A review of The Media-Wise Family. By Ted Baehr.

Chariot Victor 1998.

Although this book is a few years old, and deals with the American scene, it is still quite a helpful resource on how families, and especially religious families, can deal with the media in all its forms. This is especially important since all families, Christian and non-Christian, are immersed in a culture which the popular media appears to be omnipresent and extremely influential.

How can families protect themselves, and their young people, from the harmful effects of popular culture? How can parents deal with the onslaught of anti-family and anti-faith values that are so incessantly promoted in music videos, in movies, on television and in advertising? How can parents become the real educator and transmitter of values, rather than the entertainment world? These and other questions are carefully dealt with in this helpful and illuminating volume.

With the family home bombarded by all forms of media and entertainment, parents need to be wise and discerning as to what they allow and how they allow it. Baehr, a US media expert, offers practical advice on how the media monster can be tamed and used for good in the home.

The facts on media use are first laid out, and US figures are probably close to Australian figures. The average American child will watch 25,000 hours of television, while attending school for around 15,000 hours. And that child will likely spend less than 2000 hours of quality times with parents. Thus TV in particular and the media in general have become for many children substitute parents. The media, rather than mum and dad, become the main mind-molders of our children.

Baehr then examines some of the harmful effects the media can have on young people, and not-so-young people. He examines how violence, sexually explicit material, and other negatives are becoming a staple diet for most Americans. And he notes that over 3000 scholarly studies have been conducted on the harmful effects of mass media on behavior.

He also documents how the entertainment industry is deliberately targeting ever younger audiences. But as Baehr points out, younger children just do not have the psychological and intellectual mechanisms in place to properly filter and analyze what they are soaking in. For example, younger children are unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and various images can have a lasting negative impact on them.

Baehr also documents how popular media is dumbing us down. Copious amounts of television viewing, for example, are creating a generation of kids who are educationally worse off, and who are also stunted emotionally and socially.

He also demonstrates how worldviews inimical to faith and family values are a regular part of much of the entertainment industry. Anti-Christian and anti-marriage messages predominant in much of Hollywood’s offerings. Thus parents need to teach their children how to treat their media intake with a discerning eye.

Baehr examines a number of films and television shows, noting their various worldviews: feminist, Marxist, atheist, radical green, secular humanist, New Age, and so on. He encourages us to learn to ask what a film says about such issues as God, man, sin, salvation, human sexuality, human purpose, human value, etc. We need to be informed viewers and listeners, not just uncritically accepting whatever comes our way, but carefully assessing it from the vantage point of a biblical worldview.

The book concludes with a practical and hands on guide to help parents teach their children to develop media discernment. And for those parents who want to take this further, Baehr publishes a bi-weekly assessment of films called MovieGuide.

In an age in which entertainment and popular culture have become the new gods for many young people, parents need to know where to turn in getting help to kerb the media monster. This book is a very helpful first step in the process.

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