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Managing the Media in Your Home

with Daniel Acuff, Robert Reiher | July 25, 2006

Today on the broadcast, Drs. Daniel Acuff and Robert Reiher, pioneers in youth marketing and cofounders of Youth Market Systems Consulting and the Character Lab, challenge parents to limit the media consumption of their children.

Today on the broadcast, Drs. Daniel Acuff and Robert Reiher, pioneers in youth marketing and cofounders of Youth Market Systems Consulting and the Character Lab, challenge parents to limit the media consumption of their children.

Managing the Media in Your Home

With Daniel Acuff, Robert Reiher
|
July 25, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: [To the tune of "Leave it to Beaver"]

Well, we've come up with a crazy thought,

What would your life be

If all through August you and yours

turned off the family TV?

You know, boys, we think that – boys, listen to your mother and me.  We want the TV off during – no!  No TV during August.  June, I can't get these boys to obey.  I think Eddie Haskell is behind this.  Boys, turn off the TV.

You'll find there's plenty of stuff to do,

We're sure you'll all agree,

It's swell, it's keen, you'll have such fun

When you turn off your TV.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Fat Tuesday edition of our program.

Dennis: Fat Tuesday?

Bob: The Fat TV Tuesday – I should have clarified that.  You know how right before Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, they have …

Dennis: Oh, I get it.

Bob: They have Fat Tuesday, right?

Dennis: Yeah, exactly.

Bob: And that's the day that …

Dennis: And because we're fasting from television …

Bob: Well, because you're calling people to fast.  I don't know that I've signed on for this completely yet, you know?

Dennis: Of course, you have, Bob.

Bob: But I don't wanna!

Dennis: What Bob's talking about is each year in the month of August, we call our listeners to give up TV for a month, and you'll get over it, Bob.

Bob: I'll give up cutting the grass, how's that?

Dennis: [laughing hysterically]

Bob: If I trade it out with that?

Dennis: There's two generations, you know, Bob?  There's an older generation that kind of goes back to when TV started, and there's a younger generation that, well, TV is just a smaller part of what they do.

Bob: In fact, I was curious as to how younger listeners would take to this idea.

Dennis: When you say "younger listeners," who are you referring to, Bob?

Bob: I'm talking about young families.

Dennis: Twelve-year-olds?

Bob: No, no, no, no, no.  I'm talking about those who are in their 20s, in their early 30s, maybe they're single, maybe they're raising a family.  I'm not sure exactly – well, I'll tell you who is the prototype for this.  We have a friend, Hugh Duncan, who produces a podcast called "New Clarity," and Hugh is – he's a young dad.  He and his wife, Renee, have two little children, and we went to Hugh – he works in media.  And so I was talking to him.  I said, "Do you think you and your family would participate in this idea of a month-long TV fast?"  And he said, "Well, let me think about that, and I'll get back with you."  And he actually got back with me on tape, and so I thought our listeners ought to hear.  This is Hugh kind of ruminating on whether he and his family can do a month-long TV fast.  And before we hear it, you wanted to let the older listeners know …

Dennis: I want to just encourage all of you listeners who are 35 and older, and there are a few hundred thousand of you who are listening right now – I just wanted to encourage you – hang in there on this.  You may kind of go, "Now, what's his point?"  Hang with it all the way to the end.  Let's listen to Hugh Duncan.

Hugh: They have to understand that there is a fast brain and a slow brain.  They have to understand that there is a [tape speeds up and slows down] – there is a fast brain and slow brain.  That's what Dr. Robert Reiher says.  I'm using some software to edit an interview that someone did with Robert Reiher about his book, "Kidnapped – How Irresponsible Marketers are Stealing the Minds of Your Children."  [distorted tape sounds]. 

Robert: The fast brain is the brain that responds automatically to compelling media and entertainment that is designed specifically to hook it [distorted tape sounds].

Hugh: That's what I'm trying to do – edit this interview into something that will hook radio listeners and give them something exciting to listen to.

Robert: The slow brain is the part of the brain that responds to relationships and to thinking and to reading and to the higher activities of human behavior.

Hugh: Well, I'm trying to do that, too – use this interview to help parents in their relationship with their children, help them to think rationally and deeply about media and TV and their kids' viewing habits.

Robert: [distorted] human behavior.  So don't let your kids be immersed in fast-brain activities.

Hugh: After editing like this all day, staring at two computer screens for eight hours, which brain am I using?  Do I even have a brain left?

Daniel: What's disempowering certainly is spending too much time with machines and what's empowering is to, you know, spend more time with family and friends and interacting in social ways.

Hugh: This is Dr. Daniel Acuff, co-author of the book, "Kidnapped," who is constantly talking about the need to unplug from machines, and it's really ironic that I'm sitting here editing these authors talking about the need to unplug while I sit in front of two computers.  One of them has the editing software, the other feeds me a constant stream of e-mail and blog posts, and when I break from editing and open an e-mail, I instinctively start playing my iPod.  This is the world in which my wife and I are raising two daughters, and this interview is part of an important discussion on how media affects children.  It's something my wife and I grapple with all the time.  When we brought our first little bundle of joy home six years ago, we didn't throw out the TV or the rest of our gadgets, and knowing what's appropriate has been a constant source of discussion.

Daniel: In the book "Kidnapped," we set out a week in the life of an 8-12-year-old and talk about what's empowering and what's disempowering.

Hugh: That gets me thinking.  How is media used in my house in a typical day?  How do the thoughts of these authors relate to my family?  Let's back up a little bit.  [sound of tape being rewound.]

 [Alarm clock] At one point, I would have grabbed for coffee at this time of the morning, but I'm fasting.  Most people don't have any trouble with this but, for me, caffeine can become like an idol, and I've needed to give it up.  But in order to get my mind going, I turn on my iPod and in order to get my body going, I've decided to take a walk.  Basically, I've tried to replace caffeine with exercise and media.

[song]

 My three-year-old is soon awake, and one of the first things she says is –

Daughter: Can I turn on a DVD?

Hugh: We try to steer her toward a more wholesome pursuit first thing in the morning like going to the bathroom. 

 On the way to work, the iPod is in shuffle mode, and a song by my daughter pops up.

Daughter: [singing]

Hugh: When I got the iPod one of the first things my daughter wanted to know did I have any songs of her singing.  She was happy to find out that I had this one of her when she was a toddler, that she had become a media producer.

 I arrive at work to stare at my two computers and start editing Daniel Acuff.

Daniel: If I'm spending more time with machines, I'm spending less time with family, and then I just don't grow the same way and as healthy in that way that I would ordinarily.

Hugh: This program is supposed to encourage people to fast from TV in the month of August, and I think I could give up TV pretty easily.  Like a lot of people, I've been spending more time with new types of media than with TV.  Statistics show that viewership is down.  Now, if I had to give up computers and the accompanying gadgets, that would be hard.  And it's also why I'm a little defensive about this interview.  The authors are supposed to be talking about turning off the TV, but they keep lumping all media together.

Daniel: We call it "E-time" or "T-time" – E-time is enriching time, T-time is toxic tech time. 

Hugh: Meanwhile, while I'm editing, back at home my three-year-old is watching a video we checked out at the library.  It's actually way beneath her, but she still likes watching it.  It's kind of one of those brainy baby or Baby Einstein type videos that show lots of repetitive shapes and colors to help stimulate a baby's brain.  A lot of people advocated this type of thing when my first daughter was born, the idea that if you play classical music while they're still in the womb and then introduce them to DVDs of swirling patterns and colors, your child is more likely to grow up to be a math genius or something.  Robert Reiher says there is no scientific data to support this idea.

Robert: The parents want to think it does so they can jumpstart children.

Hugh: I think parents to feel this pressure to stimulate their kids' brains and give them a competitive advantage in life, but at the same time, parents also just want a chance to get something done without having a toddler wrapped around their legs.

 While I keep editing, my daughter back at home has to turn off the TV.  She's reached her limit for the day.  Over the summer, my wife and I realized we needed some kind of limit on how much the girls can watch every day, and we chose one hour.  I'm not sure why, it just seemed like common sense, and I was excited to find out the brain researchers said we got it right.

Daniel: Below the age of seven, if they're just starting school, for example, maybe an hour, half hour a day, if they had any homework, of course, kindergarten and first grade, second grade, there's not much homework but a little bit of homework – half an hour a day, maybe, but on the weekends an hour, hour and a half at the most in front of any screen.

Hugh: In front of any screen.  That brings up something I haven't figured out about our one-hour-a-day rule.  Does it include the computer?  Once my three-year-old has consumed her DVD ration for the day, she starts asking to play CD-ROMS, and I tend to let her.  It seems to me like playing computer games is a great learning experience, especially in our high-tech world.  She'll be using computers all her life, right?  She better start learning now.

Robert: And there's a lot of illusion in that.

Hugh: Ugggghhh.

Robert: Parents are under the illusion that because this is a technological age, they want their kids jumpstarted, and they believe that they should be doing that as early as a child can put his hands on a computer.

Daniel: You see, we make a distinction between hot and cold mediums.  A hot medium is anything electronic like television, video games, that is interactively electronic, but cold mediums or cool mediums are reading and just playing and being – having time and space to think and create.  So it's really robbing the child of that time that they need to have free play and free association.  That's when thinking can occur.

Hugh: Back at home my girls are involved in what these authors call "free play." They are using their imaginations, I think.  They're acting out a movie.  They basically have the script memorized, and they're quoting it using different rooms of the house to represent different sets.

Daughter: Whatcha doin, hibernatin'?

Hugh: So does their free play count as cold non-media time that's all based on a movie?

Daughter: Flower is [inaudible].

Hugh: Meanwhile, back in front of the editing computer …

Daniel: I'm 63 years old, so when I was young, we had a black-and-white TV when I was nine.  That was it.  So what I did to entertain myself was get on my bike, I lived in the country on a cotton farm, and I'd ride around the country and go out to the city dump, you know, and if it was a lucky day, I'd find a dead sheep.

Hugh: What?  He played at the city dump?  Did I hear that right?

Daniel: [rewinds the tape] … ride around the country and go out to the city dump, you know, and if it was a lucky day, I'd find a dead sheep.

Hugh: Are we really sure the city dump and dead sheep are an improvement over Baby Einstein videos?  I mean, isn't the city dump dangerous for a kid?

 Back at home, my wife and my six-year-old are outside listening to a cowbird.  We recognize it because we've been studying birdcalls on CD.  During a lot of car rides, we've put in the CD and that helps us recognize different birdsongs.  The cowbird isn't much to look at, but we've all been amazed by the sounds it can make [cowbird sings].  And, again, I'm not quite sure how this fits in with what I'm editing.  These authors tend to be pretty black and white.  You're either plugged into machines, or you're unplugged.  What if you're learning about nature, which seems like you're unplugged, but you're listening to a CD, so you're plugged in, but you're with the family, unplugged, but you're in a car, which is a machine, and then you're going outside and applying that knowledge.

Daniel: And then there's something even called "natural intelligence," where it's how smart am I about nature?  And if we're not spending as much time outdoors and playing in parks and going camping with the family, how are we going to get natural intelligence built?  We're spending too much time with machines.

Hugh: I've gotten home by now.  Dinner is over, and, no, we don't watch TV during dinner.  And while I'm washing the dishes, someone puts on a song that we had downloaded off the Internet a while back.  It's one of my daughter's favorites, and they start to dance.

Announcer: [echo] Right about now, the funk soul brother …

Hugh: My three-year-old comes in and invites me to dance, and I say "No, I've got to finish the dishes, and then I've got to sit in front of the computer and pay bills."  And she looked so sad, which reminds me of Jesus' words.  He said, "To what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.  We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'"  So I let the dishes go and follow my daughter.  They've recruited my wife, too, and pretty soon all four of us are dancing like maniacs.

[song "Funk Soul Brother"]

 I think back to what Daniel Acuff said – when he was a kid, and he had a chance to play, he'd go down to the city dump, and if he was lucky, he'd find a treasure, a dead sheep.  I think that serves as a picture of our world and our media landscape.  The truth is, we're living in a dump.  Our world's been marred by sin, and we see the effect of sin everywhere.  But, at the same time, it's the work of an incredible Creator, who is coming back soon to clean up the trash and, in the meantime, He invites us to play, and He invites us to dance.  And in the midst of all the trash, He lets us find treasures that remind us of Him.

 We can pretend like everything is perfectly safe; that life is like a row of neatly ordered manicured lawns, but kids don't want to play there because there's no life, no passion, and no treasure.  That's why I don't make my kids listen to stuff like this …

[song "I'm a C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n"]

 C.S. Lewis was an atheist, but he was also a lover of stories and mythology, and the things he read as a kid put him on a path that led him to discover the ultimate storyteller.  I hope that my kids are on the same path; that media like this …

[song "Funk Soul Brother"]

 … will put them in contact with the God who created rhythm, and I think about one of the most amazing things I edited today.

Daniel: About an hour and a half …

Hugh: Hour?

Daniel: I use it as a distraction.

Hugh: Daniel Acuff was asked how much TV does he watch?

Daniel: About an hour and a half in the evening.  I use it as amusement and distraction.  After a day of work, I figure, okay, I deserve it now, so …

Hugh: The guy who uses words like "toxic tech time," spends an hour a night watching TV?  Well, on the other hand, I, who has been playing devil's advocate all day, never turn the TV on, because if I did, I wouldn't have time for this …

Daughter: [singing] Our father who are in heaven, hallowed be your name, the kids will come, your will be done, however it is in heaven.  Give this day our daily bread …

Hugh: Maybe trying to unplug is like trying to leave the dump.  It's just the world we're in but, at the same time, if you're being discerning, watching TV every night is not the best choice.  And if you're in the habit of watching TV every day like I used to be in the habit of drinking coffee, the TV Fast is probably a really good idea.  Just like giving up coffee can let you taste other flavors, giving up TV can lead to all kinds of wonderful experiences.  I mean, why watch TV when there are birdcalls to learn and cool songs to download and stories to read and movies to act out and children who are saying, "Come, dance."

Daughter: Give this day our daily bread and give the prosses and gesshahd, and not to temptation without evil, and the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen.

Bob: That is, again, Hugh Duncan, who has a podcast called "New Clarity" …

Dennis: And I'm thinking about enlarging this fast.

Bob: To include what?

Dennis: All of the above.

Bob: Well, I guess, yeah, if …

Dennis: No, no, I'm just thinking about it, but after listening to Hugh, Bob, you just think about it for a moment.  It would be like having people fast from telephone.

Bob: Yeah, or …

Dennis: Air.

Bob: Breathing, yeah, that's what I'm thinking.

Dennis: There are certain aspects of media today that we use, like the telephone.  I don't think the TV is one of them, by the way, but some of those other things Barbara and I use, and we enjoy them.  I go through a lot of e-mails and read some blogs and have an iPod and listen to some music and, yeah, I understand.

Bob: It's part of how we do life in this era, right?

Dennis: Exactly, but what we're calling people to do is give up television.  Turn if off for the month of August and build some relationships on purpose as a couple, as an individual, and use this month to enlarge your borders beyond a little silver screen.

Bob: All right, go over this again with me one more time – that's the primary purpose for this month-long thing so that we'll spend more time in relationships?

Dennis: That's exactly right.  This is not a media fast, a comprehensive media fast.  I am calling people to give up their television and television viewing for one month.

Bob: And what if I'm using television as a way to promote relationships.  You know, you talked a little about watching nature films and going out in the back yard, that kind of thing. 

Dennis: [laughing]

Bob: That's what I had in mind.

Dennis: [laughing]

Bob: Was nature films for the month.

Dennis: [laughing] Nature films – the Discovery Channel with Bob and Mary Ann.

Bob: All right.

Dennis: I don't think so.  No, I think what you have to do is find another way to do it, Bob.  Just take a month.  It's just 30 days, and then report back to me and tell me at the end of the 30 days did you enjoy relationships more or not – did you realize how much television was robbing you of valuable time with your most important relationships?

Bob: We have somebody on the line with us who wants to report back to you, and, frankly, she's a little different than Hugh.  She is from – let me put it this way – she is more of your era, that's what I'm …

Dennis: Hugh is a pup.  I mean, he's – what is he, 30?

Bob: He's in his 30's, yeah.  We have on the line with us somebody who has, in the past, participated in one of these TV fasts during the month of August.  Her name is Carolyn Franklin, she lives in Murphy, North Carolina, with her husband, John, and, Carolyn, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Carolyn: Thank you.

Dennis: So how did your 12-year-old handle no TV?

Carolyn: Well, I'm going to tell you, and I wish that your listeners could know that he is a strong-willed child.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: He pushed back?

Carolyn: No.  Oddly enough, he didn't.  But he loves to play games, and so I promised him that we would play Aggravation whenever he wanted to, Scrabble whenever he wanted to.  We played games, we spent more time outside, we just enjoyed – we put up a badminton net, and he and I played badminton, and we have a VCR, and we'd go to the local library – I don't know if people realize that, but the local libraries probably have almost as many videos as they do books.

Bob: Right, you know, sometimes I'll get a little stir crazy with the TV being off.  Can Mary Ann and I come over and play some Scrabble or something at your house?

Carolyn: Oh, Canasta.  I would love to find someone who could play that.

Dennis: You'd have to teach me how to do it again.  It's been about 40 years since I've had a good game of Canasta.

Carolyn: Well, it's been a while for me, too, because we're Baptists.

[laughter]

Dennis: Well, I'm a Baptist, too, but we played Canasta.

Carolyn: Canasta does not fall under gambling.

Dennis: No, it sure doesn't.

Carolyn: No.

Dennis: It's a lot of fun.  Hey, Carolyn, thanks for being with us, and just hang in there raising those grandchildren.

Carolyn: Thank you for the witness that you put out for those of us who really need information.  I appreciate it.

Bob: We appreciate you.  Good talking to you.

Dennis: Bye-bye.

Carolyn: Thank you, bye-bye.

Bob: You know, the thought just occurs to me, at the library they've got some of those nature videos, so I'm …

Dennis: You're still after that.  You know, I'm just thinking about how relevant FamilyLife Today is for listeners.  From iPods to Canasta – I mean, there is a generation who is listening to us who does not know what an iPod is, and there's another generation, a larger generation, that has no idea what Canasta is.  This sounds like some kind of viral disease.

Bob: I just want to make sure I don't get it.

Dennis: It's a card game, Bob.  My mom and dad used to play it.

Bob: So, once again, the whole premise of this – you want to encourage listeners, starting, what is it, next Tuesday, I think, that August starts, and you want us to go from Tuesday …

Dennis: … cold turkey.  Immediately break the addiction.

Bob: Pull the plug.

Dennis: No nature videos.

Bob: And do you want us to put one of the sticker things on our TV screen.

Dennis: There's a great sticker thing we've designed that says, "Turn Off the TV Fast."

Bob: I shouldn't call it sticker, it's static, because you can peel it off at the end of the fast.

Dennis: There you go, it doesn't leave any residue.  You're not going to have to use some kind of toxic glue remover.

Bob: It covers the whole TV screen, and it just reminds you that this month we're saying no to TV.  What about the people who just got the big screen or the plasma or the whole home entertainment center?  Do they put a lock on the door for that for 30 days – 31 days?

Dennis: I guess they do.

Bob: Here's the deal – you and Barbara are the only two who have to agree to this at your house, right?

Dennis: [laughing] What does that have to do with it?

Bob: I have children at my house.

Dennis: Let me tell you something, Bob, you are the parents.

Bob: I have teenagers.

Dennis: You don't have room in your house for a third parent.  So I'm calling on you, Bob, to be the parent – to step on up and provide some leadership.

Bob: I've got all five of my kids home.

Dennis: They're going to whine, they're going to complain.  Amy's going to be off on her honeymoon.  She's not going to want to watch TV, anyway. 

Bob: That's probably true, but, actually, our team has come up with a resource that a lot of our listeners have used during the August TV Fast in past years that is a great little resource.  It's called "Fifty Nights of Family Fun."  Turn off the tube and turn up the laughs, and it gives you activities you can do as a family during the time when the TV is off.  So when the kids do come and say, "Can't we watch this?"  You say, "Go get the book," and let them pick one.  Let them pick a number, and then you turn to that page and say, "Okay, here's an activity we can do instead of watching TV tonight." 

 We've got the book, "Fifty Nights of Family Fun" in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  We also have those static sheets for your TV available.  Go to our website, FamilyLife.com and click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen.  That will take you to the page where you can get more information about all of these resources or call 1-800-FLTODAY and mention that you're signing up for the TV fast, and that you want some help, and we'll see what we can send out to you.

 When you get in touch with us, can we ask you to consider making a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today?  Many of you know that we listener-supported, and what that means is that folks just like you who have been listening to FamilyLife Today for a while have, in the past, called in or gone online to make a donation to our ministry, and that's the reason that we can be here this week with our program, because of that past support.  And we want to remind our listeners that those financial needs continue throughout the year.

 Let me say thanks in advance for considering making a donation when you contact us.  We appreciate your partnership with us.

 Well, tomorrow we are going to welcome John Piper to our FamilyLife Today studios, and we're going to talk about living a life with a purpose in mind, about not wasting your life.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

[theme from "Leave it to Beaver"]

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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