“You become what you watch and read.” Here’s a handy checklist for evaluating your kids’ media consumption in light of their Catholic faith.
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
“You are what you eat,” nutritionists like to say. If that’s true, it’s even more true that you are what you watch, listen to, or read in the media: “You are the media you consume.” Some doubt the power of the media to shape minds, but the business community knows better; advertisers were expected to spend $200 billion on advertising in 2016. It would be nice if the books, videos, games, and music our kids consume were all “healthy” for their minds and spirits, but since that is far from the case, it’s up to parents to help their kids develop healthy media habits. It’s a lot like the way good parents teach healthy eating habits . . . but more complicated.
Most parents evaluate the media their kids consume by looking for the Big No-Nos: sex, violence, drugs, stereotyping, consumerism, and so on. Whether a particular product is too scary or emotionally disturbing for younger kids is also a consideration. For these concerns, the best resource is undoubtedly Common Sense Media, which offers comprehensive reviews of popular books, movies, and video games focusing on issues of concern to parents.
Catholic parents may want to go deeper, though, to look at media messages that run contrary to Catholic teaching about what it means to be human, what it means to be good, and the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. Teaching kids about their faith helps, but being intentional about evaluating media messages is also important. By regularly evaluating the messages your kids’ favorite media contain, you can help them develop critical thinking skills, and the habit of critically evaluating the messages and values society would like them to accept as their own.
By itself, no checklist can determine whether a particular book or movie is appropriate for your kids. After all, the Bible contains plenty of objectionable language and behavior. Considering the larger context of the media message, as well as your child’s emotional, cognitive, and spiritual maturity, is all part of the mix.
On the other hand, checklists can be a useful starting point. With that in mind, here’s a checklist that you and your kids can use to evaluate their favorite book series, movie, video games, or music. Again, the presence of negative messages doesn’t necessarily mean a particular book or television series needs to be off-limits, but at the very least it can launch a discussion about how our Catholic worldview offers a more positive, life-giving vision to live by.
The checklist is divided into three broad categories: What it means to be human (human anthropology or identity), what it means to be good (morality), and the ultimate meaning and purpose of creation.
A Media Awareness Checklist for Catholic Families
What does it mean to be human?
The Church teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God, are loved by God, and are destined to find their true identity in God. Human identity and dignity flows from the human person being created and loved by God.
On the other hand, popular media often contain a contrary message that . . .
- human beings are soulless machines: all body and mind, without an eternal soul or free will (materialism)
- human dignity or worth depends on individual achievement and/or winning
- human dignity or worth depends on independence from others (or not needing help from others) (radical individualism)
- human dignity or worth depends on what and how much one has (consumerism)
- human dignity or worth depends on their usefulness or value to others (utilitarianism)
- human dignity or worth depends on beauty or physical ideals (Cosmopolitanism . . . j/k)
- human dignity or worth depends on the ability to enjoy life (whereas suffering negates the value of human life)
- human identity can be reduced to one or more of a person’s characteristics or qualities (race, gender, sexual identity)
- certain people (“bad guys”) are so evil that they become irredeemable, losing their value in God’s sight, and therefore it is okay to harm or kill them
- it is acceptable or even good to tease, bully, belittle, and ridicule certain people who aren’t normal or part of the “in” group
What does it mean to be good?
The Church teaches that doing good means acting in accord with God’s will, which is for things to be fully and completely themselves. Union with God is the ultimate good, the means of our fulfillment and complete happiness; all other (secondary) goods are derived from and point to this ultimate good.
On the other hand, popular media often say that . . .
- the good is subjective—that is, it depends on personal opinions, and may be different for different people (relativism)
- secondary goods (wealth, fame, sexual fulfillment, romantic relationships) are the ultimate good to be pursued at any cost
- the good consists only in personal pleasure, happiness, or self-fulfillment
- suffering and sacrifice is always bad, even when it is endured for the sake of a larger good
- freedom consists in doing whatever you want to do, and therefore people should be able to do whatever they want to do
- it is sometimes acceptable or necessary to use a bad means in order to achieve some good
- violence is necessary to achieve the good
- lying is sometimes necessary to achieve the good
- being bad is cool or glamorous
- religion does more harm than good, or is actually evil, and religious people are backwards, stupid, intolerant, or evil
The ultimate meaning and purpose of creation
The “worldview” of the Church is really, really big, because the Church believes that all of creation has its being in God, who is Being itself, and who is Love, Truth, and Beauty. Creation consists of more than what we immediately sense; it has a transcendent aspect. Every person is called to find his or her true identity and ultimate happiness united in love with the Holy Trinity, and all the saints and angels.
On the other hand, popular media often promote a worldview in which . . .
- “what you see is what you get”: the material world is all that exists and all that matters
- God is denied or simply ignored
- the religious aspects of history and culture are ignored, edited out, or revised in a negative light
- truth, beauty, and goodness/love are negotiable
- scientific ways of knowing are considered the superior or only valid way of acquiring knowledge
- irony, cynicism, or nihilism dominates
- virtue (courage, honesty, persistence) is seen as empty or pointless
- human beings must depend on themselves alone to achieve the good
- it is possible for people to build the perfect society relying on reason and science alone
- people and creation itself are treated as objects to be used rather than as subjects who possess their own value
This isn’t a comprehensive checklist. For one thing, it might be good to develop a positive checklist—one that highlights positive values and virtues on display in your kids’ favorite media.
What would you add to this checklist? Leave a comment, and we’ll consider adding it.