The Media Is the Message
In this edition of Unite the USA, you will learn about resources and tips for you and your family to better navigate the media. The more awareness we have about the media the better. We have hope but we need to be actively discerning.
In this month's feature article, "You Are What You Watch: 7 Tips for Healthy Audio-Visual Consumption," Stacie uses her education and insights to inspire and equip people. The ready-to-apply tips help combat the harmful content with prayerful discernment and positive, uplifting content instead. We hope you feel encouraged and equipped by this edition. May we all encourage and pray for each other to shine brightly in dark times.
Stay strong in Christ,Carrie Stoelting and Stacie Stoelting HudzinskiSisters and Co-founders of Unite the USA
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Featured Veteran of the Month: Jon Cavaiani
How Families Can Be Discerning Moviegoers
Every day as we watch television, read the newspaper, see a movie, or listen to music, we are bombarded with messages, some of them overt, some of them subtle. Yet how often do we stop and think about what we are watching and listening to?Ted says it is time we begin paying attention to our mass media consumption. We must make wise choices for ourselves and our families and protect our children. They must learn to use the media for entertainment, information, and education without being conformed and addicted to it.
When Ted steps off a plane in his worldwide travels, he finds Hollywood movies, TV shows, and satellite dishes in jungle highlands. Children the world over try to dress like the Hollywood stars they idolize and try to mimic their lives – including the smoking, drinking, and sexual promiscuity. What happens in Hollywood does not stay in Hollywood. What Lindsay Lohan wears, Justin Timberlake sings, and George Clooney articulates ripples their way to the heartland of America and well beyond.Ted gives five pillars of media wisdom to help build a culture-wise family. These include the following:
1. Understand the influence of the media on your family. After Columbine, CBS President Leslie Moonves bluntly said, “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot.” As the results of thousands of studies on youth violence prove, watching media violence causes violence among children. “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
2. Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development. Different children are susceptible to different stimuli – some children want to copy media violence; some become afraid; and many become desensitized.
3. Teach your children how the media communicates its message. Just as kids learn grammar with respect to the written word, they also need to be taught the grammar of 21st century mass media so they can think critically about the messages being programmed for them.
4. Help your children know the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Children need to be taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith so they can apply their beliefs and moral values to the culture and mass media of entertainment.
5. Help your children learn how to ask the right questions. Media Literacy: The Right Questions to AskTed says media literacy means teaching your children how to identify the elements that construct the messages and helps them determine what the messages means to them. As children review and critique what they see and hear, they learn to choose appropriate movies, TV, games, music, etc.
Teaching children how to uncover a movie’s message includes ascertainment, discernment, and reflection:
For ascertainment, ask your child the following: Who were the hero and the villain? What makes them worth rooting for or against? What motivates the hero and villain and how do they face their problems? What was gained at the end of the story?
For discernment, ask your child the following: Was the hero someone you can trust? Were the rules fair and was there accountability for keeping them? Is the hero’s behavior realistic? Are the consequences fair? Was there anything that would be embarrassing to share with family or authority figures? Is respect shown to all people?
And for reflection, ask your child the following: Were the characters good or bad examples to follow? Would you be comfortable living in the hero’s environment? Were actions properly rewarded or punished? Would you do what the hero did? How did the actions affect important relationships such as family, friends, and God? Was sexual behavior modest and dignified? Was any violence necessary for solving a problem? Was the language appropriate? Was the hero’s success or failure important?
"You Are What You Watch": 7 Tips for Healthy Audio-Visual Consumption
For years, the suicide rates in America have continued to be one of the leading causes of death in children and adults (Frequently Asked Questions About Suicide, 2021). The rates have been rising with a 56% increase from 2007 through 2017 in ages 10-24 (Centers for Disease Control, 2020). And, after the isolation and associated challenges of the pandemic, suicides and suicide attempts horrifically continued to rise in children.
Granted, there are many reasons for the increase in depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. But why are growing numbers of innocent children experiencing this in growing numbers? While many factors feed into this horrific trend, there is one factor often overlooked: repetitive exposure to dark entertainment/media through excessive screen time.
People like to think that what we watch doesn't impact what we think. But we are what we eat, and we are what we watch (to a certain extent). It appears that the isolation combined with increased exposure to dark content (on social media, movies, and other forms of media/entertainment) to worsen mental health. It is because we human beings learn through what we audio-visually ingest.
Through excessive and unfiltered screen time, cyberbullying and violent/dark forms of entertainment invaded kids’ (and adults’) lives in alarmingly toxic rates. What they audio-visually ingested impacted their sensitive hearts and developing minds. The increased utilization of all kinds of media during the pandemic created the idealopportunity for many children (and adults), who already felt isolated, to be inordinatelyinfluenced by negative sources.
This topic pulls at our heart strings. And it aligns with one of my passions: One of the hats I wear is that of behavioral research. As I run the final laps of my PhD, I know well one fact: We human beings copy what we see. We learn by what we watch others model –even symbolically through media. In fact, our participation with social media affects us. For example, our neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine levels) are directly influenced by social media activity (e.g., how many people view/like our images on social media). It’s because, in a sense, we are what we watch/perceive. If we look to Jesus and reflect God’s Word in our choices (even entertainment choices), then we will avoid many excessive effects of the evil darkness in this world.
Contrary to a trend of thought that we can watch anything and be unaffected, entertainment trains us for the good or for the bad. This lesson crystallized en masse in the 1960s when Albert Bandura conducted his pivotal experiment with the BoBo doll. In it, he and his colleagues tested whether kindergarten-aged children copied what was modeled symbolically via film rather than only what was modeled directly in person to them. The extremely succinct summary? The children copied the violence on the BoBo doll.
A brilliant man, Bandura emerged from a farm in Canada and became a towering figure on the landscape of psychological studies until he became one of the most cited psychologists of all-time (Ozer, 2022). His development of social learning theory demonstrated his understanding of how people learn through imitation. Those with far left agendas listened to him and sought to use his theory to sway the public in their extreme direction.
For example, one of Bandura's colleagues, Miguel Sabido, worked to create en entity known as Education-Entertainment through which he produced a series of docudramas to influence people to believe his secular humanist thoughts and agendas on family planning (Sabido, 2003). One by one, citizens in third-world countries would see his “free movies” and learn what he wanted them to learn. And they did. They sadly tended to behave in the ways that reflected his liberal agenda.
Did the entertainment train the viewers? Yes. Disturbingly, it trained people very efficiently. Example: In response to social learning theory-based docudramas intended to change family size, the population growth of Mexico slowed 34% (Sabido, 2003; Nagel, 1978). Yes, you read that correctly: There was a 34% reduction in populationgrowth rate.
Media effectively can affect people of all backgrounds. It most impacts us when we set discernment aside and ingest too much of the wrong messages. It is because we human beings –created in God’s image to reflect Him— do change our behavior to reflect what we see to one degree or another. It can be very subtle or overt. But we do become what we see.
Bandura would have done well to note that what he discovered could actually be found in the Bible: God created us in His image and with the intent that we would mirror Him as we love Him and others. We are to keep our eyes on our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to copy Christ who modeled everything for us. Here is but one Bible verse of many on this topic: "Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]" (Ephesians 5:1).
With God's help, we can win the battle and choose entertainment that reflects God's best for us so that our minds (and children's minds) are filled with Biblically positive messages. When we audio-visually ingest Biblically positive messages, we experience positive effects. It’s that simple. It’s that wonderful!
7 Tips for Healthy Audio-Visual Consumption for Families
Here are some tips to become a more reflective audio-visual consumer who experiences uplifting results:
1. Select entertainment which reflects God’s truth and love. Make Philippians 4 your focus and standard for what content you select to fill your minds. Ask a few questions as you read the summaries of shows: Does good prevail? Does evil get too much focus/time and equal footing with goodness? Are people making fun of Christians in it? The messages promoted in the film will bring you up or down.
2. Avoid genres/themes that stir up discontent or unhelpful desires for your current season of life. Here’s what I mean: Let’s pretend that someone is single and feeling desperate about wanting a spouse. It would do well for this person not to watch one romance movie after another –even if the romances are clean. Instead, it would be wise to change up the entertainment choices with the addition of some inspirational and comedy options.
3. Choose to watch and listen to content without people using God’s Name like dirt. Select content free of swearing. The lack of creativity in curse words and the darkness they bring are like sewage spewing from people’s mouths. It does no good. No good at all. Get censored versions of films with otherwise stellar content. And enjoy keeping your mental filter clean. Your outlook will brighten!
4. Determine to view movies/shows which do not promote worldly values that stir other forms of discontent. For example, fancy cars, vacations, and big homes do not fill hearts with warmth and love. Having loved ones who want to be with you should be esteemed instead. Films which promote loving God and neighbor instead of loving money and self will help change the focus from the constant comparison with the world game.
5. Limit social media and screen time as a whole. Fully engage your senses while making memories with loved ones. Today, so many people capture moments on their phones through pictures or social media postings. They attempt to get the best angles and choose the best wording in the captions. Yet something extremely ironic happens: As a result of capturing memories, they do not fully engage in the moment with their full senses. Later, they do not recall the memory fully and others have a feeling of distance instead of closeness. For example, someone may be so engrossed in taking selfies with large red roses that they don’t take the time to smell them, thank God for them, and thank the person who gave them. In our social media-filled society, many interact online yet ignore those in their own homes. They don’t realize how much they miss out because of their screens until something tragic happens to the ones they love. This is why it is important to consider how we all spend our time and where we devote our attention. And it is highly important to then share His presence with others as you love them by being fully present. Make memories with your wholeattention in the moment. Sure, take a few pictures. But wait to post them. Or cherish privacy and skip it altogether. (While it's fun to use social media, we need to remember that privacy is precious, too.) Fully engage your five senses when making memories and thank God for every blessing you newly notice in the process.
6. Take the One-Hour Challenge to see how you fare without your phone on. Turn off all media for one hour. Take a walk. Read a book. Make a good recipe. Visit with a friend/family member “in person.” Journal. Draw/color. Create something to bless another person.
7. Guard your kids’ minds and help them develop discernment based on love and not legalism. Cyberbullying and predators of children often appear during unmonitored screen time. Keep your children’s phones in your bedroom at night. Limit screen time and use filters for content (e.g., VidAngel, ClearPlay). Eliminate commercials through subscriptions to commercial-free sources (e.g., PureFlix). Use sources like PluggedIn for movie reviews. It may feel weird at first, but the rewards will exceed any temporary awkwardness.
Become a reflective and protective audio-visual consumer. As adults, our jobs are to protect the children and teens in our lives while encouraging them to reach their amazing God-given potential. The shift in focus can feel strange initially. (Let me give you a heads up: It may feel weird for a while as you detox from “mental junk food” or mood- poisoning media making your mind feel worse. But the long-term benefits and relatively fast-acting effects of positive, God-honoring entertainment will make you wish you had made the switch sooner.)
Today, let each of us choose content which reflects Philippians 4. Pray before watching. (It may sound extreme, but we live in extreme times in which we are inundated by messages, choices, and voices.) Pause and ask the Lord for wisdom before you make an audiovisual selection –especially when selecting anything for children and teens. Keep mental filters and vision clean. Entertainment choices act as voices into our lives. What we opt to ingest audio visually does affect our minds/moods. We must choose wisely. I believe you’ll be surprised when, after some time away from bad content and with a deliberate diet of good content, you will feel so much more peaceful, hopeful, and joyful!
Let’s take God’s Word to heart together now:
"You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right handthere are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). "For You make him to be blessed and a blessing forever; You make him exceedinglyglad with the joy of Your presence" (Psalm 21:6). "Surely the [uncompromisingly] righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the uprightshall dwell in Your presence (before Your very face)" (Psalm 140:13). "We are [children] of God. Whoever is learning to know God [progressively to perceive,recognize, and understand God by observation and experience, and to [e] get an ever-clearer knowledge of Him] listens to us; and he who is not of God does not listen or pay attention to us. By this we know (recognize) the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error.Beloved, let us love one another, for love is (springs) from God; and he who loves [hisfellowmen] is begotten (born) of God and is coming [progressively] toknow and understand God [to perceive and recognize and get a better and clearerknowledge of Him]" (I John 4:6-7).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Underlying cause of death, 1999-2020 request. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
Even before COVID-19 pandemic, youth suicide already at record high. 2021. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from UC Davis Health: https://health.ucdavis.edu/news/headlines/even-before-covid-19-pandemic-youth-suicide-already-at-record-high/2021/04
Frequently Asked Questions About Suicide. (2021). Retrieved April 26, 2022, from National Institute of Public Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-faq
Ozer, E. M. (2022). Albert Bandura (1925–2021). American Psychologist. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000981
Sabido, M. (2003). The origins of entertainment-education. In Entertainment-Education and social change (pp. 83-96). Routledge.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL NOTE: Do not hesitate to get help for yourself or a loved one with suicidal thoughts. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/