Are These Really The Worst Times?
by Joni Hilton

I’m watching TV with my 19-year-old son the other day, and gasp at the promos for upcoming network shows, every one of which looks as if it should be R-rated. “I can’t believe this. The whole country is going to heck in a hand basket,” I mutter.

After waiting through the requisite comments about how old I must be to even know such an expression (what, after all, is a hand basket?), I decide to repeat my point with the idiot grammar of the day, “Those shows are SO not appropriate,” I said. “It’s never been this bad.”

Brandon, who just turned in his mission papers by the way, and is hoping for a Third World assignment (which makes me wonder if he’s even my child), now begins his lecture.

I know, I know– in most homes it’s the parents who lecture, but somebody forgot to explain these rules to Brandon, and he frequently filibusters like an elected official. “Have you ever heard of Noah?” he says. “Or Babylon?” He looks at me like I’ve never cracked open the Bible. “What about Sodom and Gomorrah? The entire Old Testament is filled with stories of wicked cities that had to be destroyed. It’s been a lot worse than this.”

Okay, but not recently, I think to myself. Is it even fair to count ancient history in this discussion? Were those the folks who had hand baskets? I am still pondering this when Brandon says, “The church has never been bigger. The most valiant young people are here today. Look how many temples we have, and how many missionaries. President Hinckley says these are the best times ever.”

Oh, sure, quote the prophet to me and end all argument. I scowl and say, “Well, okay, but television has never been this bad. Satan uses the media like it’s his own personal soap box.” And, to be sure, television is at its worst ever. Parents have to be as vigilant about their kids’ TV-watching as they are about computer use. Seemingly safe shows are often punctuated by raunchy commercials, and parents need one hand on the mute button. We’ve installed a device that blocks bad language, for example, and established a “no TV on school nights” rule.

But Brandon pulls me out of the woe-drums, and reminds me of the good that is done through the media, how General Conference, genealogy assistance, literacy, and good publications are now available worldwide, and how if parents will only do their job, they can teach kids to choose good programming and avoid the trash.

He reminds me that the state of the world is about far more than simply the current line-up of fall television programming. In the “olden days” there was more racial stereotyping, more sexism, and more glorification of smoking and drinking, for example. Times weren’t more innocent, he says, people just pretended there were no problems.

“Really, if you look at just about any aspect of life, there’s been improvement,” Brandon says. “Infant mortality rates have dropped, the standard of living has increased, the middle class has grown, and life expectancy is greater than ever.”

Today’s kids can access pornography at the touch of a button, it’s true. But diligent parents can control what comes into their homes, and place family computers where access is highly public. Discussions about dangers are held openly in many families today, and kids are finally being taught the straight scoop.

The youth have greater safety today, as well. While we all complain that our kids can’t just wander the streets like they used to, we forget that molestations occurred then as well; they just weren’t talked about.

The Internet, combined with new laws, can show where convicted child molesters are living. Young people can learn how to avoid date rape, the dangers of premarital sex, and what to do if they’ve been abused in any way. I don’t remember any of that information being readily available when black-and-white television painted the world in a “Father Knows Best” reality.

Dads are more involved, and more emotionally available for their kids, than they were thirty years ago. Parents are more aware of the harm caused by beating their children, and few kids are yanked by the ear until deaf, or whipped with willow sprigs.

Child labor laws protect kids from being used in manufacturing, a horrible legacy preserved in the photos of coal-dust covered children whose childhoods were virtually non-existent, during a time when children were simply treated as short adults.

Schools, for all we complain about them, have improved as studies have shown the best ways kids learn. Instead of rote memorization and the “tough luck” approach to learning disabilities, more kids are being awakened to the wonders of learning.

Technology, science, medicine and the arts have exploded with new ideas, more efficient methods, better cures, and greater beauty. Media productions that promote family values and parent education are more prolific than ever before. There is great honor in staying home to raise the family, for both mothers and fathers.

There will always be spoiled, disrespectful kids aplenty. And the entire community needs to demand courteous behavior. But those whose folks are trying, who are consciously thinking about how they parent, are reaping benefits Noah couldn’t have imagined. These kids are sharing the gospel with their friends in record number, heading up collections for the Church’s humanitarian efforts, becoming Eagle Scouts, earning Young Women medallions, making scholastic strides that qualify them for entrance in the finest universities, doing record numbers of baptisms for the dead, attending seminary, and preparing for missions and marriage as never before. If you’re going to raise good, savvy kids who’ll make a real difference in this world, now is actually the best time to do it.

I look at my son and realize that he is seeing the glass as half full, while I have been focusing upon the blemishes of a “morally bankrupt society,” and noticing only the empty part, the televised part.

Brandon and the Prophet are right: Life is grand and there is much to celebrate. We really are winning the war against evil. If only one mission-bound kid at a time, the world is looking pretty good from here.