Are Todays Movies and TV a Parent's Enemy or Friend?
By Dan Rutledge
- "As Christians, we like to rant about the declining morality of today's television and movies. Morally bankrupt media permeates our culture. This last week I opened our local paper and found an article on the new fall TV season. The story had a picture of six attractive thirty-something models standing next to each other. All of them were naked, smiling, and covering themselves with one single bed sheet. The description for this new NBC show "Couplings" called it a "sex-obsessed sitcom." Yikes! So much for subtlety!
As a parent, we worry about the impact of today's entertainment on our kids. For parents of teenagers, it's an especially difficult issue because the media is so much a part of a teen's life. Television and movies are a main form of entertainment that a teen can enjoy in a group of peers. The shared experience of popular shows is a large part of their cultural environment and influences everything from language to dress. In a time when teens are trying to establish their identity and personality, the media provides many messages that are troubling.
For a parent fearful of the media content teens consume, it's easy to react harshly and subsequently communicate to their teen that we don't like any media and certainly not anything they want to watch or see.
Now, backlash against decadent content is understandable and good. God has called us to righteous standards and it is good to recognize that much of our entertainment is not moving us towards a closer walk with Christ. The desire to teach that to our kids is a great motive. However, I think parents need to be particularly careful of expressing that by portraying a negative attitude about all of film and television.
I am a filmmaker and live near Hollywood. I was talking with a friend who had recently moved into our area and he was telling me how he was really worried about moving to "Sodom and Gomorrah." Indeed, many Christians have labeled all of Hollywood as one great big evil. In articles on the subject, Christians sometimes advocate boycotts, encourage parents to restrict television usage, and tell parents to talk to our kids about how bad media can be. If we're not careful, we can create a mindset where we tell each other as parents that media is our enemy.
Film and Television can be a positive tool in the parenting of your teenager. It really can. But this powerful medium is often misunderstood and underutilized.
First, film and television can provide a bridge for you to relate to your teenager. Finding experiences to share and talk about with your child during this time can be tough. You're probably not going to want to attend a P.O.D. concert with them, but you most certainly can find a really quality movie or television show that is something you can share together.
Additionally, the media that interests your child can give you great insight into their teenage experience. Dig a little deeper into the stories that really resonate with teens and it can help you see a small picture of issues that they are dealing with. A movie like X-Men, for example, is not just an action-adventure, but it's a film about a group of teens who feel they are different from everyone else and disliked by people, in this particular case, because of a super power. Every teen wants to feel that deep down they have something special to offer that people just don't understand. Now, your teen might not be able to articulate that. But watch the project carefully. Ask your teenager what they like about a show or movie. It could be the content, the theme, it might just be that friends think it's cool and they want to fit in but regardless, paying attention to media choices and discussing them can give you a small access portal into their life.
Rather than just reacting negatively to media issues proactively be involved in your child's media experience. One thing my parents did when I was a teenager was to almost always volunteer to be the house that everyone could come to. They had a very specific goal in mind they figured if they could be involved in what video everyone was going to rent and watch, then they could help make positive choices that would impact the group. Don't wait until your teen asks if they can go see a certain movie. Make a plan for a particular movie and offer to take them!
A key part of this, of course, is taking effort to find good media content. Here's where we often fail. It's Saturday night and we're running short on time, so we wander into the video store and scour the shelves trying to determine what a movie is about from a tiny paragraph on the back and a rating system that can be very poor. We end up choosing a movie just because it's been advertised a lot and because we saw one of the actors before. We get home, watch it with the family, and then complain about how there are no good movies to watch. Wrong. There are great movies out there, but often we don't take any effort whatsoever to find them. There are some fantastic stories fitting for families and kids of many different ages, but they often aren't the big blockbusters. Navigating today's world of media takes some effort.
If you're picking out a movie for a group of people, take extra effort to find one that everyone will enjoy and that will reflect positive moral values that you can feel comfortable playing in your home. There are some great websites like Pluggedinonline.com, Crosswalk.com, Movieguide.org, Moviereporter.com, and CBN.com where you can read reviews about current movies and television shows and their moral content. This is a must. Spend some time BEFORE you go to the video store. In today's media environment, watching a movie or television show without any previous knowledge about its content is asking for trouble.
Finally, take extra effort to support Christians who are involved in the media. I know many fellow Christians filmmakers who are struggling hard to create alternative content that is inspiring, uplifting, and entertaining. I'll be honest -- it is extremely challenging for us to compete against major studios with big budgets and established distribution channels. It's a tough business and those who are really trying to make positive change often don't have the power or financial resources to do so. Christian viewers complain about poor media content, but then they often fail to vote with their wallets! If there is a movie made by a Christian out in the theater, make sure you get to see it. If you have someone in your church who is cutting their first CD, or created a video of skits, or whatever make sure you buy a copy. Even if they're just starting out and their skills are still developing help make it possible for them to keep creating positive media alternatives. When we as Christians say that we are going to get behind people trying to make a difference, that's when well see change. It will help in providing more content for you and your family.
There's no doubt that movies and television are going to be a big part of your teen's life and culture. It's an extremely powerful communication medium. By proactively guiding that media experience rather than reacting only in anger, you'll find a way to connect with your teen and enjoy some great flicks in the process.
Rutledge is a filmmaker living in Burbank, California. He is a
graduate of Regent University's College of Communication. Dan
was the writer and director of the award-winning redemptive film
The Window and recently released a video series designed
for teenagers called The
Sparky Chronicles. This innovative new series integrates
spiritual truth in an exciting format to provide teens with an
entertainment alternative to today's media. More information on
the series can be found at www.findsparky.com.
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