02 Apr Families and Media: You Are What You Eat
by Sarah Justensen
When individuals consistently eat nutritious foods, they will promote their own health and wellness. Alternatively, when people have a diet consisting of primarily junk food, they will eventually find themselves dealing with health problems. As Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Likewise, our media intake will reflect our intimate lives. This is especially true for young people.
Many forms of media provide education, inspiration, and connection, but according to one religious leader, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s important to “make sure that the choices [we] make in the use of…media are choices that expand [our] mind, increase [our] opportunities, and feed [our] soul.”
Whether we are conscious of it or not, our entertainment choices mold our attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and values surrounding love and intimacy. Many films, TV shows, music, and magazines skew our perceptions regarding the meaning and demonstration of love. Scores of stories, both in real-life and in the media, feature hooking up as acceptable, lying as justifiable, and lustful passions leading to premarital sexual encounters as desirable. These practices are detrimental to adolescents, families, and societies.
Hooking-up: Goodbye courtship. Hello casual flings
Television and movies replace healthy dating and courting traditions with hooking-up which often involves multiple sex-partners. Most contemporary relationship narratives skip the preliminary phase of courtship (getting to know someone before entering a relationship) and hop to physical sexual activity that once came post marriage. This ribald method of “dating” depicted in media leads viewers to believe casual sex is an essential way to find compatible love.
These patterns aren’t exclusive to adult viewers. They impact children as well. Youth who regularly view sexual content, believe their peers are sexually active like the characters on TV. One 1998 study of popular TV shows among 12-17 year-olds revealed that “62 percent [of the shows] featured sexual behavior… [and] 13 percent depicted or strongly implied sexual intercourse.” Since then, TV’s representations of sex continues to rise; One 2010 study conducted by the University of Michigan found that “The number of sex scenes on TV has nearly doubled since 1998… 70% of the top 20 most-watched shows by teens includ[es] sexual content. Fifteen percent of scenes with sexual intercourse depict characters that have just met having sex. Of the shows with sexual content, an average of five scenes per hour involves sex.”
Entertainment that depicts sexually active teens reinforces the hook-up culture. Young people who view sexual content or media that hints at sex increase the chance they will participate in sexual relationships. Many youths may feel inclined to accept and follow these messages regarding romantic relationships. Essentially, young people embrace the falsehood that sex creates love and intimacy rather than cements love and intimacy in committed, married relationships.
Parental engagement: See something, say something, do something
If you want your family members to understand what’s appropriate in relationships, you must teach them. Research has shown that if parents discuss what’s taught on TV with their children, they can “set the record straight” and influence their child’s values, beliefs, and ultimately behavior for the better. Many researchers agree that contemporary media contributes to modifying a young person’s understanding of sex. The authors of “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids” advise parents to take the following precautions surrounding their children’s media consumption:
- Limit exposure to sexual content and other potentially harmful material by actively learning what media your children/teens are viewing
- Frequently discuss what your children/teens are learning about in the content they’re consuming
- Let your children/teens know you’re available any time they have questions about what they’ve seen or heard
- Ask other parents how they deal with sexual media in their home
Parents should pre-view or be present while their children or teens watch shows. If any false principles arise regarding love and intimacy then you, as the parent, can discuss what is being taught. Parents can further safeguard their families by counseling together, participating in wholesome recreational activities together, and having meals together. These traditions will increase the opportunities for children and parents to communicate and strengthen bonds.
The nutritional value of media matters for the well-being and health of our families. When young people regularly choose media that twists the meaning of love and sex, it can affect the choices they make and negatively impact their lives. Our media diet can either inhibit or prosper our understanding of love and intimacy. Just as we are what we eat, we are what we watch.
Sarah grew up in Utah County and enjoys spending time camping, fishing, and hiking. She will earn her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies through Brigham Young University-Idaho in April 2020. Sarah has over 10 years of experience supporting children, youth, adults, and elderly individuals with a variety of developmental abilities. She enjoys working one-on-one and in group settings to encourage independence and learning. Recently, she has been focusing her time on child and family advocacy work.
Resources for healthy media consumption
Kids in mind “provide[s] parents and other adults with objective and complete information about a film’s content so that they can decide, based on their own value system, whether they should watch a movie with or without their kids… It’s like a food labeling system that tells you what a food item contains.”
Common Sense Media “rates movies, TV shows, books, and more so parents can feel good about the entertainment choices they make for their kids.”
Parents TV Council “The PTC promotes and restores responsibility and decency to the entertainment industry in answer to America’s demand for positive, family-oriented television programming. The PTC does this by fostering changes in TV programming to make the early hours of prime time family-friendly and suitable for viewers of all ages.