Year of reconciliation intention for April: The blessings of children


One important way that we can assist our children for the future is to take an active role in “Renewing the Mind of the Media.”

It is a tall order but one which we must attempt. In a society that demands ever faster Internet access, cable systems that offer hundreds of channels, and more powerful computers and video games, we must begin to demand accountability of the media who bombard our children every minute of every day with so much content that is objectionable.

We must also look at our own choices of entertainment and news for ourselves and our children. Ultimately, it is our choices as consumers that result in the programming that is offered to us.

“Renewing the Mind of the Media” is the theme of a five-year campaign launched by the nation’s bishops last year. We will take up this campaign in the Diocese of Charleston the weekend of May 19-20.

I encourage you to commit yourself to this worthwhile effort and to sign and return the pledge that weekend with your regular Sunday offering.

It is also the title of a statement of the bishops, intended to provide a moral and theological explanation for our desire to overcome the exploitation of sex and violence that our children are exposed to in communications — as well as to offer practical steps all of us can take to make that goal a reality.

The presence of the media in children’s lives is pervasive. Consider these staggering statistics:

s98 percent of U.S. homes have at least one television set, and 2.3 sets per household is average.

sAbout two-thirds of U.S. households subscribe to cable and another 10 percent subscribe to direct satellite services.

s89 percent of homes with children have video game equipment, a personal computer, or both.

s30 percent of American homes have Internet access.

The media have great potential to bring positive, wholesome, uplifting messages into our lives and to connect us in bonds of solidarity with brothers and sisters across the globe. Television can unite us with Pope John Paul II as he celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s or link distant classrooms in a common learning experience. CD-ROMs and the Internet have opened up libraries of learning and sacred music and art that otherwise would be closed to millions.

The bishops’ own Catholic Communication Campaign produces quality television and video productions that are inspirational and educational. This spring, the feature-length production “The Face: Jesus in Art,” for which the CCC provided major funding, was released and seen on most South Carolina PBS stations.

Unfortunately, though, the media have great potential to be misused to spread messages of hate, violence, and exploitation, occasionally with tragic consequences for our children.

Consider that by age 18, the average child growing up in our nation will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence. To say there is no connection between the simulated violence of television, film, video games, or some music lyrics, and the level of violence among young people is to deny the obvious. More than 3,000 academic studies in the last 40 years agree that simulated violence leads to real-world violence and aggressive behavior.

An obsession with sex, too, is an all too common element of “entertainment.” At least one recent report indicates that the incidence of sexual content on television is on the increase. Two-thirds of all shows in the 1999-2000 season included sexual content, up from 56 percent in the 1997-1998 season, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released in January.

As daunting as the task may seem, “renewing the mind of the media” is possible; the media are not beyond our influence.

For example, significant public pressure was brought to bear, and parents now have two important tools to help them in their efforts to limit their children’s exposure to sexual content, violence and foul language.

First, all television sets sold in the United States must now be equipped with a V-chip to allow parents to screen out programs they deem inappropriate for their children. Second, to make use of the V-chip effective, all the major television networks now have adopted a rating system for their programs, despite their hue and cry that the system would be the end of broadcasting as we know it.

While “the media” are not alone in influencing our society for good or ill, they are a powerful force. Ultimately, however, their power depends on us as media consumers.

The television networks, the movie and music production companies, the artists, producers, directors and everyone else involved in entertaining and informing us are only one side of the business. In large part, they respond to what their consumers demand — or at least tolerate.

In other words, we must examine our own decisions about what television programs and movies are acceptable for our families, and what Web sites we visit. Do our decisions set good examples within our families and our communities, and do they encourage content providers to continue offering programming we say is objectionable?

I encourage you to step back from the constant bombardment of the media and to think critically about your media decisions. Talk with your family and neighbors about troubling aspects of television programs, movies, popular music and video games, as well as the types of wholesome entertainment that you’d like to see. Familiarize yourself with the U.S. Catholic Conference’s toll-free movie review line (1-800-311-4CCC) and start making decisions about movies based on moral content and not just what is the latest blockbuster.

Look for the pledge in your parish bulletin, in The New Catholic Miscellany, and on the Web at; read it; act on it.

Remember that the media are not beyond our influence. Together, we can “Renew the Mind of the Media” and make a difference in the lives of our children and their future.