17 December 2017

Lady Gaga Ate My Children

Ok, that’s a lie. I don’t have any children; and even if I did, I highly doubt Lady Gaga is carnivorous. I hoped the title of this article would grip you so that we could enter into a discussion about the role of the media in the lives of today’s children. Whether we have children of our own, encounter kids on a daily basis or simply occasionally witness them running up and down buses, it is vital that we, as a society, think about the issue – for, as I found in researching the topic, when I reflected on my own practice as a primary school teacher, it is a matter of urgency.

Why? The media’s reach is everexpanding and of an increasingly heavy hand in the lives of children and adults in Western society (and it’s creeping up on other societies, too). Because the “media” is a term thrown about without much thought given to its meaning, it is important to define it in these discussions. In this particular instance, it will be defined as the vessel for the portrayal and dictation of popular culture, involving television and films, music, as well as magazines and the internet. It is a strange combination of both the message and the messenger.

It attempts to lure us in, but scare us off thinking too much with its complication and shining lights. It is potent in the lives of adults and children. It is what activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom refers to as ‘the other parent in the room’. Children’s media literacy now often surpasses that of their parents, with more time spent listening to the radio, watching TV and on the Internet than ever before. It gladly informs children about what to wear, play, read, watch, listen, how to talk, walk, act, treat others. It is wreckless.

It has no qualms about telling children about sex. It will abuse its power and subject its young audience to violence, to crudeness, to an abandon of value. It is willing and ready to step up and raise our children.

It is worth mentioning in preface to the rest of this article that in discussing the negative effects of the media on children, we should not subscribe to the view that all media is negative; nor that it is the only negative influence in a child’s life. Nevertheless, if this brutal force is willing to fight for the attention and minds of our children, it is one we must examine closely in terms of what it offers and what our response to it should be. It doesn’t take much to see that what the media offers is not all good. In fact, there is a lot of bad in it. Whilst Lady Gaga is not on her own in this (and I use her simply as a ‘mascot’, if you will), the media is poison for children. It posits that girls’ bodies are meant to be abused and exploited so that they fit into an impossible physical ideal. Boys should be boisterous and violent. Sex is cheap. Humans are disposable. I will let you do the work: pick up a magazine, read the paper, switch on your TV to find out what the message is. Allow what you find to merge with the fact that young minds are still forming, and are thus very vulnerable to influence from all sides. Looks like we have a problem.

Yes, we do. The British Journal of Psychology published findings last year that suggested half of 3 to 6 year old girls worry about being fat. Bullying and physical violence in public and private places are now commonplace amongst today’s youth. Babies are having babies. Suicide in children is an increasing problem in the UK.

It is vital that as Christians who have been given light and truth, we weigh what we find in the media against God’s word. Is sex just a physical act? Is wealth the ultimate goal? Is it acceptable to talk to people as though they were dirt on my shoe? Is street violence normal? Is putting my body through starvation in order to be thin good? Is my worth dependent on what others think of me? These are the questions children need answers to.

What children need is not another flashy cartoon, another Justin Bieber figure – nor do they simply need us to moderate their media consumption. What they need are Biblical truths about who they are and about the world around them, taught to them so that when the storms of the media present themselves, they are able to stand. We have the antidote to the negative messages from the media. We know that human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made. That the outward appearance is not what matters. That the sanctity of life is something worth fighting for. That relationships are meant to be safe and to build up. That sex is a gift meant for use within the context of marriage. That we are divinely loved and cared for. The message we need to throw back at the media is that people are of worth. Indeed, I believe that if the media’s overriding message to us is that we are not good enough, we have no option but to stand up to it with the truth that we are redeemed creatures of infinite worth.

Children need to be reminded again and again of these truths in what is such a formative time for them. They also need to see these truths being lived out. This, as well as speaking truth, is our responsibility. Marie Wilson, founding president of ‘The White House Project’, highlights the need for positive role modelling when she says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” We, parents, relations, teachers, carers, members of society, need to provide an alternative to Lady Gaga for today’s children to look to. Substance. Ambition. Talent. Hard work. Purity. Integrity. Faith. Character. How will we model these so that they are seen? We must refuse to bow to the strong wind of the culture the media portrays and delivers; and create our own culture, where men and women and children are of value and where life itself is sacred.

Let’s not allow Lady Gaga to eat our children. Let’s not abandon this generation of children as they become the sorry subjects of a social experiment involving the highest levels of media exposure in human history. Let’s be aware of what Lady Gaga would like to tell them. Let’s offer alternatives in our declaration of truth in speech and in life. And let’s not forget who the ‘other parent in the room’ truly is. Our Heavenly Father, wise and compassionate, loving and kind, provides counsel and is the ultimate role-model. “Come, follow me.” Matthew 4:19

Gemma Wilson