media literacy & christian worldview: why sheltering won't suffice

One of the reasons that Miss Representation is striking such a chord in me is because of the way it seeks to identify harmful media messages aimed at women and all of us--so that we can challenge and change them.
Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media— from music videos and Web environments to product placement in films and virtual displays on NHL hockey boards. It's about asking pertinent questions about what's there, and noticing what's not there. And it's the instinct to question what lies behind media productions— the motives, the money, the values and the ownership— and to be aware of how these factors influence content.  (Media Awareness Network)
If we want to succeed in the task of raising children to become competent adults, then we must strive to teach them how to think instead of what to think. Media literacy is a crucial component of critical thinking and a skill that must be taught now more than ever.  

Sheltering kids is not enough. It is an impossible goal, first of all. The movie claims that teenagers consume a staggering 10 hours and 45 minutes of media every day. We simply cannot protect kids from every harmful message, no matter how many limits we impose. Besides, we know how appealing the illicit becomes: draw the reigns too tightly, and you almost guarantee rebellion. That is a war we will lose. 

What if instead of drawing lines and saying "no," we engaged media alongside the young people we influence? What if we provided fewer answers and asked more questions?

  • Whose message is this? Who created, paid, and why?
  • What products and ideas are being sold?
  • Who is the intended audience/consumer? How do you know?
  • Which lifestyles, people, and values are glamorized? Are any demonized? Absent? What does this communicate about value and worth?

  • What's the text (the at-face-value message)? What's the sub-text (underlying messages)? Do these match? 
  • What in this message is true? Are we being sold any lies? What are the results of believing these messages?
  • How does this compare to what you believe? How does it compare to what our family/ community/ scripture teaches?

Training kids to engage critically with media seats them in the powerful position to become change agents. Engaged consumers are a force to be reckoned with. Empowering young people to make their own informed choices (when the time comes) is far better than their being steered either by profit-motivated markets or well-meaning Christians operating in fear.

Too many young people have a faith that is a mile wide and an inch deep. They will graduate from high school and Christianity, because they do not have a Christian worldview that infuses their choices, values, and lives. A faith unrooted in scripture, practice, and relationship with Christ and community will fade. Truth is, after all, a Person to know, not a set of answers to memorize.

A Christian worldview is developed like muscle, through intentional training. It doesn't happen through rote memorization, pew-sitting, or youth retreats but through knowing the Jesus revealed in scripture and learning to follow his lead in our lives in practical, tangible ways. 

Media is a powerful and pervasive influence in all of our lives. Having kids "opt out" of culture isn't possible in the long run, nor is it even desirable. If we are to be the ones inaugurating God's Kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven," then Christians should be at the forefront of making and shaping culture--not hiding from it.

We cannot transform cultures with Kingdom values through disengagement, abstention, or by positioning ourselves alongside the mindlessly entertained masses. To consume without reflection is to be part of the problem, and to shelter and insulate is retreat.

Young people won't engage the world through a scriptural lens--or transform it with the gospel--unless we train them to engage both the Bible and culture for themselves. Media literacy is tool that can help young believers put their faith into practice and grow them into people who will infuse the world with the grace of God.

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