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Keeping an Eye on the Media, for Kids' Sake

Church Urges Parents to Watch Over What's Being Watched

NEW YORK, FEB. 8, 2004 (Zenit) - Parents who tuned into the Super Bowl last Sunday received a sharp reminder about how far media standards have fallen. The halftime entertainment, organized by MTV, and the vulgarity of many television commercials drew criticism from numerous family groups.

The Federal Communications Commission is already looking at increasing the maximum fine for indecency, now only $27,500. Proposals pending in Congress range up to a tenfold increase in fine levels, the Washington Times reported Wednesday.

Concern over the lack of morality in the media is at the center of the Pope's message for this year's World Communications Day, to be celebrated May 23. In the message, released late last month, John Paul II acknowledged that modern media have enriched "the lives not only of individuals, but also of families."

But he also warned that "families today face new challenges arising from the varied and often contradictory messages presented by the mass media." The Pope invited families to reflect on how they use the media, and to be more attentive as to how the media treat themes related to the family.

The Church's concern, explained the papal message, is rooted in the evangelical teaching that "it is from the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (cf. Matthew 12:34-35)." In this interior dimension of our hearts we can either grow or diminish in our moral status in the way we choose to speak, and the external influences we allow ourselves to be exposed to. Thus, our use of the media needs to be marked by wisdom and discernment, explains the message.

The Pope expressed particular concern over how the media depict marriage and family life. This does not mean that family life should be portrayed as without defects -- it's not -- but in the midst of these problems it is necessary to "make an effort to separate right from wrong, to distinguish true love from its counterfeits, and to show the irreplaceable importance of the family as the fundamental unit of society."

Unfortunately, family life is presented without any moral or spiritual context, the text said. Instead, sexual activity outside marriage, divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality are all seen as positive, the message observed.

Life without TV?

The Pope has good reason to caution parents about what their children are watching. In Britain, research carried out by the broadcasting standards commission in 1996-2001 showed that television is constantly on in many households from morning to night, the Guardian newspaper reported last June 10.

Most parents said they were unwilling to cause trouble by asking children to turn off the television. "The children in our study couldn't imagine life without it. Some were amazed that turning off the television might be a consideration," commented Kam Atwal, the research manager in charge of the study.

The researchers found that children -- aged 4 to 15 -- spent 2 hours and 23 minutes a day watching TV. Only half an hour was dedicated to children's programming; the rest went to soap operas and other entertainment programs.

Another British survey, based on interviews with 750 parents, found that one in three children under the age of 6 watches television in the range of 2 to 6 hours daily, the Telegraph reported Sept. 3. Researchers also found that a third of children under 3 have a television set in their bedroom.

TV viewing in itself isn't necessarily bad. Dr. Brian Young, a child psychologist at Exeter University, said that children could benefit emotionally and mentally if they watched programs with their parents. "It can be positive, constructive and enjoyable as long as parents explain the meaning of what they are watching," he told the Telegraph.

From age 6 months

Children's viewing habits are not much different in Ireland. The country's broadcasting commission reports that children aged from 4 to 6 are watching adult dramas and violent police programs, the London Sunday Times reported Dec. 14. Those aged 7 to 10 enjoy watching a "hard-hitting prison drama" and the adult cartoon "South Park," while 11- to 14-year-olds regularly stay up until 11 p.m. and later to watch adult shows. Overall, Irish children spend between 2 and 3 hours a day watching television.

"Children don't just watch kids' programs, they watch adult ones as well, and from a very young age," commented Margaret Tumelty of the broadcasting commission. "They are also watching television at times later than the 9 p.m. watershed, and this raises the issue of parental responsibility."

Similar tendencies prevail in the United States. A study published by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that even babies are now ...

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