Judging what is appropriate viewing

Author: Dr. Ted Baehr and Dr. Tom Snyder

How are we to judge whether a particular movie or television program is appropriate for our families or children? By what standards? Finally, how can we protect our families and church members from all the bad, which is out there while at the same time finding the good?


Thousands of scientific studies and case studies have shown the powerful influence that the entertainment media has on people's cognitive development and behavior, especially children, teenagers and young people, who represent the biggest audience. In fact, by the time they are 17-years-old, children will have spent at least 40,000 hours watching movies, videos and TV programs, playing video games, listening to music, and reading popular books and news stories, but only 11,000 hours in school, 2,000 hours with their parents, and 800 hours in church if they regularly attend! That's about 2,353 hours of media consumption per year for the average child. Of those 2,353 hours each year, our current figures indicate that up to 20 percent of them, or about 471 hours, will feature a solid, strong or very strong moral worldview, and up to 7 percent, or about 165 hours, will feature a solid, strong or very strong redemptive or Christian worldview.

In 2001, the Surgeon General of the United States agreed with four top medical groups, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as countless psychological experts, that violence in the mass media is contributing to increasing violent behavior among children. [1] Not only that, but many scientific studies from other sources, such as education professor Diane Levin, author of REMOTE CONTROL CHILDHOOD? COMBATING THE HAZARDS OF MEDIA CULTURE, [2] and psychologists like Dr. Victor Cline, Dr. Stanley Rachman, and Dr. W. Marshall, [3] have found that viewing sexual images in the media has led to increased sexual activity among children and teenagers and increased deviant behavior, including rape. Furthermore, a recent Dartmouth Medical School study of New England middle-school students, reported by the National Cancer Institute, found that viewing drug use in movies and TV programs leads [to such activity].


In light of all this conclusive evidence of the effect of the entertainment media, it seems ever abundantly clear, therefore, that parents need to teach their children and teenagers how to be media-wise, intelligent consumers rather than just passive couch potatoes.

There are 4 pillars of media wisdom…

  1. Understand the negative influences of the entertainment media

  2. Understand your child's cognitive or psychological development

  3. Understand the grammar of the entertainment media or how the media works

  4. Understand your moral, spiritual values and teach them to your children

For instance, you might not want your younger children seeing MONSTERS, INC., SHREK or THE LORD OF THE RINGS, while TOY STORY II and JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS is safer for them. Or, you might want your teenager to avoid a movie like THE FAMILY MAN, but allow them to see something like THE PRINCESS DIARIES, RETURN TO ME or THE LORD OF THE RINGS. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health showed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid, and many just become desensitized. Just like an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so the propensity for susceptibility plays an important part in what kind of media will influence your child at each stage of development.

You and your children also need to understand the grammar of the media so that you can deconstruct and critique what you are watching by asking the right questions.

Furthermore, your children need to understand your values to be able to use those values to evaluate the answers they get from asking the right questions. If the hero wins by murdering and mutilating, your children need to apply your own values, which may or may not see the hero's actions as heroic or commendable. Families have an easier time with number four, because they can apply their deeply held religious beliefs to evaluate the media.

Of course, there is much more to teaching media wisdom. Reading to your children five minutes a day is a most effective tool, according to University of Wisconsin research. Many parents may want to think about reading the Bible to their children. As Jesus Christ said, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 in the Hebrew Scriptures,

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Having your children prepare their own rating system, and then letting them adhere to it is also helpful, as is having your children review the media they consume by writing up their answers to the right questions listed in Number Three above. You might also want to encourage your children to create their own stories, plays, paintings, sculptures, movies, and television programs.

Finally, you might want to remember the following general questions, which provide a great guide to your viewing pleasure:

Questions to Help You Make Wise Media Choices

  1. What kind of role models are the main characters?
  2. Do the moral and spiritual statements and themes agree with a biblical worldview?
  3. Are real consequences to sin exposed?
  4. How are relationships and love portrayed?
  5. How are Christians, religion, the church, the family, and God portrayed?
  6. Does the language honor God and people?
  7. If violence is included, how is it presented?
  8. How much and what kind of sexual activity is implied and/or depicted?
  9. How appropriate is this material for my family and me?

As Theodore Roosevelt taught, if we educate a man's mind but not his heart, we have an educated barbarian. Media wisdom involves educating the heart so that it will make the right decisions.

Thus, the best way to develop media-wisdom is not just to reject the bad , but by choosing the good.


  1. See “Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children,” Congressional Public Health Summit, July 26, 2000, www.aap.org. MOVIEGUIDE® is happy to provide copies of this statement and other articles and position papers.
  2. www.abcnews.com, 04/09/01.
  3. Dr. Ted Baehr, The Media-Wise Family (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998), pp. 87-110. Also, please contact us for articles on the effect of sexual content in the mass media of entertainment. 4 Press release, National Cancer Institute, 03/23/01.

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