Pictures and Propositions

  What kinds of images are jammed into your child's head? Harry Potter? Pokemon characters? Britney Spears in a skimpy outfit? There's not a lot we can do to keep some of the cultural images from seeping into our kids' minds. But we can balance those with images that show respect for Christian values. As we rear our kids, we teach them biblical principles and expect them to start applying them to their lives. But in their book, The Family New Media Guide, William Kilpatrick and Gregory and Suzanne Wolfe say that moral propositions are often difficult to absorb. That's why moral literature is so powerful -- and sometimes, in this visual age, even more so with films, because kids learn from images on their monitors or TV screens. Films make dry principles come alive, and they can penetrate the imagination. As the authors put it, "Written stories give us a word picture, [but] filmed stories give us an actual picture . . . and most of us think more readily in pictures than in propositions." I've found many films that teach great virtues. Films like Saving Private Ryan, which illustrates the virtue of self-sacrifice in a worthy cause. Or the recent movie Gladiator: though often violent, it personifies honor and integrity. Most Hitchcock films clearly portray the struggle between good and evil. One favorite is I Confess,a gripping drama about a priest accused of murder. The real killer confesses to him -- but the priest won't break the sanctity of the confessional, even with his own life at stake. Viewers learn exactly what C. S. Lewis meant when he wrote, "Courage is every virtue at the breaking point." An older film, called Brief Encounter, reveals the intense shame people feel when they plan to break their marriage vows. And the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre shows what greed can do to the soul. Do you want to give your kids images of self-control? You might rent a video like Witness or It Happened One Night, in which sexual temptation is acknowledged -- and overcome. Younger kids can learn about the importance of obeying parents from The Lion King. And Disney's Beauty and the Beast provides a humorous lesson on the need to master your temper. And if you still need convincing, consider this: A few years ago students at a New York university were asked if they believed cheating was wrong. Most of them said yes. The students were then asked if they would cheat if they knew they wouldn't get caught, and a large majority said they would. As Kilpatrick and the Wolfes write, these students "knew what was right, but they didn't feel any obligation to do it." And that's where good films and good literature can help. Their power comes from the ability of literature and films "to create and shape emotions and desires" and to portray appealing role models for kids to emulate. That's why I suggest that you set aside a regular night this summer to view films with your kids. Pick a great classic -- here is a list of some that we recommend -- and then pop some corn and turn on the VCR. You may not replace all the images your kids are seeing on TV or at the moves, but you can at least balance them with images of people choosing to do the right thing.


Chuck Colson


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