Thanks to the gift of electronics, a world of lifelike sound and color enters the home at the simple flip of a switch.
This outside world streams into homes through television, radio, and video and audio tapes, offering today's viewer a variety of entertainment and instruction unprecedented in the history of humankind.Similarly inviting choices are only a subscription away in magazines, newspapers and books.
The mass media open unlimited opportunities for enrichment, but carry challenges. If not carefully monitored and controlled, say Church leaders, a craving for media entertainment can lead to wasted spirituality, time and health.
In just one area of the media, for example, a rough estimate suggests 50,000-plus video titles are generally available, or more than 10 years of non-stop viewing. Larger video stores have from 8,000 to 10,000 titles, which is more than two years of day-and-night viewing.
Dave Winston, vice president of Entertainment Research Group Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., an LDS movie standards research company, estimated that from 350 to 400 new movies and up to 600 new videos are added each year.
This means that if a person started today, he could theoretically view movies or videos 24 hours a day well past the turn of the century and never see the same one twice.
And much of what the person would see is of questionable worth to Latter-day Saints. Of the new videos, Brother Winston estimated that a majority are R-rated, and many of the PG-13 and PG movies are questionable.
A new industry rating of NC-17 (no children under 17) lowers standards further, he said. "You've just got to know what you are seeing.
"We've been shocked just too often."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, in a general conference address in April 1989, commented, "Most of us recognize both the many benefits and challenges that come from television in our modern, fast-paced world. . . .
"Good families face very significant challenges in controlling the use of television and videotapes in their homes. . . . Unfortunately, however, far too much programming is not wholesome and uplifting but is violent, degrading and destructive to moral values. This kind of television offends the Spirit of the Lord; therefore, I express a word of warning and caution about such programming."
But, he cautioned, "In spite of all of the wickedness in the world, and in spite of all the opposition to good that we find on every hand, we should not take our children out of the world.
"The Lord does not need a society that hides and isolates itself from the world. Rather, He needs stalwart individuals and families who live in the world and demonstrate that joy and fulfillment come not of the world but through the Spirit and doctrine of Jesus Christ."
Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of Public Relations/Special Affairs and a stake president, discussed his personal appraisal of the media.
"I would suggest that parents control what they can control, and teach correct principles," said Pres. Olsen. "Next, parents can be an example. You can't tell children they shouldn't see an R-rated movie and then see an R-rated movie yourself.
"Speaking as a parent, I know that there is only so much you can tolerate and then you have to put your foot down. Ultimately, you have to have sensitivity to the Spirit and follow that which you are prompted to do.
"As I look at the families in my stake," said Pres. Olsen, "those that seem to be successful have a number of wholesome activities in their homes with various lessons in music, sports, and a variety of things that keep them occupied. They are less likely to watch television."
M. Dallas Burnett, a communications professor at BYU with 30 years of teaching experience, emphasizes the importance of getting information through all forms of media.
"Printing is still the heart of our civilization, though the television is more entertaining."
"Television is a great conveyor of information," he said. "It has a positive effect on families in that children are more sophisticated in what they know of the world and current events.
"Television can also convey the values of our society of justice, honesty, family interaction, if people are selective in what they watch.
"When people try to get all their information through television, they make a terrible, terrible mistake. Television is simply not satisfactory as the sole means of information in a free society."
He said that in his family, "We monitored the television very carefully. It takes courage to turn off the program with teenagers, but if we establish good principles, in some instances the children will turn off the program by themselves."
Larry A. Tucker, director of health promotion in BYU's physical education department, found that watching television in excess has bad consequences to physical health.
His recent research indicates that obesity increases and fitness declines with increased television viewing. Children tend to be more unstable, less-imaginative, less moralistic (that is, they make fewer decisions on a moral basis), and less self-confident when they watch television more than two hours a day.
One to two hours a day seems to be OK, but three to four hours has some very definite consequences, he said.
Another research finding is that nationally, youths who watch television drink more alcoholic beverages. "Alcohol is 14 times as likely to be portrayed as other kinds of drinks," he said, noting that ratio varies on a seasonal basis. "But television doesn't show the negative consequences of when people use alcohol to celebrate."
Violence has a desensitizing effect. "The average teenager sees some 18,000 murders by the time he reaches high school." He cited an address given by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency in the October 1983 general conference. In this address, President Hinckley noted that television writers and producers are far different than the average person, said Brother Tucker. "They are more liberal, far more in favor of pre-marital relations, and far less likely to attend church. There is a vast difference in programs because there is a vast difference in those who write them."
Joseph Walker of the Church public communications department, former Deseret News television critic and a bishop, echoed the importance of monitoring media in the home.
Families should establish right from the beginning – and children understand clearly – that what comes into the home affects the spirituality of the home. Rather, he encouraged viewing of positive programs, including those that bring arts and music, nature, science and news into the home.
Television, he observed, made people aware of such issues as the environment and the plight of the homeless. On the other hand, prime-time programming continues a moral decline that shows, and likely will continue showing, explicit violence, sexuality and nudity.
Bishop Walker noted that polls indicate the viewing public wants this kind of programming. "If a program makes money, everybody runs to copy it," he said. "Until the people stop watching these kinds of programs, this is what we are going to get.
"We need to be alert and aware consumers," he said. "We have to have the strength to not watch, and the fortitude to say no."
- Establish family policy early to avoid unsuitable programs, music, publications.
- Plan in advance which programs to watch, then stick to plan.
- Turn off the television if specific programs don't appeal to you.
- Read to children from good books, especially scriptures.
- Seek out educational, artistic, musical and wholesome programs and literature.
- Plan lots of wholesome activities for children in music, sports, and arts and crafts.
- Set an example as parents by not viewing unsuitable subjects.
- Be in tune with the Spirit. If the Spirit becomes offended, change the program. (See Moro. 7:16-19.)
- Don't watch an average of more than two hours a day.
- Don't cut back on exercise while watching more.
- Don't turn the television on just to keep from being bored, or watch programs in between those you planned to watch.
- Don't allow television to be baby sitter.
- Don't be passive about children viewing programs you feel are offensive.
- Don't become fatalistic and give up on controlling the media.
- Don't rely only on television and radio for current events.