SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — In an interview with National Public Radio recently, philanthropist Sheila Johnson said that moral standards in the media were declining and that parents needed to step up.

For Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Network (BET), American standards depicted in music videos, sitcoms, reality shows and other programs are evidence that we have lowered the bar with respect to what is considered acceptable, and she doesn’t think it can go any lower.

The For the Strength of Youth booklet provides guidance to youth regarding media viewing choices. © 2008 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Speaking about music videos in particular and popular media in general she said, “We are giving these kids a false sense of what life is all about.”

Johnson believes that parents and families need to reclaim morality from social trend-setters outside the home. “We need to give them [children] something to counteract the filth that is on TV,” she said.

Latter-day Saints relate to Johnson’s concerns. Church leaders have spoken out for decades against the dangers of the media’s adverse influence on young people and others.

Church apostle Elder M. Russell Ballard advised parents in 2003 that they cannot allow schools, communities or television to establish children’s values. He said that parents have this responsibility.

Studies show that there are increasing amounts of sexual content, vulgarity and profanity found in sitcoms, music videos and reality shows. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89 percent of parents are concerned about their children’s exposure to inappropriate content in entertainment media, especially TV.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that up to 75 percent of music videos contain sexual content. Other research asserts that music videos represent more than 90 sexual situations per hour.

In response to declining moral standards as portrayed in much of today’s media, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has produced two booklets for young people, parents and youth leaders.

The For the Strength of Youth handbook suggests to Mormon teens how to make choices based on an understanding of values and consequences. Topics addressed in the pamphlet include dress and appearance, entertainment and the media, music and dancing, and sexual purity.

Many young Latter-day Saints carry a small copy of the booklet in their purse, wallet or bag.

“I definitely think it’s tougher to follow certain standards today than it was 10 years ago,” said Mike Romney, a youth leader in Gilbert, Arizona. “I think our kids are pretty good, but many still have challenges. That is why we talk about standards and values so they are aware of the dangers out there.”

The other booklet, Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth , explains the potentially positive influence that adults can have in the lives of youth. It encourages parents to actively participate in their children’s activities and to help them set goals that will lead to a successful life.

Elder Ballard makes clear that media is not all bad. “Opposite from its harmful and permissive side, media offers much that is positive and productive,” he said.

“Television offers history channels, discovery channels, education channels. One can still find movies and TV comedies and dramas that entertain and uplift and accurately depict the consequences of right and wrong.”

Speaking of other media he added, “The Internet can be a fabulous tool of information and communication, and there is an unlimited supply of good music in the world. Thus our biggest challenge is to choose wisely what we listen to and what we watch.” 

This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.