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from the Boosters Ministry
Way #6: Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills Using Media, Music, and Movies
(This is part six in my series “The Top 10 Ways to Spiritually Prepare Your College Freshman for Campus.” This entry focuses on how parents and the Church can help our youth develop a better Christian worldview filter to discern the messages being absorbed through media.)
Developing a Christian Worldview Filter.
One of my favorite toys of childhood was the View-Master. This stereoscope used cardboard disks containing stereoscopic pairs of small color photographs on film. When inserted into the View-Master, the left eye and right eye views of the same scene were then seen as a single 3-D image. It changed the way we viewed things. It gave depth and a more realistic view of how things were.
I think it’s time for us to help our children and youth change the way they view media. Without a discerning eye, they are only getting one image—the worldview of the prevailing post-Christian culture. We need to provide the additional image of the Christian worldview so they can more accurately compare the messages and ideas conveyed through the media.
Mass media textbook author Fred Fedler says, “the media may constitute the most powerful education system ever known to man.” 1 And as James Emery White wisely counsels, “what we view can quickly become what we do.” Do we want really want our children to emulate what they watch and listen to?
Without proper training our youth will ingest whatever entertainment formula they’re fed as readily as they did the formula in their baby bottles. Instead, we need to move them to solid food and give them something to chew on – training that prepares them to discern truth and become thoughtful, conversational ambassadors of the Christian worldview .
John Stonestreet, co-host of the Breakpoint radio show, recently said, “The quickest way to be deceived is to not think.” Consider these verbs found in the Bible expressing how we should use our minds: guard, renew, set, prepare, and most foundational, love the Lord your God. We are not to be quickly shaken in mind or be double-minded. According to scripture, our minds can be hardened, blinded, set on earthly things, depraved and deprived of truth, corrupted. Yet, we largely ignore training our kids’ minds for critical thinking about the media they consume so they can discern truth from lies and evaluate other worldviews against Christianity.
They are a nation without sense; there is no discernment in them. If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be! ~ Deut. 32: 28-29
What is a worldview? Simply put it’s a framework of assumptions, beliefs, and conclusions that guides how we operate; the lens through which we view reality. The fact is, everyone has a worldview. So, the question is what does it teach? I like how Ravi Zacharias explains it (read more here about his method for analyzing a worldview), but at a minimum keep in mind that every worldview must answer where we and the universe come from, why we are here, how we know what’s right and wrong, and what happens after we die.
Do our kids know whether what they consume lines up with the Christian worldview? Do they care? Does it matter? Mindless media consumption coupled with lack of critical thinking is a monster devouring our youth. Granted, building them up in discernment is an exercise that should start at a young age, but it’s never too late to begin the conversation. Begin exposing yourself to what your youth and college students consume media-wise. Start becoming savvy so you can initiate conversations and lovingly challenge their choices.
. . to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance. ~ Proverbs 1:4
Resource to help you: Summit Worldview Check Up: Test Your Faith.
How can we help our students begin to be more mindful media consumers? Let me share a story "straight outta Hollywood."
In October of 2014 I attended the Hollywood Prayer Summons sponsored by the Hollywood Prayer Network (yes there is such a thing) and the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Close to 200 prayer warriors joined 50 Hollywood professionals who are part of more than 10,000 known, committed believers in the industry. They enlightened us to ways Christian can and should engage with media. It was a paradigm shift for me.
The director of the HPN, Karen Covell, said that “Hollywood is run by worldview” and challenged us with a chilling quote from Adolph Hitler, “Give me the screens of the world and I will control the world.”
Phil Cooke, a Hollywood producer and fellow believer, said that media is by far the most influential power in culture and that he who controls the narrative controls the culture.
A Hollywood producer took us through an exercise that can be useful with our children. After viewing a secular movie, we discussed how we should look for themes that have biblical implications. For example, many storylines have a theme of “redemption.” By connecting the theme in the movie with one in the Bible, we can use what we viewed to start a discussion on a spiritual level. We can use this approach to help our kids view media through a lens of discernment.
Don’t be afraid to follow up with probing questions such as: ‘Was there anything in the movie that we can affirm that supports biblical values?’ ‘What worldview did you see portrayed?’ Keep advancing the reel forward from mindless to mindful viewing habits.
Resources to help you:
- Movie Guide The mission of MOVIEGUIDE(c) is to redeem the values of the entertainment industry, according to biblical principles, by influencing industry executives and artists. They review all movies from a Christian perspective and explain how movies affect children at different stages of cognitive development. They analyze movies using over 150 different criteria that cover the dramatic elements, the literary, the worldview, the theological and more. As founder, Dr. Ted Baehr says, “He who controls the media controls the culture.” One parameter they rate movies on is worldview. Check out this link for their guide to ratings and how they define different worldviews. This could be a great conversation starter.
- Plugged In: Not only does Plugged In review movies, but television series, music, games, and books as well. Use this tool to inform yourself before having intentional, strategic conversations with your kids, no matter their age. The reviews will alert you to positive content, objectionable content, and particular items of interest. You can learn from this review to affirm what may actually be good in the media before beginning to dissect the issues. Their book reviews even include discussion topic questions. Sidenote: as your children mature (assuming you start this at an earlier age), teach them to check these sites ahead of time for decision-making, information, and preparation before viewing—as their worldview filter develops they may even change their minds about going to certain movies and may even persuade their peer group to be more thoughtful in their choices.)
Most of the tips for movies can also be applied to TV shows. Violence, comedy, and sexual ethics all need discernment. Let’s encourage kids to not just assume that the way things are portrayed on TV is okay. ‘Was that murder graphically gratuitous or appropriate to the story?’ ‘How could a believer have handled that temptation?’
You might want to explore what your child finds funny. Is the humor at the expense of others? Is it always sexually suggestive? Does it demean certain people groups? Is it one verbal smackdown after another? Why would a Christian watch that? What is the alternative? What can we tolerate or look past if the show has other redeeming qualities? What wholesome or Christian alternatives are there? The DVDs by Tim Hawkins are hilarious and show how to poke fun at ourselves. Others like Ben Stine and Chonda Pierce are worthy of consideration. Why not view these alternatives and compare what is funny and why?
We might do well to be as concerned with the consumption habits of viewing as with the content. Binge watching can be just as unhealthy as binge eating. Did you know that this generation uses 30% of the internet’s bandwidth for binge watching? With 92% of college students using a Netflix account, mostly accessed by Smartphone or computer, it’s even trickier to know what they are gorging on. How about a little binge Bible reading to balance that diet?
Hear my words, you wise men, and give ear to me, you who know; for the ear tests words as the palate tastes food. Let us choose what is right; let us know among ourselves what is good. ~ Job 34:3-4
You might also explore the memes your teens share on social media. Could you help them develop a habit of thinking things through before repeating or sharing them? Ask them to stop, think, examine—does it uphold the teachings of Jesus? Demean or demoralize others? Can they relate it to a proverb or scripture? Sharing on social media becomes an electronic diary, a scrapbook, and a window into their soul. How will it be viewed in the future? Does it reflect the image of God in them?
What would happen if you asked your teens to trade playlists with you for a day? Would they share it with you? Would they be embarrassed? Would you? Ask them why they like what they listen to and why they chose it. Whether they believe you or not, research has shown that when teens listen to music that promotes immoral behaviors they tend to imitate those behaviors2 and those who listen to music with references to degrading sex acts were more likely to then have sex than those who weren’t exposed to such lyrics.3 They may roll their eyes, whine, or justify themselves with "I don't listen to the words, I just like the music." However, research refutes that notion.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Approximately 17% of male adolescents and 25% of female adolescents expressed that they liked their favorite songs specifically because the lyrics were a reflection of their feelings. Also, it has been found that the more importance adolescents give to a certain type of music, the more attention they will pay to the lyrics.” 4
Encourage them to download Christian music, podcasts, spoken scripture and prayers to their playlist rotation. In a generation that was practically swaddled from birth in the web, one that is always plugged in, they face a new danger in their media consumption: “…a widening chasm between wisdom and information.” 5 As they fall asleep each night with their ear buds plugged in, what’s rocking your baby to sleep now? Sweet lullabies have been exchanged for songs that now put their conscience to sleep.
Resources to help you:
- Song lyrics: you can do a quick Google search for the name of the song and then lyrics. Be careful when clicking on video links just in case it’s sexually suggestive and you have younger eyes around. I found Metro Lyrics helpful because it has the top 100 songs with written lyrics as well as audio. You can view videos and hear interviews with the artist talking about the meaning and inspiration behind the songs—a great way to begin to discuss the worldview with your teen.
Help your teens assess the news from a Christian worldview. This will be very important on the college campus so they can evaluate the policies and agendas being espoused, researched, and implemented. The campus is a political hotbed these days and discernment is needed in this area to prevent them from being sucked into the black hole of “group think.' I have found two very valuable resources in this arena.
Resources to help you:
- “The Briefing”-- introduce yourself and your teens to someone like Dr. Albert Mohler and his “The Briefing” daily podcast. Mohler takes news right out of the headlines and analyzes it from a Christian worldview perspective. Then watch/read a story on the same subject from a mainstream media outlet and compare.
- Try a news service like The Stream which delivers news, inspiration, analysis, and entertainment with a goal of providing “knowledge and keen editorial discernment.”
- Logic—helping our teens learn logic will give their discernment muscle a workout. They will be able to spot logical fallacies in all the media they consume—especially news. Check out a logic app called Logical Fallacies by Study by App. And try William Lane Craig’s Learning Logic as an elementary intro to logic. For a visual learner try these logical fallacies posters.
- Axis and Cultural Translator: this incredible resource provides insight into how pop culture, technology, and media are influencing students and equips you to start biblically based conversations about them. Subscribe to their free newsletter so you can be on top of the latest trends, slang, and cultural traps.
- CT Entertainment Newsletter—Christianity Today magazine has a free online newsletter you can receive by email. They review music, movies, and more.
Let me leave you with something to ponder: what would happen if mainstream media, music, and movies met a generation of discerning consumers?
I hope these suggestions encourage you to be more informed about the media your teens are consuming and equip you to begin engaging in meaningful conversations about those choices. Counteracting the worldviews the culture is pouring into our children begins with training them to be wise and discerning about their choices.
Because in the end, God is the real View-Master we want them looking through and to.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Phil 1:9-10
1 James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017), 57.
2 White, Meet Generation Z, 58.
3 White, Meet Generation Z, 59.
4 Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth,” Council on Communications and Media, Pediatrics 2009; 124; 1488; originally published online October 19, 2009; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-2145; accessed July 31, 2017.
5 White, Meet Generation Z, 44.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details