She meant well, I'm sure of it. Her Sacrament Meeting talk was devoted to explaining why good Mormons should never go to R-rated movies or listen to inappropriate music. She scored some pretty good points on the hypocrisy of going to movies you forbid your teens to see. But she left no room at all for the possibility that some other Latter-day Saint parents' judgment might be different from hers.

I, for one, find the ratings system pretty ludicrous. While I dislike coarse language, and especially detest misuse of the names of God and Christ (indeed, it's partly because of the casual and outright commercial use of the name of the Savior that we block Christian stations from our TV at home), when an otherwise promising movie is given its R rating primarily because of bad language or adult subject matter, we don't consider it necessarily off-limits.

Rather, we are guided by what the film's promoters are promoting. When sex is what they're out to sell, they make no secret of it. Ditto with violent action, politically correct smugness, and promotion of family-hostile lifestyles, not to mention sheer dumbness. There are many ways that movies, songs, books, and television shows can do great social harm. There are plenty of them that I wish had never been created or distributed. But many of the worst are rated well within the so-called "safe" categories, and many fine movies are given "unsafe" ratings for trivial or momentary infractions.

My wife and I also add into the equation the fact that our children are very bright, and we talk to them, and they talk to us. We talk to them about the TV and movies they see, the songs they listen to, the books they read. Often we have found that they and we are better off having seen a show with objectionable parts--and talked about it--than we would have been had we refused to see it at all.

Being the rigorous skeptic that I am, of course I had already catalogued other possibilities--for instance, that maybe his relationship with his parents was so poor that he felt he could not talk about the depression and despair he was feeling; that maybe he listened to that music because he was depressed, and not the other way around; that maybe if the family hadn't owned guns he might not have been able to shoot himself.

But all those arguments about causality are, ultimately, futile. My children have not been immune to adolescent depression, and it is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed, though I suspect that trying to control, by fiat rather than persuasion, what teenagers listen to is both futile and counterproductive, since the resulting conflict will only deepen the depression and make candid talk about suicidal impulses far less likely. (The principles of Section 121--leading by persuasion, love, and meekness--apply to parental authority, too.)

What really disturbed me about her talk, however, was that for some reason, this sister felt it necessary to go into details about the method the young man in her story used to kill himself, including how he went about making sure that the noise of the gunshot didn't waken his parents.

Now, excuse me, but this was Sacrament Meeting. I had a 6-year-old child there, one who had already had two of her siblings die (of natural causes) in the past three years. I did not need to have her listen to graphic accounts of suicide in church.

Furthermore, that woman had no idea how many of the teens in that audience were suffering from serious depression. If songs, movies, TV shows, and books can influence children to follow bad examples, what about Sacrament Meeting talks?

Did it not occur to her that by giving the details of a suicide, she was providing both an example and an instruction manual to anyone in the congregation who might suffer from suicidal impulses?


I have been known to walk out of movies that seemed utterly worthless and/or evil to me ("Toys," for example, in the "utterly worthless" category and "Pulp Fiction" straddling the two), and I have discussed thoroughly with my family "problem" films like "Pleasantville," "Amistad," and "American Beauty."

Thus our children have grown up participating in American culture while remaining highly critical of it--better armed, I think, in the current culture wars than many children who have had most of contemporary American culture withheld from them. Especially because that which is forbidden offers a far greater attraction than that which is permitted but discussed, criticized, exposed, and rejected.

That's my and my wife's view of the issue, and we have no trouble answering all the temple-recommended interview questions because, contrary to widespread impression, it is not LDS doctrine or even official policy that we must turn over our consciences to the MPAA ratings board. We are expected to use righteous judgment in raising our children, and we do our best. We respect those who use the MPAA ratings as their guide and don't sneak their kids into movies, and we expect them to respect our own equally careful decisions about films and other cultural influences.

So there I sat, listening to her expound one particular view as if it were official Church policy...but I knew I would have no trouble explaining to my 6-year-old why we don't follow the same rules she was advocating (my older kids are all over 18; for good or ill, they have already graduated from our school of intelligent culture selection).

Then, in the midst of her talk, she launched into a story about a teen suicide in a ward she had formerly lived in. Her point (when she finally reached it) was that the boy's suicide must have been caused by the lyrics to the songs he listened to. Her proof was that neither his parents nor his friends had any idea he was suicidal, and he had made Rice Krispie treats and left them in the fridge that very night, so he must not have intended to kill himself until he listened to Those Songs.

As soon as I realized she was going to go into such graphic details, I took my daughter's hand and walked out. I knew that the moment we started to leave, my daughter would stop listening to the talk, so my action was effective.

It was, however, my second choice. My first choice was to speak loudly from the congregation, interrupting her talk by saying, "Please do not tell any more about this incident. There are children here, and your talk has crossed the line into being at least PG-13."

But that would have violated the decorum of Sacrament Meeting, and I had to admit the possibility that maybe I was the only one who was bothered by what seemed to me to be a completely needless graphicness in her story. Only one other father joined me in taking a child out of the meeting. I was definitely in the minority.

Still, I find it ironic that it did not cross this sister's mind that a detailed depiction of teen suicide is one of the ways a show can get an "inappropriate rating." Now, in a talk to parents alone, that story might have been appropriate. But Sacrament Meeting has many children and teenagers present, and you can't count on having none of them pay attention at any given time.

I wish, when she judges other parents for their disobedience to the rules she believes in, she would remember that it is quite possible for someone with a high and noble purpose to tell a story that some in her audience think is inappropriate for their children. If she can inadvertently give offense, perhaps she could leave room for supposing that some who make films, TV shows, songs, and books might also have good intent and deserve to be distinguished from those who try to glamorize evil.

A G rating is no guarantee of wholesomeness, an R rating no guarantee of wickedness, and sometimes even those who stand--or sit--in holy places find themselves subjected to inappropriate cultural experiences. In cultural matters, maybe it's a good idea to have a strategy beyond mere prohibition.

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