Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:56 AM

Teaching Your Children about the Media

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:56 AM
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 4:56 AM

Here is a primer on teaching your children about the media. The advice is certainly worthwhile for Christian children.

As the director of the TV Center at City University of New York, I helped develop some of the first media literacy courses in the late 1970s. Since then, years of research have produced a very clear understanding of the best way to teach media literacy. Specifically, there are five pillars of media wisdom that will help build the culture-wise family.

Pillar 1: Understand the influence of the media on your children.

In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, CBS president Leslie Moonves put it quite bluntly: “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot.”5 The major medical associations have concluded that there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and aggressive behavior. Of course, media is only one part of the problem—a problem that could be summed up with the sage biblical injunction, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ ” (1 Cor. 15:33). As the results of thousands of studies on youth violence prove, watching media violence causes violence among children. Bad company corrupts good character—whether that bad company is gangs, peer pressure or violent television programs.

Pillar 2: Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development

Not only do children see the media differently at each stage of development, but also different children are susceptible to different stimuli. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health revealed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid, and many become desensitized. Just as an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so certain types of media may tempt or influence your child at his or her specific stage of development.

Pillar 3: Teach your children how the media communicates its message.

Just as children spend the first 14 years of their lives learning grammar with respect to the written word, they also need to be taught the grammar of twenty-first-century mass media so that they can think critically about the messages being programmed for them.

Pillar 4: Help your children know the fundamentals of Christian faith.

Children need to be taught the fundamentals of Christian faith so that they can apply their beliefs and moral values to the culture and to the mass media of entertainment. Of course, parents typically have an easier time than teachers with this pillar because they can freely discuss their personal beliefs. Yet even so, it is interesting to note that cultural and media literacy and values education are two of the fastest growing areas in the academic community—a trend most likely due to the fact that educators are beginning to realize that something is amiss.

Pillar 5: Help your children learn how to ask the right questions.

When children know the right questions to ask, they can arrive at the right answers to the problems presented by the mass media of entertainment. For instance, if the hero in the movie your child is watching wins by murdering and mutilating his victims, will your children be able to question this hero’s behavior, no matter how likable that character may be?

Educating the Heart

Theodore Roosevelt said that if we educate a man’s mind but not his heart, we have an educated barbarian. Cultural and media wisdom involves educating the heart so that it will make the right decisions. [1]

[1] Baehr, T. (2007). We Are Not in Kansas or Kiev Anymore. In R. A. Morey (Ed.), Journal of Biblical Apologetics: Volume 10 (R. A. Morey, Ed.) (105–106). Orange, CA: California Biblical University and Seminary.

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