Editor's note: this piece was coauthored by Hagelin's daughter, Kristin Carey.
In today’s health-conscious culture, the saying “you are what you eat” is generally regarded as gospel truth. We know it’s important to eat well because it’s obvious that our lives are deeply affected by the quality of our diets. How much more important is it to watch what we put into our minds and pay attention to how it affects us?
If you want a healthy family, it is essential to step back from time to time to evaluate whether the media messages we and our family members are consuming are supporting—or harming—the hopes and dreams we have for our family unit as a whole, and for each individual.
We must spend some time analyzing our own habits, and stepping into our kids’ worlds to find out which messages are being pumped into their still-developing brains and how much pressure they are under from manipulative marketers trying to get their cash. Greedy companies (note: not all companies, just the greedy ones) will do anything to get you and your kids hooked on, and spending money pursuing the adrenaline high that comes with viewing sexualized and violent media.
The mass marketers are after your children 24/7. They attempt to slam their inboxes with pornography. They prominently display products and a life-style of betrayal, moral relativism and sex, sex, sex in television programs. They are never too busy, or too tired from a long day’s work to "talk" to your children. And they know how to get teens to spend money: Take advantage of the fact that they are already on hormonal roller coasters by feeding them adrenaline-pumping, non-stop messages of sex, violence and rebellion.
The reality is that most of us don’t want to pause and consider whether or not the media that we are consuming is good for us. Why? Because if we find objectionable media habits, then we’re faced with either having to do something about them, or live with the guilt of being hypocrites.
Put simply: it’s easier to remain ignorant or complacent. We often choose an uneasy peace over principle. We value a quiet home with wary smiles more than we value developing the character of our sons and daughters, risking possible conflict, or even worse, risking having to give up our own bad habits along the way.
The ugly truth is that in many cases, the American home has become a septic tank for the culture’s toxic sewage. After all, it’s often in the privacy of their own bedrooms—or sitting in the living room with their moms or dads - that teens consume hour upon hour of the sludge that is perverting their views of sexuality, relationships and life in general. It’s time for us to pay attention to the messages we are sending when we simply accept the messages the media sends us. The minds of children are like sponges. They’re ready to be filled with good things or with bad things, and it’s up to moms and dads to provide a healthy mental diet. We've heard it said, “Garbage in—garbage out.” Children will largely become what they consume.
The Hope: Modify the Diet
It’s up to parents to provide their children with the materials that will build courage, fortitude, fidelity, sound judgment and strong character. But if you are consuming garbage, or if you have no idea what others are pumping into their developing minds, how on Earth are you going to protect them?
After honestly evaluating and adjusting your own habits, walk one week in your child’s tennis shoes. What is your daughter listening to, watching and reading? Have you ever actually sat down and played one of your son’s video or online games? Take a trip to the mall and look at the posters that scream out to them from the music and clothing stores—what do the images portray? My guess is that in many cases, your heart will break over what you find.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation’s report on media usage, teenagers consume 7.5 hours to 10.5 hours of media each day due to multi-tasking (such as listening to music while surfing the internet or playing a video game while watching television). “Children’s bedrooms have increasingly become multi-media centers, raising important issues about supervision and exposure to unlimited content. 71 percent of all 8–18-year-olds have a TV, while one-third have Internet access in their bedrooms. Outside of their bedrooms, in many young people’s homes, the TV is a constant companion: nearly half say the TV is on ‘most’ of the time, even if no one is watching."
Even while many polls show that parents are concerned about what their children watch and learn from the media, according to the Kaiser report, over two-thirds of all 8 to 18-year-olds say their families have no rules about how much TV watching they’re allowed to do. The same goes for time spent playing video games and time spent on the computer. Yet, studies indicate that parents who do impose rules and enforce them actually end up reducing the amount of time their children devote to media.
So the good news is: you may not have full control of your children's media consumption, but you do have a lot of influence. The question is: will you use it to create a healthier diet ...or not?