Defeating the Media Monster

Cary Schmidt

I have a deep inner aversion to living things that crawl, creep, fly, or slither around and find their way into places they don’t belong. They bother me. They creep me out. I just want them dead as quickly as I can make it happen. It’s not really fear, but something that has more to do with dominance and my human right to “not be creeped out”! (After all, it’s in everybody’s basic rights—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the freedom to be uncreeped!)

Not long ago, I had a bat in my office. Another time, a bird came flying in—yes, a BIRD—into my third-floor office! Shortly thereafter, a lizard showed up in a secretary’s office. And as you might imagine, these things not only hindered workflow, they significantly raised the threat level on the “creep-ometer.” They were nasty little living things that found their way into areas they didn’t belong. They disturbed and disrupted, and they had to be dealt with. And in each case—they were. (The sentence was “death by broomstick.”)

On a spiritual level, the media of our society is constantly and forever trying to creep its way into places it doesn’t belong—in our hearts and homes. The tools of that media come in a wide variety—from TVs, to computers, to video game consoles, to cell phones, to iPods, to social websites and dozens of other helpful and potentially enjoyable gadgets and toys. The message of that media depends upon our day-to-day choices—who we communicate with, what we listen to, what we post, what we watch or play, and who we follow or befriend. The media itself isn’t all bad, and the tools of media are not intrinsically wicked—it’s what that media can become and the unrestrained messages it brings with it that pose great risk.

Simply put: media will eat your family alive unless you tell it not to. When unrestrained, media can be like little roving creatures looking for a new place to settle. Uncontained, it will creep and crawl its way into every possible area of your life, family, and relationships—threatening a lot of good stuff along the way. In our society, media is Satan’s primary tool of communication and destruction—in spite of the good that modern technology can bring.

So what do Christian families do with so many varieties of media threats? There are two extremes. The first is to completely ignore the threat, letting each family member have complete media freedom. In this case media becomes a raging monster rampaging through a home with an insatiable appetite for destroying relationships and addicting hearts to sin. The second extreme is unprincipled abstinence—the decision to remove all media from our lives without explanation or biblical training. This approach results in our children eventually facing the media monster alone in their adult lives with no biblical foundation on which to stand. In the first extreme, media becomes dominant in the home and relationships die early. In the second, media waits patiently to ravage an unprepared life later.

In a multimedia age, it’s time that parents and children engage in the day-to-day process of understanding, discerning, taming, and containing the media beast. Proverbs 22:6 teaches us, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The process of “training up” is a time-consuming, fully-engaged, active, and deliberate course of action. Yet, I find that few parents have intentionally determined to “train up” their children in defeating one of the greatest threats to their future spiritual well-being—mass media.

Let’s examine the big challenges media brings, and then explore some practical steps to defeating and taming this monster. There are five huge challenges that media brings into our homes:

THE CHALLENGE OF PERVERSION
Whether it’s a TV show, an inappropriate website, or a profane Facebook posting, the media of our culture has given a loud and long voice to a massive amount of perversion. It’s difficult to even buy a gallon of milk without having to see and hear the filth of our world being broadcasted or displayed. Even the conservative news outlets are shameless when it comes to advertising or stories having to do with sexual matters. This challenge threatens our purity, and God commands us to flee youthful lusts (Ephesians 4:29) and to be wise to that which is good and simple concerning evil (Romans 16:19).

THE CHALLENGE OF DECEPTION
The media of our culture is constantly heralding Satan’s lies about love, happiness, and life. Additionally, the internet gives someone a lot of opportunities to “be someone else” or to participate in gossip, slander, and harmful chat. The deception of anonymity has drawn many into second lives, inappropriate relationships, and deceptive communications. But God tells us in James 4:8 to cleanse our hands, purify our hearts from double-mindedness and draw nigh to God once again.

THE CHALLENGE OF OBSESSION
Emails, twitter, blogs, cell phones, video games, internet chat, forums, and a variety of other media tend to become dominant in our lives. Frankly, these mediums impact us in ways we don’t even fully understand yet. Science has only just begun to examine the power that these things can have over us and the developmental results over time. Practically speaking, in counseling, I’ve seen that these things can literally become obsessions—almost holding us hostage and causing us to disengage from real relationships. But in 1 Corinthians 6:12 God instructs us not to be “brought under the power of any”—speaking of things that may not be evil, but also may not be expedient (or helpful).

THE CHALLENGE OF DISCONNECTION
Media is so dominant in some families that it has completely overrun real family connections. A healthy marriage relationship or parent/child relationship requires a close heart connection—the product of time, eye contact, heart-to-heart conversation, frequent affection, and real-time interaction. Abundance of media literally kills time, robs focus, shortens attention span, and makes human relationships seem boring and shallow. But Ephesians 4:32 and 6:1–4 teach us to develop loving, tenderhearted, nurturing relationships in our homes.

THE CHALLENGE OF EMPTINESS
This is the result of the first four challenges. When media is allowed to “take over,” everyone in the family is familiar with everything in the world except each other, and that leaves the heart very, very empty and hungry. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:17 that he gave his heart to know madness and folly and found it was nothing but “vexation of spirit.”

To beat these challenges, tame this monster, and prepare your children to have discernment and wisdom, may I make the following suggestions:

1. Build healthy relationships committed to purity and godliness. This is the foundation. Teach your children biblical principles of holiness and honorable living, and engage their hearts with real and abundant time together.

2. Get on a media learning curve. Just like driving a car—first you learn, then you teach. The principle is the same with media. Simply—if you allow it, you must learn it. You can’t afford to have media outlets or gadgets in your home that you do not understand. For instance, you must know everything your child can do with his cell phone—and if you allow it, you must teach it as well (text messaging, etc.).

3. Train your children in the proper use of each media tool you allow. Again, like driving, you wouldn’t toss your sixteen-year-old the keys and say, “Go figure it out.” A learner’s permit requires that you ride along first, showing the way and correcting the mistakes. While this is annoying to the teen and harrowing to the parent—staying alive makes it ultimately “worth it.” Take the same approach to media. Get in the experience and teach and train along the way—correcting, instructing, and nurturing with biblical wisdom.

4. Set ground-rules, protected entry-points, and checkpoints. Teach your child the rules of the road, install filtering software, and grab that cell phone and iPod periodically just to monitor how they’re being used. This is essential, and there is a wide variety of services (some for free) that help parents monitor their children as they use tools like email, instant messaging, online activity, cell-phone texts, etc. In addition to this, take advantage of helpful resources like review sites that inform parents of the content of movies, TV shows, etc. Get informed, and stay informed.

5. Be familiar with every form of media in your child’s life. Trust nothing when it comes to media—not Disney, not the family channel, and certainly not internet friends. Know what music they listen to, what books they read, what shows they watch, what people they follow, and what they post. Make no apology—for you cannot train up your children unless you are immersed in this world with them.

6. Provide clear and biblical boundaries and limitations. You may opt completely out of one form of media or another. You may restrict emails to a short list of people you know. You may limit access to only a few websites. You will definitely need to set time limits. I can’t answer all of the possible scenarios, but the Holy Spirit can guide you to set the right limits on the way your family uses these forms of media.

7. Provide healthy alternatives to media. Help your kids stay in balance by practicing moderation (Philippians 4:5). Lead your children to read, play games, learn an instrument, play a sport, develop a hobby, or find interests that don’t involve screen-savers and tweets.

8. At times, just unplug on purpose. Have times when media is just put away, turned off, unplugged, or even taken away. For instance, if you really want to get a feel for how powerful your child’s cell phone is, take it away for a few days and read the text messages that come in. If this creates world war three, then Houston, we have a problem. If your children can survive without these things and if they don’t mind you looking at their world of communications, that’s a good sign that they are learning appropriateness and moderation. If they freak out—then that’s a good sign you need to be a lot more involved in the “train up” stuff.

Media will eat your family alive unless you tell it not to. Parent, it is possible to tame the media and technological tools of our lives. I hope you desire, as I do, to train up the next generation to use media in a way that pleases the Lord and advances His purposes.