Is there a greater joy than being self-righteous about the lack of family values on TV? Ask Dan Quayle and let the bashing begin.
Guess what? An advocacy group for children recently found that the tube portrays kids unrealistically! Most are white, have easier, more exciting and affluent lives than ordinary kids, and almost all are untouched by social issues, money problems and … religion.
Feeling smugly judgmental yet?
Wait! We’re being ambushed by the Pogo paradox. (We’ve met the enemy and it is us.)
Listen to Quentin Schultze, a professor of communication at Calvin College in Michigan:
“It’s popular in religious circles to blast the media. But studies indicate most religious families are as guilty as everyone else in letting TV and movies influence their children.”
In “Winning Your Kids Back From the Media” (InterVarsity), Schultze scrutinized media use and family life, by which he means “activities that enable parents to pass down to future generations any kind of values, beliefs, wisdom.”
And? “Parents are spending an increasingly greater percentage of their discretionary time for their own selfish pleasure. To solve family arguments over who gets to watch what program or play which video game, parents tend to introduce more media technology into the home.” Thus, we have TV sets in nearly every room, including kids’ bedrooms; radios (and earplugs) for all; kids with their own stereos and computers.
“The principal impact is to make families media rich and communication poor, which raises the question: Who’s nurturing our kids?” Parents? Schools? Churches? We know better.
“My thesis is that religious faith is communicated from parents to children through relational activities, not primarily through formal religious education, not primarily by attending church and being preached at,” Schultze says.
Those parents who try to teach their children to be good human beings without a belief in God, Schultze says, aren’t devoting the necessary time and effort, either.
“And psychologists will tell you that kids learn more from what they see the parents do rather than what the parents profess.”
Fathers are a problem: “Men feel they’ve worked hard and deserve to blast away with their remote controls. They’ll tell kids not to watch TV, to go study, do something worthwhile. The kid sees that, for Dad, ESPN is what’s worthwhile.”
Schultze asked adults what they did with their parents when they were growing up that nurtured their faith. The answer? “Everything this current generation of parents told me is being eliminated.” Such as:
Eating meals together. “Sixtythree percent of Americans say they often watch TV while eating dinner.”
Vacations. “Once they were used to get away from work - and also the phone, movies, TV. I found many parents now take vacations without the kids. Another trend is high-tech vacations at places with non-stop technology interaction like Disney World. Even family camping is technology-driven. I walked through a campground recently and was stunned by the bluish glow of TVs and VCRs coming from tents and RVs.”
Sports. Golf is good: “People talk while they play golf.” So are fishing, downhill skiing and walking. “My son’s a teenager. We’ve taken walks since he was 5, when we’ve had our most profound spiritual discussions.”
OK, we pledge to take walks and eat with the kids, maybe even rough it on vacation. But get rid of TV and computers? Never!
“No one has to go cold turkey,” Schultze says. The idea is to fight fire with fire.
He and wife Barbara have compiled “The Best Family Videos” (Augsburg Fortress). A paperback, it lists many contemporary films and classics that parents and kids can watch together, then talk about the themes the flicks address. Examples:
“Dead Poets Society.” Adolescence, death, friendship, marriage, romance.
“Remains of the Day.” Aging, ethics, romance, work.
“Clear and Present Danger.” Ethics, heroism, war, work.