Community, Touch

Teach our youth to be discerning

“I FEEL LIKE I’M HERE to change people’s hearts and minds, to say something that’s right for a change.”

Reading this line, you would have thought that this is a passionate plea from a preacher or a youth worker. It is actually a quote from Kanye West, one of the most recognised American hip-hop rappers. Today’s media artistes carry in their music, film, art, blogs, etc, a message of revolution that is impacting the world. There is power in the media today that affects all of us and in particular, our teens. If you don’t believe, try this simple test. If you were born between the 1960s and 1980s, the first thing that hits your mind when you swim out in the sea is “SHARKS”. Why? It is the result of watching Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The haunting music and the cinematography created a powerful message for those of us born during that period even though shark attacks are rare and few. But when you are in the water, doesn’t that thought of Jaws creep into your mind?

The media has life-shaping power. One of the most successful producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, commented: “When I was in my early 20s, I started filming and editing commercials. I learned the power of film – creating a message that reaches a lot of people.” In fact, the media has the tremendous power of mapping out what life and reality is for our children.

Most of what is screened on MTV now is no longer just hours and hours of music television. On the contrary, MTV screens reality series like Jersey Shore, Teen Mum, 16 & Pregnant, The Real World, etc, to portray to our teenagers what a “normal and real” life is like. Our teens may not be able to discern that most of this is hardly real or normal. Rather they are the handiwork of scriptwriters and producers, out to capture a teen market for profit purposes.

The media also has the power to shape our teen’s behaviour. For instance, violence is a constant feature of movies, television and computer games. In America, the Parents Television Council found that in 443.5 hours of children’s programming it analysed, it found 3,488 instances of violence or an average of 7.86 violent incidents per hour. Most of these programmes can be found today in our Singapore TV and they popular among our youth.

Teen rage and teen violence has been a key topic in recent days and it would be interesting to research how much of this behaviour is linked to the depiction of violence in computer games and other media.

So what are we to do in the wave of media that is flooding the minds of our young people? Firstly, we need to focus on the message and not on the delivery system. The delivery system is the genre of the music, the instruments used, radio, TV, film, etc. We often focus on condemning the delivery system when the delivery system is neutral.

I remember people telling me that our youth should not listen to hip-hop because it is the music of the devil. Yet, I know of no scripture that tells me that it is so, or that supports their claims. By enforcing a rule to ban our children from going to the movies or watching TV, we will only be embracing “Biblical myths”. The message of the media should be our concern – teaching our youth how to discern the direction of media content. We should teach our teens to engage and use the media that points to God, rather than away from God.

In short, our youth need discernment. However, they can only learn to discern when they see us learning to discern the choices available. They can only learn to discern when they do it together with us. I have come to realise that discernment is best done together, rather than based on some hear-say from other parents, youth workers, youth pastors or even well-meaning friends. Get into the thick of things together with your teens. Sit down with them. Discern the message together with them because that goes to show you care for them.

While the media has often been blamed for the key influence in youth culture today, it is also the most misunderstood. We cannot run away from this media-saturated world but we can teach our young people to “discern and evaluate perspectives in these representations of life in God’s world” (William Romanowski). Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

A final word to parents – Would it be difficult for you to turn off the TV and read a book or spend some time with your family? Would you feel bored if there was no TV? If you have answered yes to the questions above, it is time for a closer self-examination. Discernment begins at home and it begins with us, parents.

The Rev Jasper Sim is Pastor-in-Charge of Changi Methodist Church and Director of the Bord of Youth Ministry of the Chinese Annual Conference.