My husband and I gave up most TV watching more than twenty years ago. Sienfeld, Friends, and many other shows we have only seen on airplanes. But this year I realized that media was still getting in the way of my relationship with God. Watching Netflix had increased from a 20-minute cool down before bed to an hour (at least!), and NPR accompanied me on my short commute each day rather than prayer or reflection. I resolved to “prepare the way of the Lord” this past Advent by giving up more media.
This realization shows not only the pervasiveness of media in our lives, but also the first step we must take to guide our children’s media choices: examine our own. As in every other aspect of our lives, our kids listen to what we do much more than what we say.
Of course, we can also make rules. Our house had no TV on Sunday, limited TV time each day, and no computer in the bedroom. While a good start, rules are not a complete answer as children must eventually make their own choices.
Consuming media with our kids is one way to help them do so. When they are little we can point out the fallacies in commercials or decide to switch to something else if an inappropriate scene appears. As they mature, we can ask questions that challenge assumptions or let them know that we do not approve of a particular show and why. This must be done subtly to avoid turning family fun time into family fight time! We also can keep track of the books and magazines in the house and read them, too.
Another idea is sharing appropriate media you really like with your children. I am a Star Trek fan from childhood, and my husband presented me with Star Trek DVDs for several holidays. My older daughter especially likes to watch an episode with me. During high school this would often be the only time we had together without conflict. My younger daughter and I like to watch the America’s Test Kitchen DVDs that my dad buys us.
And media shouldn’t be your only quality time! I love to read out loud, and we have spent many hours reading books and sharing magazines together. I still offer to read to my children for some quality time when they are home, and sometimes they let me! I hope they will remember these positive experiences fondly and notice a difference if they make poor media choices.
(Lori Chesser, Legal Consultant for the Diocese of Des Moines)