March 10, 2015

What My Pet Parrot Peanut Taught Me About Media

, married to Ted N.C. Wilson, leader of the Adventist world church

Peanut, our African gray parrot, was the most interesting and entertaining pet we ever had. Not only did he entertain us, but he also taught us a very valuable lesson as a result of being a part of our family for many years.

He joined our family in 1989 while we were serving as missionaries in Ivory Coast, West Africa. African grays are known for their intelligence and ability to talk, so I quickly began to teach him phrases that he was able to learn in a day or two.

“My name is Peanut; what’s yours?”

“I can talk; can you fly?!”

He not only quickly learned what we tried to teach him, but he was also quick to learn whatever he heard or observed. As he watched our family life unfold before him, he became very appropriate with his speaking. He imitated our voices and was able to call each one of our daughters and Ted by name so perfectly that they didn¹t know that it was Peanut calling them and not me. Each morning as the girls approached the door to leave for school, Peanut would call, “Hurry up girls, let’s go,” and then, “Good-bye,” as we began to close the door.

He knew where the drinking glasses were kept, so when he saw one of us go to that particular cupboard for a glass, he would make the sound of pouring water.

He could ring the phone, answer the phone, and carry on a simple one-sided conversation starting with “Hi!” and an appropriate pause. He meowed like our cats, barked like the dog, bang-banged like Ted’s hammer, and loved to sing during worship.

Of Parrots and People

We discovered that Peanut and people were alike.

We are all influenced by our surroundings, and how we spend our time determines who we become. In other words, we become like what we read and watch, the music we listen to, and whom we chose as our friends. Even what we chose to think about changes our brains, and those changes are visible and measurable on medical imaging equipment. The brain actually restructures itself according to what it is learning. Scientists call it transformational learning.

An African gray parrot perching in a cage.

Until my mother passed away at the age of 90, one of her most familiar cautionary phrases was, “It is so important to guard the avenues of the soul!”

When I was younger, I didn’t realize the vital importance of those words. But as I see media and technology of every kind consuming our time and attention, I realize how important it is that we not only make Holy Spirit-driven choices each day, but that we also teach our children how to wisely make those choices for themselves. In fact, the choices we make each day are not just short-lived but have eternal consequences.

The spiritual organ of the body is the brain. Our frontal lobe has to do with our spirituality, morality, the will, reason and conscience, judgment and decision-making, prayer and worship, discerning spiritual truth, empathy and altruism. The limbic system of the brain has to do with the lower nature, our appetite for food and sex, fear, stress, lust, worry, anxiety, anger, irritability, negativity, aggression, impulsive behavior, and our “flight or fight” protective response system. God created the limbic system, but it was to be governed by the frontal lobe from which we practice self-control.

What does this have to do with television? Imagine an on/off switch in your brain. Turn on the TV and within a few minutes the frontal lobe shuts off and the switch in your limbic system switches on. Theatrical-style television is designed to produce a limbic impulse of some kind — anger, fear, aggression, lust, sadness, and amusement.

“Watching entertainment television during childhood also results in a dramatically increased limbic system, which actually outweighs the frontal lobe of the brain,” Neil Nedley, a physician and president of Weimar Center of Health and Education, said in his acclaimed 2010 book The Lost Art of Thinking. “This is one of the reasons why many pediatric experts are now advising that no one under the age of 12 should watch theatrical television.”

Media Is an Adventist Addiction

Media has become the United States’ most widespread and serious addiction, according to George Barna, known for conducting extensive surveys about Christianity and the state of the church.

This addiction is present both in and outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When you look at statistics, you see clearly that the majority of all media content, including video games, entertains us by glamorizing lifestyles that nailed Jesus to the cross, and we have become so desensitized that we don’t even realize it.

It is time to ask ourselves, “Who is the Lord of my life? Who or what has my affections?”

By beholding we become changed, just like Peanut. All of this depends upon the choices we make with our time. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:2. The J.B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

May God help us to focus on that which will transform us into His likeness.

Recommended for further study: The Lost Art of Thinking by Dr. Neil Nedley and Media on the Brain by Scott Ritsema, both available at