Filling the Vacuum

Six years ago, a high-profile teen drama made its debut, and kids' TV would never be the same. Of course, high school soap operas were around long before the premiere of Dawson's Creek. But it was obvious from the beginning that, as TV columnist Amy Amatangelo wrote, "This was not your older sister's Beverly Hills 90210." The explicitly sexual dialogue made that clear as did, for example, the fifteen-year-old character having a passionate affair with his teacher and nobly lying to protect her. In its six seasons, which recently ended, the show pushed the envelope farther than anyone thought it ever could, approvingly portraying everything from open marriages to gay adoptions. But something changed between Dawson's first and last episodes: The controversy that once surrounded the show -- and we talked about it on BreakPoint -- all but disappeared. What many people once saw as outrageous now seems almost normal. In fact, TV today is overloaded with clones of Dawson's Creek, and few of them cause much of a stir -- except when the media praise them for raising topics that used to be taboo. The increasing sexualization and liberalization of television has affected even family shows. Recent episodes of family drama Everwood featured a little girl getting a value-free education in pornography from a trusted family friend; a conservative Catholic doctor reluctantly performing an abortion on an eighteen-year-old; and a husband and father indulging in a homosexual affair. It seems that the television industry enjoys being seen as brave and daring so much that it's grabbing every opportunity it can -- with no concern about what's appropriate for kids. And kids are paying a price. When Dawson's Creek first aired, one reporter noted that in some schools, it was "the talk of the fourth grade." And it shows: Numerous reports indicate that children are dressing and acting in sexually provocative ways at younger and younger ages. But the root problem isn't the media. It's us: lack of guidance from parents, schools, and churches. Hollywood portrays sexual freedom as glamorous, telling kids there are no limits. And many of us who don't share Hollywood's worldview have been almost silenced as if it's unrealistic or intolerant to try to teach kids moral absolutes. Now, it's true that nearly half of all teenagers say their parents have the most influence over their sexual decision-making. That influence, however, is not going to have any effect if parents don't take a serious interest and confront their kids on these issues directly. Most kids don't get the help they need at home. As one high school senior told the Washington Post, "All we have to go by is the movies. Or Joe Millionaire. Or The Man Show." Well, relying on fictional models (Joe Millionaire was hardly reality) may seem ridiculous, but kids do that when they have so few real-life models to follow. I believe that Dawson's Creek would have had very little impact if more parents and churches were willing to aggressively teach their kids moral absolutes. When a BreakPoint comes out that addresses sexual issues, or movies, or TV, get the transcript (1-877-3-CALLBP), sit down with your kids, and talk through the worldview implications. I refuse to believe that we're going to let shows like Dawson's Creek control our kids. For further reading: Laura Sessions Stepp, "Tough Love," Washington Post, 28 April 2003. "Teens, Sex and TV," Survey Snapshot, Kaiser Family Foundation, May 2002. (Adobe Acrobat Readerrequired.) (Note: Kaiser promotes depictions of "safer sex" among teens. However, the statistics it provides are useful in following television trends.) "PTC Study Reveals Less TV Sex," Parents Television Council press release, May 20, 2003. FAITHFUL NATION -- WHAT AMERICAN ADULTS AND TEENS THINK ABOUT FAITH, MORALS, RELIGION, AND TEEN PREGNANCY: A NATIONAL SURVEY, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, September 2001. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) BreakPoint Commentary No. 020617, "From Diapers to Thongs: Abercrombie and 'Outrageous Times.'" Joanne Ramos, "For Adults Only?",, 12 June 2002. "Too Sexy, Too Soon," Good Morning, America, 9 April 2001. Suzanne M. Chamberlin, "Violence and Promiscuity Set the Stage for Television's Moral Collapse," Family Research Council, May 2002. "Popular Culture and the Family," Family Policy 11, no. 4 (July/August 1998). Tamar Lewin, "Study Finds 1 in 5 Youths Have Sex Before Age 15," New York Times, 19 May 2003 (free registration required).


Chuck Colson


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