By Dr. Lisa Dunne
Who are you? How did you become the person you are today? In a media-centric world, this foundational question of human development is an increasingly vital one. Whether it’s a physical friend or a virtual one, our beliefs and our behaviors are largely fashioned by the voices to whom we give the power of influence. We are the product of our surroundings. We become like the company we choose to keep. This is one of the key reasons that today’s parents are wisely pulling the plug on the grand American experiment known as “public” school. In the book of second Samuel, we meet a character named Ahithophel. You don’t hear a lot of parents choosing that name today, and maybe for good reason. At the time, Ahithophel was famous for his wise counsel. In fact, it was said that the counsel he gave was as if one had “consulted the word of God directly,” and this counsel was esteemed by both David and Absalom, David’s son. But, when Ahithophel was summoned to give advice to Absolam, who had attempted to steal his father David’s throne, Absolam rejected his advice and followed the advice of King David’s friend, Hushai instead. Now, this act was ultimately the result of David’s prayer, and it brought down a falsely-appointed king, which was good. However, seeing his once-wise council turn into folly and rejection was a fatal blow for Ahithophel’s ego. When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, when he feared he had lost the identity stamp of “wise counselor” in the eyes of those whose opinions mattered to him, 2 Samuel 14 says that he set his house in order and hanged himself. Now, that’s a rather dramatic example of a response to rejection, but it’s a powerful reminder not to place our identity in our ability. How we respond to disappointment, to shifts in our public persona, even to changing seasons of life, can be a marker of where our identity is anchored. This is especially true in a media-centric, image-central culture. Last week, I wrote about Lot’s daughters, who had been socialized in Sodom and as a result carried with them in their beliefs and behaviors actions that we would call unconscionable even in the modern “progressive” era. Today, we also see a wide swath of Ahithophels whose lack of emotion regulation and anchoring to truth have led them to a pathway of despair, comparison, hopelessness, fear. What steps can you take to help yourself and your children remain rooted, grounded, and anchored in Christ in a climate known for promoting Marxism, Communism, and just sheer paganism? Students who are subjected to the socio-political nonsense of the day via the subversive stream of indoctrination in government school classrooms feel the pressure every moment of the classroom day. It pushes against their values from all sides: administration, teachers, curriculum, and, to the shock of many parents, from the mouths of peers who are constantly parroting and pushing the agenda onto their classmates. Never fear, though: we can readily help you step outside of that failed scholastic model—if you haven’t yet heard, CVCU is here to walk you through your overdue breakup from the system. Just visit our tabs The University, The Academy, or Start an Academy at CVCU.us to join the rescue mission. Outside of the traditional education system, though, one of the most persuasive purveyors of identity today for youth is media: entertainment media, social media, all visual and auditory media that stamp their identity on the forming minds and hearts of those who regularly ingest them. So, managing media, both for ourselves and our children, is a vital skill. As parents, most of us want to raise confident, kind, respectful, emotionally-balanced children who firmly believe not only in the value of their own life but in the value of the lives around them. These confident children do not grow on television trees. They do not sprout from hypersexualized social media seeds. They are birthed of loving families who balance grace and truth effectively, teaching the art of humility and respect as an act of deference, teaching love of the self not in an inflated and egocentric fashion, but in the sense of personal value, individual worth, agape love. These are the ingredients for a new generation, and they won’t be birthed of an electronic parent.
American author Frederich Buechner once said that it doesn’t matter where else we succeed if we don’t succeed at home. The home front, he said, is our most important contribution to the world; we are the only parents our children will ever have, and we will shape the future for better or worse through what we create in them. By our own hand, we will train up a brat, a bully, or a blessing. Ultimately, training up a child isn’t the job of the government. It isn’t even the job of the church or, certainly, a school. It is the job of parents. So, where do we start with this goal of managing media influence?
Children and teens have the highest volume of media intake, with statistical norms still running at 7:40 minutes a day and 65% of social “interaction” taking place on a screen. Though the methodology shifts to a degree when our children are in their teen years, the teens are definitely not the time for parents to take a hands-off approach. Adolescence is a time of rapid and often uneven brain development (i.e., logic and emotion regulation do not develop in predictably stable patterns). Thus, teens would be better served with more guidance and direction in this season of life, not less. Yes, they need autonomy, but the responsibility must be progressive in nature. The radical neural pruning they undergo is shaped experientially, and like the statistical accounts of second marriage, if the message isn’t learned the first time around (in childhood), the same emotional baggage may be carried into this developmental period of the teen years as well. Homeschooling provides us the unique opportunity to be able to shape and sharpen the latent talents of our young students, and one of the big distractions we have to help them (and ourselves) manage is the media monster. Let’s look at a few tips of the trade:
Evaluate the State: We need to evaluate our media choices the same way we would (or should) evaluate our choice of closest companions. Virtual peers can have a tremendous amount of influence in our lives. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has studied the socialization impact of media, especially music, on teen brains, and they’ve shown that as much as 96% of teen behavior appears to be governed by the music they listen to.
Guard the Gate: We need to make sure we are making wise choices with our media intake. I like how author Denise Mira puts it in her book No Ordinary Child: “What’s the cause of all the worldliness, powerlessness, and ineffectiveness in our homes? Wrong plumb lines. We feed on secular, humanistic idealism… We feast on fashion, entertainment, food, recreation, and assorted frivolity… We ingest massive portions of convincing demonic philosophies in the movies we watch, yet we wonder why our daily lives are askew.” It’s up to us to set the appropriate media boundaries around our hearts and minds.
Get Lit: We need to become media literate, learning to correctly assess, dissect, and discuss the messages coming into our homes and our hearts. When our kids were little, we would pause the show or commercial to have a discussion about the content and make sure our kids were analyzing through a biblical worldview. The more we do this as parents, the more they are able to exercise that discipline.
Go for a Checkup: We need to x-ray and assess the influences on our family and our relational health. Does your mirror reflect more of the world or the Word? Are we full of faith or full of fear? Are we bitter or thankful? Are we pushy or pure? Does our family look more like a reality TV show or an authentic, loving, and interconnected support group?
Read the Label: We need to know the “ingredients” in the media we are consuming, whether it’s song lyrics, magazines, movies, or TV. How much of what we are ingesting glorifies God, and how much draws us away from God through cynicism or anti-Christian philosophies?
Garbage In, Garbage Out: We need to monitor the amount of time we are devoting to media. If we allow ourselves to feed at the fount of folly all week, we can’t be surprised if we (or our kids) are displaying rebellious, sassy, cynical behavior. As Voddie Baucham says, “We can’t send our kids off to Caesar for the day and then act surprised when they come home as Romans.” We will become like the company we keep, virtual or face-to-face.
Pull the Plug: We need to take regular timeouts from screen time. At least 10 leading national pediatric and psychological associations say there should be no screen use at all for kids ages 2 and under. From ages 2 to adult, the recommended daily allowance is no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Instead of vegging out mindlessly, we need to train ourselves and our children to sit quietly before the Lord, to be still and know that He is God. This becomes increasingly difficult if we are addicted to constant mental and visual stimulation.
Up Your Intake: We need to make sure we are getting more of the Word and less of the world. If we have 2, 4, or 8 hours of media intake a day, and then we have one 10-minute devotional once a week, we will obviously need to reverse some percentages. Start your day every day with a healthy dose of truth from the Bible. Read together as a family. Discuss the chapters. Pray over one another. Help your children develop habits of the heart that will serve them well into adulthood.
Check Your Fruit: We need to make a regular habit of checking the fruit of our lives and our children’s lives. Do we portray love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Or, are we filled with anger, envy, ingratitude, restlessness, frustration, laziness, and a lack of discipline? Parents, if we want a good harvest, we have to make a careful and intentional investment.
Sociologist Anthony Giddens (2006) tells the story of an interview with an Amish community, as he was trying to better understand their rejection of technological devices like the telephone. In the interview transcripts, the Amish men in the community make some revelatory (and piercing) comments about the phone. What does it fashion in us and in our families, they ask, when we are constantly interrupted by this “interloper”? The peripheral becomes central. Minutiae take center stage. The leaders of the community saw the potential for humans to become so distracted by technology that we become disconnected from what is most important.
Though we may not need to eschew media altogether in Luddite style, we do need to follow the steps of media management so that we can be rooted, grounded, and anchored in Christ. We are without a doubt the product of our surroundings; we become like the company we keep. Whether it’s a physical friend or a virtual one, our beliefs and our behaviors are fashioned by the voices to whom we give the power of influence. We can work together to shift the paradigm of purpose and value. As Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Today is a great day to begin placing more focus on the eternal and less focus on the temporal. Instead of assuming the actions of Ahithophel, clinging to an earthly identity, or behaving like the daughters of Lot, who were socialized in Sodom, it’s up to us to rise above the din of media manipulation and learn to experience truth for ourselves and our children. Through education, re-socialization, nurture, admonition, and positive modeling, we can begin to refocus the lens, and, in just one generation, we will begin to see a radical transformation in culture.