“Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NIRV)
“The Power of the Media”
The forecast was 6-12 inches of snow along the front range of Colorado. Every school district declared a “snow day” for the next day. Government offices decided to shut down. Flights were cancelled in preparation for the “big snow”. Some stores closed the night before the storm – even though not even one snowflake had fallen. In reality, the snow turned out to be less than “the storm of the century”, as only 4-8 inches fell in the metro Denver area, not too surprising for January in Colorado.
The hype that the media enjoys sharing is not restricted to the weather. Sensationalism is part of their package. With so many news outlets available, the TV news channels constantly search for a “scoop”, whether verified or not. We, as consumers, often react to what we hear or see or read, without researching a story’s validity.
In some cases, such as the weather reports, all the TV, radio, and Internet outlets utilize the same sources, so invariably, the composite information matches. However, with other types of news stories, there are often a variety of iterations regarding the same event or person.
The mass media influences all of us in many ways, from shaping the outcomes of political elections to determining which athletic shoes are ‘hot’. Humor trends, for example, change over the years and are based on current comedians, movies, late-night talk shows, and sitcoms that are popular. The resulting consensus of thought about our society – formerly called political correctness, and now referred to as “being woke” – is due to ubiquitous mass media.
We understand that advertising affects the public’s behavior, attitudes, voting, and spending, and even their values. We accept that outcome in exchange for free information about products and consumer convenience.
Many young adults have abandoned the traditional sources of news, preferring to gain their information from sources such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, TikTok, or Twitter. While these stories have no one editing the content, they may have community standards enforcers who censor the content based on current “wokeness”. Additionally, the information from social media may be misleading or even intentionally false.
Consider the intentional spin of Public Relations.
“Public Relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) to the public in order to influence their perception… The aim of public relations is to inform the public, prospective customers, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders, and persuade them to maintain a positive or favorable view about the organization, its leadership, products, or political decisions.” (Wikipedia.com)
“Wokeness” and cancel culture are “public relations” on steroids. But in the end, mass media are simply tools which can be wielded for ill or for good. In the case of a missing person, for example, the news media may share photos and pertinent information, asking the public for help. We’ve all seen instances where viewers have donated money, provided shelter or services, or demanded a change in policy based on information that came from the news.
Dr. David Jeremiah stated, “We are influenced by every form of media we consume — in one way or another. We can be influenced for good by consuming good and godly media. And we can be influenced in other ways by consuming other kinds of media.” (“It Might Be Time to Shake the Spheres of Influence in Your Life”, July 13, 2022)
Here’s where critical thinking comes in. It is necessary to analyze and then act as an individual in deciding what is essential and what can be tossed aside. The values and beliefs that compose our character should not be melded into one conglomerate, “trending now” personality, spewing forth the “groupthink” of the day.
Critical thinking about the messages of the media is the ability to question, analyze, interpret, and evaluate incoming information. That results in a media-savvy individual. It is certainly not necessary to investigate every factoid that comes across our path. If a dish soap commercial, for instance, claims that their product is better than the other brands, determining the accuracy of this statement won’t have much importance. However, a media-savvy person verifies important information by going beyond Google and social media concerning political figures, current events, government-issued information, pharmaceutical products, school policy, public health programs, and other issues which impact our personal health, financial well-being, civil rights, and the survival of our democratic republic.
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
First and foremost, adults should be the “social influencers” of teens. They shouldn’t just avoid controversial topics. How will young people understand societal norms, individual family values, Christian beliefs, or the need for integrity if these issues are never discussed? The average teenager is spending over 7 hours per day involved in “screen time”. It’s important to help them navigate through these churning waters. Here are a few discussion starters to get the ball rolling.
• Explain that it’s impossible to make broad and sweeping comments about “the media”, as there are unlimited choices of media messages that won’t all fit into one category or description.
• Discuss how the mass media can impact the culture in both negative and positive ways. Give specific examples. Ask, “Do you or your parents have any way to hold the media accountable for information that is wrong or harmful, or to reward the media for information that is correct or helpful?”
• Discuss how advertising affects the public’s behavior, attitudes, voting, spending, and values. Ask teens to give specific examples of how they have succumbed to advertising.
• Ask, “Do you know what media were used to spread messages 100 years ago? Is our culture better now because of our print and electronic media?”
• Ask, “What is ‘fake news’? How can you know if a news report is accurate? Is it possible to recognize bias in news stories? If so, how?”
• Have the teens talk about their everyday “media diets”. Discuss ways they can better understand the powerful influence of the mass media, so that they can become media-savvy teenagers with a Christian worldview in today’s culture.
• Share and discuss this scripture.“Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NIRV)
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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