Dangers of Media "Riptides"

Positive steps to protect kids from negative media exposure
By Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach & Author

If you live near an ocean, you know about riptides, which are highly dangerous currents that can rip your legs out from under you and sweep you out into the ocean depths in a matter of seconds. If you try to fight the current, you will drown as dozens of people in Florida do every year. These silent and powerful ocean currents can overpower even the strongest of swimmers because the size and force of the waves become completely overwhelming. There is only one way to escape and save your life so listen carefully; “Don’t try to fight the riptide, just flow with it as you swim parallel to the shoreline. In a few dozen feet you will be out of the strong current and can safely swim back to the shore.”

So, if you have to deal with a dangerous ocean riptide, you have three choices… First- stay out of the water (and don’t let anyone you love go near it either). Second, pretend that riptides don’t exist and try to stay in the shallow water with hopes you never get swept away to drown in the depths. Third, learn how to swim safely out of the dangerous current and teach the people you love how to do the same. That way the ocean isn’t a scary place that could snatch you or a family member away in a blink of an eye- rather it becomes a serene place to sit and relax, or a place to make memories with your family or friends. When you and your kids learn how to use this life-saving advice you can spend your time at the beach having fun, instead of living in fear of the ocean.

Media riptides are even more dangerous

Media can be very similar to the description of riptides above because it can silently and rapidly become a powerful force that sweeps away unsuspecting kids or adults with even more dangerous consequences. Mass-media is like an ocean because there are so many new technologies that reach into every corner of our daily lives. To show you how big this media ‘ocean’ really is, consider the many ways we are exposed to hearing, seeing or experiencing some form of multi-media from this partial list below.

Television, radio, CD’s, DVD’s, VHS videos, magazines, newspapers, direct mail, billboards, handbills, signs, movies, MP3 music players or other portable downloadable media players, hundreds of channels of cablevision programming for television, iPod’s and high resolution cell-phones, accessing the Internet via the world-wide web on home computers with dial-up, broadband or wireless Internet service, the new technology of high-definition (HD) television, HD radio, and the ability to play any one of thousands of realistic video games on a laptop, home computer, video game system, cell phone or even through the pull down DVD players mounted in the roof of many new cars!

Media is flooding into our lives from every direction because this ocean of technology and communications is growing larger by the nanosecond.

· 20% of households in the US have at least one big screen TV
· Video game sales are now a $10 billion per year industry
· 33% of homes with Internet access in US also have high-speed access
· Teenagers time in front of a computer has doubled over the last six years
· Kids now spend up to 35 hours per week in front of electronic screens in addition to any academic studies and that number is rising every year!

As more and more media flows into every aspect of our daily lives, it creates two distinctively different groups- watchers & doers. One group is actively connected to media, so they spend more time watching life, while the other group is growing more disconnected from media so they have the time to be more actively involved in doing life.

Kids, teens, adults and even senior adults can become overwhelmed by the flood of media images that can sweep even the strongest person into missing out on good things in life because of wasted time watching life instead of living it. Others do more than waste time- they get washed away from their basic values because of continual exposure to unmentionable web images that drown their conscious minds into the depths of darkness and depravity

“The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous thing
and parents have to know what’s going on.”
~ Dr. Phil McGraw

Here’s an common example to show how seemingly harmless media can steal away happiness at home. Media experts believe that some guys park in front of the tube on a Friday night and then proceed to watch as much as 30 hours of televised sports and cable news over the rest of the weekend while totally ignoring their family. Are they ‘super fan’s’ or just distant dads? Even though they might say they’re just really serious about the sport, in reality I believe that guys who spend that much time in front of the TV are doing the same thing as anybody else who is just wasting time by watching endless hours of sitcoms, soaps, movies, news, surfing the web or playing hour after hour of video games.

They are spending huge blocks of time in entertainment to try and escape something in their daily life because that is always the motivation behind habitual or compulsive behavior. You may have to dig to find it, but there is always some area of dysfunctional process going on when there is some form of addictive behavior present. Media can become an addiction for wounded or worried people no matter how much they try and deny that media really isn’t a problem for them because they could ‘turn it off anytime they wanted.’ The Nile is a river in Egypt that flows north, Denial is a part of escapism that flows away from the reality of something fearful inside the person who doesn’t want to deal with that part of life. Ignoring problems don’t make them go away- it simply makes them bigger, so any area of media usage that seems terribly out of balance for you, your kids or someone in your family should be brought up and discussed; instead of ignored as they silently are swept away by a flood of negative media exposure.

Benefits of Entertainment

Entertainment is beneficial when you need to take a break and turn your mind off to rest for a while. God designed our bodies to need rest 1/3 of every day and even more if you recall the example given in the book of Genesis where God rested on the seventh day to model healthy behavior for mankind to practice each week as well. Just like high-performance machines need some down-time for maintenance and repair, we know our bodies function best when there is regular time for rest and recharging. Media tends to steal this essential quiet time with distractions, interruptions and time wasters that prevent complete rest and recharge because there is always something on TV, radio or the Internet that has nothing to do with adding value to our health, life or relationships, yet can still pull our focus away from the importance of achieving a more complete rest.

Now, contrast the differences between Entertainment where you might just watch a sport with the actual Experience of playing a sport, involving increased activity or sweat. One group are pushing themselves to a new level of exertion or competition; while the other group quietly is watching a satellite or video taped episode of someone else on the field playing their hearts out. Here are some of the startling differences between the two primary methods of interacting with the growing flood of media choices.

Entertainment Experience
Passively watching Actively doing
Leisure, (no sweating) Energetic, (sweating likely)
No discipline required Discipline required
No health benefit Some health benefit
Isolation, (mostly alone) Social connection with others
No teamwork required Teamwork may be required
Tendency to self-focus Tendency to focus on others
(“I want to watch this”) (“Let’s vote on what to do”)
Connect to media images Connect to real people
Empty feeling afterwards Energized feeling afterwards

There is another major difference between how these two groups tackle life and that is about what you wear on the outside. Think about if for a second. You can join in just about any form of entertainment by wearing ugly or baggy clothes, perhaps even your pajamas! However, if you are headed out to connect with other people through some type of shared experience there is an obvious tendency to focus attention given on some type of acceptable dress code or uniform. For instance, most golf courses require a very specific dress code to play, as do many tennis courts. Scuba divers need a certain type of equipment, as do bowlers and mountain bikers, and of course everyone knows that all basketball players wear their favorite brand of shoes!

Playing a game of catch in the front yard is a much better connection point than watching a child play a video game of catch in the family room. Moving away from passive to active approaches in dealing with media is essential if you want to reclaim your home from being a waste land of disconnected people who are growing even more distant because of media’s continual waves of distractions.

Media thieves come out late at night

Entertainment that steals time from other priorities is always a mistake, no matter how innocent it may seem at the time. Let me share a personal example of this process in my own struggles to maintain balance in media habits. Television news at bedtime- I’ve lost sleep time from trying to stay up and watch the news and then had times that I lost even more because of disturbing images that I saw on the news… far better to pray this prayer I learned in childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I, (or someone in my family or community), should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” That prayer may seem a bit drastic or odd for a child to learn- but it came out of the reality my parents wanted me to learn that God is the only one who really could control the big stuff, which means that I don’t have to worry about major world events and can just focus on closing my eyes and resting instead of sitting up to stress over breaking news stories on CNN’s and fueling my own feelings of increased fear, worry or anxiety.

Re-creating positive energy

Real life experience is so much better than even the most engaging and realistic entertainment because if involves the basic foundation of “re-creating” positive energy. When you are having an ‘over-the-top’ experience, you are laying the foundation for a process that re-creates something powerful in yourself and in others. This deep spiritual and emotional dynamic is from the reality of living through an experience which generates a great deal of ongoing value in the present, while bringing back long term benefits for many years to come through positive memories that really can last a lifetime.

These type of experiences can be deeply emotional, relational or spiritual and are real and tangible and always bring positive power. Compare that with the reflection that entertainment creates about a real-life experience, but it’s only a temporary image from a brief encounter or exposure to some form of media. It’s not really bad- it’s just not real, which flows out of the major differences between a surface level image and a soul level sense of identity. Sort of like a popular media advertisement many years ago that asked, “is it real- or is it Memorex?”®

Self-Improve or Self-Destruct?

Positive life experiences create a tremendous deal of power through the re-creation process, which can keep you young at heart and because it often involves real activity, is usually good for your heart as well. Entertainment tends to shut off your brain and body since it’s more about watching others connect, (or pretend to connect) with something in life, then it is about finding and reaching out to generate a real connection with others who want to grow stronger or self improve in some way. (However, with the incredible popularity of on-line video gaming you can actually reach out to hundreds of people somewhere in the world 24/7 who will temporarily connect as you play the game together. I suspect that this might create some degree of improvement to your hand-eye coordination, but it’s not a real improvement to your head through equipping of new skills; or a real improvement to your heart through encouraging words or lasting relationships ).

You may point out that self-improvement isn’t a driving force behind many popular forms of media because many television shows are written and designed as a ‘mindless’ or silly distraction to avoid the stress of the day, and I would agree to a point. What concerns me isn’t the abundance of silly shows that make us giggle, (I like those too), rather it’s the apparent lack of structured shows that make us grow.

I believe that life is continually changing which forces you to either take positive action to self-improve or you end up self-destructing by default. If you choose to believe that your exposure to media is only a neutral issue that doesn’t have much of an impact on you or your kids, then you are in the highest risk category to be swept away by the tsunami sized waves of new media that are already building up speed and size as they zoom toward us in the weeks and months ahead.

Massive Waves of Change:
If you don’t believe that media is zooming forward with massive new technologies, then consider the rapid changes in our culture since 1985, when VHS home video cameras were just becoming popular and nobody you knew even had a fax machine. Media has flooded our lives over the last twenty years in such a way that personal cell phones have gone from being a rare luxury for executives to a common part of life for teenagers… or even more telling, think of how many outdated cell-phones, cassette tape recorders, old computer monitors, worn out inkjet printers or non-cable ready television sets are sitting right now somewhere in a dusty corner of your garage or utility room. Media has changed so much of how we live that many young children don’t really know what a typewriter is or how to quickly use a rotary dial telephone or change channels on a television set that doesn’t have a remote control. Buckle up- bigger changes are coming!

Not paying attention to media images in your home for adults and kids or not openly setting boundaries on what is or isn’t safe in your family’s use of the Internet or cable television is like allowing kids who don’t know how to swim to play around in the shallow part of strong currents. To not know how to swim and then be let loose with a remote control and a few hundred channels or a few hundred thousand websites and a wireless mouse is like pushing a kid out into the deep end with no life jacket. It’s like inviting terrorists to hang out in your home or baby-sit your kids while telling yourself that they really aren’t that bad and probably won’t bring disaster and destruction to the people who mean the most to you. Wake up! Media can be dangerous, and is most dangerous to the ones who ignore the warning signs where riptides have swept others away.

To avoid taking bold action with media exposure is irresponsible because it sets kids up to fail from being mentally swept away from their protective core values which keep us focused and on track toward the things that matter most, instead of carelessly getting caught up in a current of wasted hours and careless mistakes. Core values can protect us from the dangers in the very dark side of media, because they serve to light out path and guide our steps.

One other significant challenge that can flood into our lives, but is often forgotten is how entertainment can suck up so much time, energy and money, leading to the potential health problems that are associated with a sedentary lifestyle. You’ve probably already heard about the dangers associated with childhood obesity, which you can protect your child from simply by getting them up to experience life, instead of just sitting to be entertained by it.

The remote control can be used for parents to reclaim control

Does this mean that you should never watch a game on TV or movies with your kids? Of course not! Media should add value to your life, not steal it. It means you have to get honest with the real reasons behind the viewing habits in your home. Understand what motivates you or the kids to do things, especially any activity that might stand in the way of a more balanced and healthy life. Talk about it, deal with problems or out of balance areas at once. Even seemingly innocent things, like watching old reruns of “Leave it to Beaver” or trying to sell stuff on E-Bay, could become a roadblock to experiencing real life if you let it get out of balance with other, more important priorities in life. Leonardo da Vinci was likely thinking through the same issue when he said,

“Just as iron rusts from disuse, so does inaction spoil the intellect.”

So how can you swim in the waves of media washing up and not get swept away? Start by asking yourself some hard but important questions, because it’s the only way to protect you, or the kids you love from being harmed by media.

-“Does this activity help me or my family to have a deeper level of spiritual or relational connection together?”

-“Will this media bring peaceful contentment to our home-life?”

-“Would I let someone with the kind of language or lifestyle as reflected in this film actually hang out with my kids on a daily basis?

-WWJW… What would Jesus watch? (or even on a more personal level, what would your grandmother not be embarrassed for you to watch?)

-Would you be embarrassed to be seen on a new reality TV show viewing whatever it is that steals your time and energy at home?

Are you ready to get real and reclaim the time-energy or money that has been wasted in media so you can gain a clear direction to a better future of connecting as a family- instead of feeling lost and lonely with the people you live around who may already be drowning in media addictions?

Here’s the basic formula that even a small child can understand, so work it into your regular schedule and common discussions about how your family can play in the shallow end of media, while not being swept away in the depths of despair. Here’s the balancing formula to protect the process of recreating energy from positive experiences, while still enjoying some of the breaks that come from the benefits of entertainment. Regularly compare the differences of:

Entertainment, (watching life) with
Life Experiences, (living life)

Finally, learn to be gut level honest about the real motivations and reasons behind why you do things you do as an adult before trying to convince a child or teenager that it’s okay for you to watch it, but not them. If you act or sound like a hypocrite, they will eat you alive as they point out your inconsistencies! Better is to be honest about the real reasons. If you want to relax by watching a sailing regatta; good, enjoy it! Make some popcorn. Light an aromatherapy candle. Stretch out on the couch. Take a mental break. All of these things help you because they can soothe your soul. That process is important and necessary for kids or adults to know how to do in maintaining a healthy balance, both now and for the rest of their lives.

However, if you end up agitated that your crew didn’t win, or just spend three hours surfing through channels looking for something else to watch to escape the pressures you don’t want to deal with in your life; then you missed the benefit and value those three hours could have given you. You would have been better off to have taken a nap, or taken the dog for a long walk, or called a friend just to chat and catch up about their life. Any thing would have been better than wasting hours being swept away in the current of mindless media. If you do that, you are wasting your time. And when you waste time, you’re wasting your life.

Choose wisely to avoid the fear of the waves

You do get to choose how to deal with this growing ocean of media choices. Take positive action and choose wisely in preparing to swim away from the dangerous riptides in media and you will never have to live in fear of drowning in negative media again. You will be able to move from fear of media flooding into your home, to enjoying the benefits that this mighty ocean of options brings to you and your family. Education, spiritual growth, creative hobbies, connection with friends and family in any part of the world, personal development, fun games, laughter, building empathy or compassion by experiencing what life would be like in someone else’s situation, and the list of benefits goes on and on since there are tremendously positive things that this new ocean can bring to your doorsteps.

However, if you choose poorly and watch someone you love be caught up in the currents that sweep away values you will be filled with regret and grief over how much you wish you would have taken positive action before it was too late.

Let me challenge you to do everything possible to take action to protect yourself and those you care about by getting involved, becoming educated, talking, listening, asking questions and setting boundaries right now before it’s too late! Take every step you can to prevent these powerful media messages from stealing your time, family traditions or faith and values. I believe the best way to do this is to make real memories as often as possible in front of your own camera by taking snapshots of your family, laughing, playing and enjoying the power of positive experiences together.

This way you aren’t watching some other family in a situation comedy on television trying to figure out their life at home; you will be living out what it means to be a family as you find greater fulfillment in living out reality in your own home than anything the entertainment world could ever imagine possible.

Need help with media ‘swimming lessons’?

I believe your home should be a place of peace and safety that gets better over time because each person is growing in greater love and connection to the other people in their family. However, if your home has been a chaotic place of disconnected arguments or power struggles about media choices, here are some websites to help you take bold action to educate yourself about the pressure points that may be facing your family with movies, music, television, websites, and countless other forms of media that can harm you or someone you love.

Study this information now as it applies to you and your own family situation so you can develop strategies to tackle the hidden currents and silent media messages that may have been stealing from your family for years. The good news is that you can make positive choices in your home and when you do, it will bring a positive difference to your family as everyone learns to swim away from the dangers of media riptides, while enjoying the beneficial things that entertainment can bring us and never worrying again about how to get safely back to the shore.

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint."Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2008), To receive this valuable weekly resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and partners with media, major corporations and non-profit organizations to make a positive difference in our culture. Access more counseling and coaching resources designed to save you time by solving stressful situations by visiting his counseling blog with over 150 complimentary articles and special reports at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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