Virtual citizenship: Creating a media savvy family

Protecting families from pornography takes more than just installing Internet filters on computers — it comes from developing healthy media habits, said Jill C. Manning, an expert on research and clinical work related to pornography and its impact on families.

“How we use and choose media, how we manage media behaviors and habits and consumption in our lives — especially in our homes — has a significant impact on the climate of our homes and the health of our homes,” Dr. Manning said during the Utah Coalition Against Pornography conference held in the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on March 22.

It is through improving media habits and teaching within the home how to manage in a media-saturated world that individuals will — along with their family — increase their resistance to pornography, she said.

“Often when we speak about media standards and media guidelines it is very externally focused,” Dr. Manning said. “It is usually focusing on filters, parental controls, things that are external.”

Although those tools are very important, more needs to be done, she said. Becoming a media-savvy family reaches far beyond just blocking pornography websites.

“For years, I have focused exclusively on pornography and its effects on marriages and families,” she said. “But over the last couple of years ... I have grown increasingly observant and fascinated, as well as concerned, with some of the larger media trends and the consumption of things I see all around us everyday that I believe have some of the same core characteristics that we see with pornography problems. I’ve learned that pornography does not have a monopoly on content that is harmful, objectifying, exploitive and excessive, that lacks empathy and engenders a lack of empathy in people, nor is it the only type of content that is voyeuristic or narcissistic.”

In addition to an increasing violent or sexual nature of video games, film and television, the addiction and over consumption of media continues to grow — especially with the youth — making it necessary for families to set parameters in their own homes.

Drawing from a study of more than a thousand youth between the ages of 13 and 17, Dr. Manning said that 41 percent of those teens reported feeling addicted to their cell phones. Another study showed that youth in the United States ranging from age 8 to 18 consume entertainment media for on average 7.5 hours a day.

“And when you look at their multi-tasking abilities, they actually pack 10 hours and 45 minutes of content into that seven and a half hours,” said Dr. Manning. And these numbers are going up as the youth enter college, according to another study.

“Freshman women, on average, spent 12 hours a day engaged with entertainment media — especially texting, music, Internet and social network. We wouldn’t have a lot to say about this if this was doing good things for them. ...

“And what’s the ‘long term’ for us as a society when we have a whole generation and a generation coming up that is using media excessively?”

Through placing importance on an “internal focus,” individuals will be more prepared to navigate media appropriately as they become good “virtual citizens” — even when they are not at home where a filter is on.

“If we can improve our media habits and teach those in our homes — and arm our young people especially — just how to manage this overloaded media-saturated world we now live in, in a better, healthier way, we can increase resistance to pornography and toxic media content and diminish our vulnerabilities,” Dr. Manning said.

In addition to encouraging counselling together, Dr. Manning shared four ways to help families become media savvy.

1. Become aware of how and what media is being used within the home.

“What if the only thing people knew about you was your media profile — a detailed log of everything you watch, read, listen to, pin or blog?” she asked.

Would a person’s online profile match his or her values, priorities and relationships? A simple week-long log of media consumption can tell people what their media intake says about them and what actions will be needed to have that reflect their priorities.

2. Be mindful of what is being consumed.

“So often we are on autopilot,” she said. “We must become more mindful of what we are doing and why. … We must be more conscious and awake. Things that are coming into our lives that are really toxic over time can lead us off the path of where we want to be.”

Just as an individual or family trying to eat healthfully might spend time looking at a food label, Dr. Manning said that they can also do this with their media consumption.

“A media-savvy family discusses their media guidelines and expectations together,” she said.

Parents should set the guideline and then explain why it is the standard. Media pledges are one way parents can discuss what is appropriate and establish clear standards.

3. Plan media-free time.

Before the explosion of technology, people could come home from their scheduled activities and have a break from social pressures and outside influences. With the media available today there is an always accessible outlet to social media. By planning media-free time, families will have a break from the “digital stress” that often accompanies the constant online pressures.

4. Seek out the best, reject the bad.

“We need to train our ears and eyes to recognize high-quality media,” she said. “What will we do to arm our young people to recognize high-quality media? … Do not assume they just automatically know.”

Discussions of why certain standards and values are important help family members to understand why they would want to be more careful with their media choices.

“What we need to understand as leaders and parents and educators is that our youth aren’t automatically transferring life skills offline to life skills and virtual citizenship online. These need to be made more concrete and clear for them. …

“[As] we focus on life skills, develop relationships in our families and clarify values, it also bolsters virtual citizenship, becoming people of integrity whether we are online or offline.”

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