Does what you watch help or hurt?

Have you ever felt unsettled when you finished watching a tv show or movie–or even the news? Or felt gross like you need to take a shower? What about creeped out and afraid to go to sleep? Are you feeling discouraged and anxious about life? Does the world seem to be a scary and dangerous place?

Maybe the time has come to take a look at what you set before your eyes.

Scientific studies have shown for years that watching violence desensitizes people to violence and its effects (including the suffering of others). Research now shows that what you watch also affects your mood, your mental health, and how you view the world.

According to Psychology Today, after watching some typical negative news stories, people in one study actually felt worse about their own lives and problems–even though the negative news stories didn’t pertain to them.

In an article in Psychology Today entitled “Watching Violent News Video Can Be Hazardous to Your Health,” Dr. Stephanie A. Sarkis says: “If you are watching videos of mass shootings or other violent events on the news or online, you are making yourself more prone to developing (or worsening) depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Maybe some movies should be advertised as the feel-bad movie of the year. Ditto for some tv shows.

Okay, so watching less tv news is doable, right? But what about tv shows and movies?

In a post entitled “How to Deal When Your Favorite TV Shows Trigger Your Anxiety,” writer Jazmine Polk details her interview with Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist who focuses on violence in the media. Dr. Lieberman says: “It may seem counterintuitive, since it doesn’t make sense that someone would want to keep watching a show that makes them feel anxious or depressed, but they are drawn like a moth to a flame.”  

Many shows and movies now feature murder, rape, torture, terrorism, and more, with realistic graphics and special effects. 

“People who are sensitive, emotional, anxious, or depressed are more affected by these shows,” Dr. Lieberman explains.

Apparently, binge watching (watching multiple episodes of a show at one sitting) is even worse. 

The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports that after binge watching shows, people sleep poorly, battle insomnia, and report more fatigue. Binge watching complex storylines and cliffhangers has an even greater effect on sleep.

The Journal says: “The term binge viewing hints at an overindulgence or addiction regarding television viewing, and concerns have been raised over its harmful effects. Prior research has indicated that media bingeing was associated with more anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Binge viewers also reported higher levels of loneliness and depression.”


Maybe some movies should be advertised as the feel-bad movie of the year. Ditto for some tv shows.

‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 10:23

Never before in human history have people had so many choices for entertainment and information: tv shows and movies via satellite dish, cable, streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, Redbox, YouTube channels, blogs, websites, social media sites, and more.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, God inspired the Apostle Paul to pen these words in 1 Corinthians 10:23: “‘Everything is permissible’–but not everything is beneficial.” 

Though Paul never could have imagined the technology you have available to you today, he did understand human nature. And, human nature has not changed since God created the first people.

So, what does this verse mean? Think of it like this: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Well, then, how do you decide what’s okay and what’s not okay?

My friend, Lendy McLeroy, says she and her husband, Glen, use the standard found in Psalm 101:2-3 “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.”

So, before watching a show or movie, Lendy says she and Glen ask the question: Is this going to be worthless or worthwhile?

When their two sons were growing up, Lendy and Glen stayed away from violent shows, movies, and video games. They also carefully avoided showing their boys any entertainment that portrayed sex before or outside of marriage as okay because they wanted their sons to grow up to respect women and treat sex as a gift from God to be enjoyed in marriage.

Although their sons are grown, Lendy and Glen still choose not to watch violence or sex.

“Watching such things would numb me to reality,” Lendy says. “The more I would see that, the more they would become a norm. I don’t want the things that are not acceptable to God to become normal to me.”

Does such a stance mean that Lendy and Glen don’t always watch what others are watching? Yes.

“As a Christian, I should be different than the world,” Lendy says.

In addition, Lendy reports that she and Glen choose not to watch tv news shows because she finds herself feeling depressed after watching. They read news stories instead.

So, how do Lendy and Glen find something to watch?

“We both love to watch comedies,” Lendy explains. “And mysteries.” 

Lendy thinks word of mouth is important. She asks for recommendations from friends and family members whose opinions she trusts. She also reads reviews online. Her favorite is

Lendy offers this encouragement: “Do I get it right all the time? No. Sometimes I mess up. I make a mistake and watch something that’s not good for me. I have to keep working at it.”

Group of female friends having a coffee together. Three women at cafe, talking, laughing and enjoying their time. Lifestyle and friendship concepts with real people models.

Another friend, Mandy Parker, says she specifically looks for the types of shows she knows she likes.

“I’m always going to choose something funny,” Mandy says. “Because I’m a math person (she teaches high school math), I like mystery shows. I’m drawn to trying to solve a problem.”

Mandy often chooses to watch older tv shows and movies.

“The standards were different in the 1980s and 1990s,” Mandy explains. “Hollywood couldn’t show things that are shown now. If there was violence, it was implied, not shown.”

When she decides to watch a current show so she can solve a mystery, Mandy deliberately selects a show in which a crime has already been committed so she doesn’t view violence. If she feels uneasy while watching something, she turns it off.

“Would I watch this with my kids? Would I watch this with my mom?”–Mandy Parker

Whether she is looking for a comedy to make her laugh or a mystery to solve, her standard remains the same. Mandy asks herself these two questions about what she is considering putting before her eyes:

“Would I watch this with my kids? Would I watch this with my mom?”

Very little of what’s made now would pass that test. Just saying.

So, what about looking for feel-good movies and shows? Ones you can watch with anyone. Think: “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “War Room” or pretty much any episode of “Full House,” “The Andy Griffith Show” or “I Love Lucy.” 

Couldn’t you use some good feelings in your day? I know I could.

Then, once you find something that is worth your time, what if you set healthy limits for yourself? Consider watching only one episode of one tv show per day. I know a family that does that.

You can control what you watch–and how much.

I know this is crazy, but you could even choose to limit the number of days per week you do that. What if you cut down your viewing time to only three hours per week? What could you do with all that time you were spending watching tv shows and movies that were making you feel bad?

Finally, remember that there are many things you cannot control in life. But, you can control what you watch–and how much.

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