PROVO — LDS author Randal Wright remembers well the day a Primary class of 5-year-olds told him a 1980s cartoon character was more powerful than Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
"Kids, who is the most powerful being in the universe?" Wright said. "They all said in unison, 'He-Man.'"
Wright wasn't even sure who He-Man was, but when he tried to explain the difference between deity and a fictional action figure, his own nephew boldly claimed that He-Man could lift Heavenly Father and Jesus up with one arm.
"Where did they get that?" Wright said before showing a PowerPoint slide of the muscle-bound toy hero. "It says right on the package 'The Most Powerful Man in the Universe.' At the time I thought if they can sell products, can they sell moral values? If Michael Jordan can sell shoes, can someone else sell co-habitation or sex before marriage?"
That experience led Wright to pursue graduate studies on the influence of electronic media, specifically the central attitudes and behaviors of teenagers. Wright shared part of his research in a 50-minute class at Brigham Young University Campus Education Week Monday in a presentation he titled "The Incredible Power Electronic Media Has to Either Build or Destroy."
During his remarks, Wright cited scriptures, displayed statistics and illustrated through examples and personal accounts the negative impact that media is having on our nation, particularly young people.
"Almost everybody sitting in this room has an immediate family member, an extended family member, or knows a ward member who has left the church. Some are returned missionaries, married in the temple, people who have taken their garments off and don’t believe anymore," Wright said. "I’m not saying that it’s all from media. I will say, almost guaranteed, media is involved somewhere along the way. It is powerful what it is doing to all of us."
The adversary is well aware of the power of media and is using it to deceive the very elect (see Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22). As a result our society has become desensitized to immoral messages in music, television and movies, Wright said.
He told the story of one Latter-day Saint family whose parents are temple-married returned missionaries and leaders in their LDS ward. Yet, they have not been alarmed by their teenage son's obsession with "death metal" music.
"You better fight that battle. I'm not saying (the mother's) head was in the sand. I'm saying her head was buried in the sand," Wright said. "Everything about him showed what he was involved in."
Wright discussed how former child stars on Disney and Nickelodeon have grown up and incorporated more adult themes into their music and videos while innocent eyes continue to watch on YouTube. One video featuring a former Nickelodeon star has more than 184 million views.
"(The content) is horrible and borderline pornographic. There are no ratings on it and anybody can click on it," Wright said. "Maybe kids ages 5 to 12 are among the 100-million-plus people on that."
Since iPhones have become popular, teens are sleeping less, are less active socially and physically and feel more lonely, Wright said, citing statistics.
There are also more than 2.3 million apps available in the Apple app store, some of which are designed to help kids hide things from their parents and barely carry small print warnings like, "Predators have been known to use so please be careful."
"Who knows what is really happening here but there are some trends that say this needs to be looked at. This needs to be something that we are aware of in our home, that there is a possibility that this technology is hurting us drastically," Wright said.
"You might be thinking, quit painting such a negative picture. I’m not trying to paint a negative picture, but we need to come up with a solution to this. We see the problems here. In this room are some of the solutions."
Wright challenged parents to set the example by spending less time with media and come up with solutions to this problem.
Wright spoke of a time when his family went 30 days without media. He recorded in his journal, "This has been the greatest 30 days of my entire life."
Another mother recently instituted "No Screen Summer" for her family. When told he couldn't watch a movie, her 5-year-old son decided to work on his writing skills.
"I don’t know how this poor kid is going to make it. She says no to a movie and what does he do? He gets a book and starts to practice his letters," Wright said with a smile. "Do you feel sorry for this kid?"
He concluded by telling how Sister Kathleen Eyring, wife of President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, once cut the cord of the television in their home to prevent her sons from watching a television program. One son used the cord from a broken vacuum to fix it. The next day the boys found the television broken with "a huge crack through the screen," according an lds.org article from July 2008.
Wright applauded Sister Eyring for doing what she felt was right, and her sons loved and respected her for it, he said.
"If everyone would just take the challenge to write a question — 'How can I help with the media problem in my home and area?'" Wright said. "Come up with solutions to what is happening. We’ve never had anything like this. Nobody knows what to do but you. And if the Spirit starts talking, I think we can come up with some of the answers of what to do."