As the father of a young child, I am often dismayed at what passes for family entertainment these days, at least insofar as the mass media is concerned. Finding television shows that are not laced with violence, gratuitous sexual innuendo, foul language or rude behavior is almost impossible. Listening to the radio in the car is always a crapshoot too, especially when your musical preferences extend beyond classical, jazz, or opera. Disc jockeys seeking to gain the highest ratings go to the edge of the envelope with their antics and even the commercials can be over the top. The movie industry’s rating system is increasingly meaningless with each passing year as more and more on screen behavior becomes acceptable. And on top of that, video games, once a light-hearted entertainment option for kids (remember Pac Man or Centipede or even Pong?), have turned to criminality as the main theme for their latest releases.

Yet in an increasingly expensive society, where trips to the museum or sporting event or theme park can set families back a hundred bucks or more, movies, television, music, and video games are becoming the cheapest source of entertainment for many families. And with parents most likely spending more time working than with their kids, children are increasingly being nurtured by the glowing boxes in our living rooms and bedrooms. We are easily into our second, if not our third television generation, and the effects on our society could only be described as dismal. Children become desensitized to violence before they even know what violence really is. They become entranced with physical appearance and relationships before they can even properly bathe themselves without help. They become obsessively materialistic before they can appreciate the value of money. And they have a difficult time differentiating between reality and fantasy. Today’s children grow up in a world full of promise and technological advancement, yet all we seem to be offering them is the same kind of entertainment enjoyed by ancient civilizations: gladiator-like violence, rapacious sexual play acting, and extreme caricatures acting in stereotypical, but unrealistic, manners.

Art, they say, is just a reflection of life. But what happens when the reflection is turned back upon itself? What then? Entertainment executives, when pressed about “family entertainment” often exclaim that there are plenty of options for parents and kids, and that no one is forcing people to watch, listen, or play with their products. And to some degree they are exactly right. But they also say that they only give the public what the public wants, and this is where their disingenuousness shows through clearly. In reality, the public gets what they executives think will get them the most return on their investment, either through commercial advertising, merchandising efforts, or direct sales. And the public, for the most part, reinforces this perception by continuing to consume all that they have to offer. But, again, if all that is offered is of the same ilk, what real choice does a consumer have?

Unlike most denouncements of the entertainment industry though, this is not a call for government regulation or censorship. This is a call for Common Sense. And it is a call to parents and entertainment executives alike. For though it is hard to evidence with hard facts, it seems obvious that there must be a direct correlation between the attitudes and actions of our society and the things we see or do for entertainment. It is easiest to perceive in children, and unchecked or unseen, the things we learn as kids shape who we become as adults. Children are mimickers, it is how they learn what is and what is not acceptable. They see someone act a certain way and they emulate that behavior. They have no innate concept of right or wrong until we teach them. Yet the insidiousness of today’s mass entertainment is that it reinforces socially negative behavior through its subtleties. Seemingly innocuous programs for kids often depict parents and adults as aloof providers who offer little real guidance and nary a scrap of discipline while the kids are know-it-all super heroes, capable of solving any problem in just under 30 minutes. After weeks and weeks of ingesting this kind of fantasy, children unconsciously adopt the behaviors of their television role models, creating havoc in the home and school and disrespecting their parents and teachers. And these are the least harmful attitudes they adopt.

So what should be done? After all, we don’t want entertainment to be exactly like reality since the whole point of entertainment is to forget for a while our own complicated lives. And certainly, we shouldn’t prevent adults from viewing or enjoying violent or sexy cinema if that is their choice. In truth, I enjoy a good war film, suspense mystery, or lusty love story from time to time. I listen to rock and roll music as well as love songs. But as an adult, I have both the life experience to understand what I am seeing or hearing and the established sense of behavior to know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable actions. As a parent, I have to recognize that my child does not have these same attributes, yet, and it is my job, not mass media’s, to teach them.

I am a big proponent in turning off the television. As parents, we need to engage our kids more often than our busy lives sometimes seem to allow. If there needs to be censorship of modern mass media, it is first and foremost our jobs to be the censors for our families. Parents need to remember that children will not raise themselves, at least not in a socially responsible manner, and that the decision to become a parent means that life does not carry on as before. Sacrifice of our own personal desires are a necessary element of raising children, which sometimes means missing our favorite sit-com and reading to our kids. Or playing a board game. Or taking walks around the neighborhood. Or staring up at the stars. If you don’t feel comfortable listening to sex jokes and fart noises with a four year old, turn off the TV and do something else. If you don’t want your ten-year-old thinking that girls must be thin, blond, and sexy to be beautiful, turn off the TV and talk to your kids about individual self worth. If your 13 year old seems obsessed with war and weaponry, don’t buy the newest shoot-em up video game and then leave him in his room for all hours to master the skills of street killing. Use some Common Sense.

This is the only effective means of getting mass media to change the menu of offerings. By turning off the television, by not buying the games, by going to the park instead of the movie theater, parents can send a more effective message to the entertainment industry. By not supporting what they have to offer, they will be forced to give us something else or go out of business. PBS is perhaps the last bastion of quality children’s television, yet the politicians and the corporate broadcasters want to kill it off. This should tell us something about their true motives, since PBS is also non-commercial and tax exempt.

The industry has proven to be ineffective at controlling themselves. Government has no role in legislating entertainment, except when it crosses the line into illegality. Therefore, it is up to us to call for change. It is not a push to eliminate the violence or sex from entertainment altogether. It is a call for industry movers and shakers to dedicate themselves to creating family movies and programs that are both fun and responsible. It is a call for parents to be more parental and more involved with their kid’s entertainment choices. And it is a call for families to spend more time doing things together and relying less on mass media to teach and entertain us.