“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Have the mass media shaped our view of death? This is an interesting – and potentially alarming – question. All cultures change over the years. It’s a bit like the story of the frog in the boiling water. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, he jumps out immediately. But if it is placed in a pot with temperate water, he’ll stay in and not notice as the water gets hotter and eventually kills him.
News organizations – via print, electronic, and the Internet – saturate our lives with horrific stories of deaths. Continual assaults on the sensitivities of our emotions, perhaps a report about a plane crash followed by a dog on a frozen lake being saved, cause desensitization. Eventually we become immune to the horrors of death that are hyped in daily news reports.
In addition, video games have become more violent over the years. Games such as “Mortal Kombat”, “Postal”, “Call of Duty: Black Ops”, and “Manhunt” endlessly fill our teens’ lives with mindless insensitivity to violence, extolling death as victory. And make no mistake, death is the point of the game – killing the “bad guys”.
Movies depict gruesome images of people dying or being wounded without the natural “consequences”, such as family grief, funerals, or hospital stays. For example, in the recent review of the James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, the reviewer states, “But people die in plenty of traditional ways, too. James and others shoot to kill, and they shoot plenty. Rarely are the deaths particularly messy, but we see a lot of them. And some are more visually disturbing than others. One man is shot, and we see his bloody shirt as he slowly bleeds to death. A mother is shot repeatedly as her daughter hides, listening to everything. (She later sees the corpse). Another man is crushed by a car. Someone is drowned, and another someone almost drowns. (We see the victims struggle underneath a sheet of ice.) People are blown up. We hear about how evildoers killed someone’s entire family.” (www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/no-time-to-die-2021)
We might think, “it’s only entertainment”, and death rolls off our eyeballs without us even flinching.
And real-life violence is escalating. Consider these recent reports:
• “Chicago records 797 homicides and 3561 shooting incidents in 2021.” (www.republicworld.com, January 2, 2022)
• “Two Iowa teenagers murdered their 66-year-old Spanish teacher with a baseball bat, police allege, in new court documents released on Tuesday.” (Fox News, March 24, 2022)
Death may be viewed by the youngest generation as void of emotion, as it is so ubiquitous in their daily bombardment of media messages. And that may impact their views on abortion; they may feel that abortion is an acceptable option in our current culture, without knowledge about the actual number of lives lost from abortions: “An estimated 62 million abortions have occurred since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.” (Fox News, January. 22, 2021)
Death is frequently removed from the real-life experiences of many children and teens, with grandparents and other extended family members living far away. Their aging process and eventual deaths are often not noticeable nor seen as a personal loss. In addition, they are often excused from attending funerals so as not to upset them by the unpleasantness of grief in the death experience.
Death surrounds our culture, but personal association is often not part of young people’s lives. When they do encounter the death of a friend or close family member, they are shocked, since death has previously been an impersonal experience for them. Death is part of life as everything that is born does die. But for our children to only experience death culturally as entertainment, as sensational news headlines and stories, as toss-off lines in casual conversation, as acceptable destruction of life in instances of convenience, leaves them grievously unprepared for the experience of death when it happens.
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
It’s important for families to discuss the stages of life. Explain that some people don’t have the privilege of living long enjoyable lives. Health issues, accidents, and incidents such as wars can shorten life expectancy. Have meaningful conversations that can set the foundation for reality. Here are some conversation starters that can help begin the process:
Ask, “Do you know someone who has recently lost a loved one? What has been the result of this death for the family?” (Examples: they had to move, they miss the person, they are grieving.)
• Share: “Life is not fair. Things happen that can shorten a life. How does the experience of the person you know who lost someone seem different from the many deaths we all see on the news or in entertainment?”
• Ask, “Even though our culture has become desensitized to death, are you afraid of death? If you are, what is the scariest part for you?”
• Share and discuss: “Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” Psalm 89:48 (NIV)
• Ask, “Has God promised each of us a long and easy life? If not, what are your feelings about God and His plans? Do you think you can trust God when He says in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”?
• Share: “Consider the death of Jesus on the cross. What are the consequences of that violent act? This is why Christ died on the cross: to pay the price for our sins so that each of us can have eternal life and victory over death.”
• Share: “Let’s continue this talk in the future. Anytime you want to chat with me, be sure to come see me.”
Note: Share this blog with your church’s youth pastor as a lesson for youth group gatherings.
Sue Summers is a Christian media analyst, teacher, author, and speaker. She is the Director of Media Alert!
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