed from my childhood to today is that it clearly impacts us.

Our children are mesmerized by media and they are learning a lot from it.  Much of what they learn is beneficial.  Some of what they are learning is incredibly harmful.  It’s strange that in a time when we are told that media is all about reality we are bombarded by images that I pray will never be a part of our lives.  Now, more than any time in history, children need their parents to help them discern what is real and what is right.

There is a new movie coming out soon called “Monster”. This morning, I saw a commercial promoting this film that showed the heroine as a young woman who not only possesses no qualms about murder but also says in effect that there is nothing wrong with it.  I was disgusted and shocked. When I recovered, I wondered if our young people would react as I did or if they might be so desensitized by media’s constant bombardment of violence that they would barely notice.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), by the time a typical American child reaches the age of 18, they will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.  The APA says, “Individuals with greater exposure to media violence see the world as a dark and violent place.”  The so called “reality” based media actually distorts a child’s view of his world.

Violent programming is just part of the problem of unrestricted exposure to today’s media.  Family, drugs, sex, the sanctity of human life, and faith are being portrayed in ways that challenge Christian values.  If we want our children to live the values Christians cherish then parents must be more present, more vocal and more diligent in judging what media is helpful for their children.

Last weekend, I attended the Youth Ministry 2004 Seminar hosted by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  I was both alarmed and fascinated by the incredible body of information we received regarding the effects of media on our families.  One of the many things that impacted me was the following thought provoking question asked by one of the presenters, “Would you let someone you do not know come in to your home and teach your children their values and morals?”  This is exactly what we do when we allow media so much unrestricted access to our children.

Media will teach our children values.  It is up to parents to decide which media and which values should be taught to them.  Media can be a valuable teaching tool but it must be the parent who determines how and when to use it. Media is a power that can be tamed.  In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  With God’s help, we can control the use and power media has on our families.

Having said all that, I must admit I marvel over modern media. Media brings God’s people closer together, bridging the gaps of distance, language, tradition and misunderstanding.  It provides more information on any given day than our grandparents might have ever possessed. It can be a springboard for imagination and wonder. In my childhood, it gave me hope.  May God bless our families with the positive attributes of modern media and separate us from those things that would harm and discourage us.

thESource is published on the Web by LCMS District & Congregational Services-Youth Ministry.  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1333 South Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295; 1-800-248-1930; www.lcms.org.  Editor: Gretchen M. Jameson; Assistant Editor: Dawn Cornelius-Gaunt; Layout Gretchen M. Jameson. VOL 1 NO. 5 February 2004.