Are Secular Television Shows with Moral Messages Good for Christian Children?
Carla Barnhill is former editor of Christian Parenting Today and author of The Myth of the Perfect Mother (Baker, 2004).
Before I rail about morality on television, let me be completely clear: I love television, always have, always will. But when I watch most television shows with my mommy goggles on, well, it's quite a horrific view.
I am an easygoing parent, but media is the one place I tend to skew toward the restrictive end of the permissiveness spectrum. There's something about a visual image that sticks with us in a more lasting way than a conversation or even words on a page. You can't unsee something, so my husband and I tend to be very protective about what our kids watch.
But here's where I tend to differ from many Christian parents I know: I'm not protective because I fear the moral damage television might do to my children. I'm protective because I want my children to stay children and not have to watch people being killed or hurt or harassed. I don't want them to see how awful people can be to each other—not yet. I'm protecting their outlook on humanity.
For us, the deal breakers are things like violence and sexual overtones. I have put the kibosh on Glee unless my teenager watches it with me so we can talk through the more suggestive storylines. But Wizards of Waverly Place? Dinosaur Train? The kids love them, they're sweet, and someone always learns a good life lesson—and that's enough for me. I'm not all that concerned about my kids finding an overtly Christian worldview on a TV show.
I find that so many evangelical parents tend to treat things like tv—and music and the Internet—as though the people creating material for those media somehow owe it to Christians to produce morally sound content.
They don't. They are businesses trying to make money. Now, many have become savvy enough to know that they make more money when they make both kids and parents happy, so many of them are trying to offer a product that entertains and teaches some moral value, like friendship, respect, and self-esteem.
But parents are naéve to expect their children's television viewing to be good for anything except entertainment. That's what television is for, nothing more, nothing less.
It's my job as a parent to develop my child's moral center. Television is not my parenting partner. I firmly believe that if I do my job well, then no TV show can strip away the core of who my children are and who they will become. But when a show—whether it's from Disney or Veggie-Tales—gives my kids a good laugh or a glimpse of how to build healthy friendships or a taste of what life is like in other families, then that's just gravy.
Phil Vischer is the creator of VeggieTales, the voice of Bob the Tomato, and producer of the What's in the Bible? video series.
Over the last 30 years, children's television has gotten a tremendous amount of attention. What are the programs teaching? Nonviolence? Gender and race sensitivity? Great strides have been made since the days most kids' shows were either afterthoughts, or worse, half-hour commercials underwritten by toy manufacturers.
Today, most new kids' shows are created with advice from Ivy League educators and consultants. Every episode of key shows like Sesame Street, Blue's Clues, and Dora the Explorer is tested with kids to ensure they meet educational objectives.
But for all the educational strides being made and all the pro-social "vitamins" cleverly inserted into our kids' media diets, there is one ingredient sorely missing. There is no God on Sesame Street. No clue will ever point Blue toward his Creator. No matter how far Dora explores, she will never bump into the divine. The world of children's media, to put it bluntly, is as atheistic as a Richard Dawkins book club. And that missing ingredient will cripple our children if we let it.