Are Secular Television Shows with Moral Messages Good for Christian Children?
Admittedly, this is nothing new. Howdy Doody never bowed his head in prayer. Captain Kangaroo looked heavenward only to escape his daily deluge of ping-pong balls. Even Mr. Rogers, an ordained minister, kept God out of the conversation once the cameras began rolling. And look at us! We turned out fine, even without God in our TV shows. So what's the problem?
The problem is we didn't grow up with nearly as much media as our kids face today. As a pre-schooler in the late 1960s, I had a choice of no more than three or four kids' shows each day. My only splurge was Saturday morning, when I could dig into a bowlful of sugared cereal and three solid hours of Hollywood's finest. I quickly went back to the real world of school, church, and my own backyard after those brief television forays. God was everywhere. Kids' TV was a blip in the formation of my view of the world.
By contrast, according to a recent Princeton University/Brookings Institution study, the average 11-year-old in America today consumes eight hours of electronic media per day. That's eight hours of viewing the world through some sort of screen. Fifty-six hours each week. And the world they view is as empty of the divine as it has ever been. There are 350,000 churches in America, but not one is on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. No one prays or turns to God. Characters help each other and care for the environment, the poor, and the needy, but never from a religious motive or as a response to God. That much godless media exposure is downright harmful for our kids, as it teaches them to be comfortably familiar with a world where there is no God.
In most American homes, television has become a live-in nanny—a nanny who shows our kids a world that simply has no need for God.
The questions worth asking are: Which world do our kids believe is real? The one they hear about for an hour Sunday morning, or the one that captures their hearts eight hours every day?
They Can Be Positive
Vincent Bacote is director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics and associate professor of theology at Wheaton College.
Secular shows with moral messages can be good for children. This is an opportunity for growth in discernment as well as appreciation for positive contributions to the culture from those outside of Christian circles.
In my favorite childhood shows, some programs always had a message at the end, while some were exercises in comedy or adventure created with a premium on entertainment value. Like many people, I had a special fondness for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and looked forward to it every day.
In the midst of the various characters and stories I encountered, I was not only experiencing excellent programming but also learning an array of lessons in how to become a good person. Did I know this at the time? Not really, and perhaps this is where there can be some trepidation about the "influence" wielded by the media.
As a parent myself, I think this trepidation is a reminder of the opportunity at hand when children view television shows, films, and other video presentations.
I see two important aspects of this opportunity: First, there is the opportunity to develop an eye for excellence in non-Christian sources. The doctrine of common grace teaches us that positive things can emerge from God's creation, and this includes great storytelling, acting, and beauty. We should teach our children to give God glory for all of the ways his creation gives praise, even if unintended.