Monday, January 29, 2007

sitting on the couch while the cultural war rages on: why parents do not engage

As the mother of a daughter, there are several choices I’ve had to make that have been less than popular, and, at times, less than comfortable, in regard to how I allow my daughter to interact with our current culture. Such decisions have been made after a great deal of inner debate, and have been guided in part by insight from books I’ve read and discussed with others, such as Home Invasion by Rebecca Hagelin and Your Girl by Vicky Courtney. So when I came across Dean’s post about a hyper-sexualized middle school talent show a few weeks back, I began giving further thought as to why it seems so many other parents DON’T seem to be making similar choices.

Dean quotes from the original New York Times article about the highly provocative nature of the “talent” being displayed, then quotes another blogger who asks, “Why are parents giving up?” Dean responds that the answer is simple. “Many of these parents probably hold secret misgivings about what goes on in these productions, but silence them in an effort not to damage their child's acceptance in the achievement elite.” He concludes his post by saying, "Because those parents who might object to this kind of thing are silent, those who have the greatest tolerance for the sexualization of children continue to push the boundaries of acceptability. Combine this reality with the common belief that sexual mores inevitably become looser as time goes by and the belief that the highest calling one can have on one's life is to be a celebrity (which requires the early sacrifice of modesty) and you end up with talent shows like this one."

While I agree entirely that this is a legitimate factor, I disagree that it is as “simple” as this. I think there are many more reasons why even well-meaning, able-conscienced parents throw up their hands and allow their children to be swallowed whole by the culture. I will take a moment here to offer up just a few.

Rebecca Hagelin states, in the introduction to the afore mentioned book, “…too often, even good moms and dads, when confronted with the struggle—and believe me, it’s a struggle—simply give up. They shrug their shoulders and decide, 'I just don’t have the energy to argue. Everybody’s doing it, so what’s the harm in my child doing it too?' This syndrome has become the mantra of too many parents.” It takes energy to engage in the cultural war against our children and families. Many parents simply lack the energy or the motivation to stand up for what they know internally to be right and appropriate, because they think they are but one facing millions (or even just one other) and they are not up for the argument. They don’t want to be challenged or questioned, they don’t want to be given a hard time, they just want to sit on their couch and be comfortable. If every parent who had a conscience would take the time and energy to stand up for what they believe to be right and appropriate for their children, be it at the school talent show or with the entertainment industry or with their own child, we would see standards change. They would have to.

Furthermore, many parents not only lack energy and motivation, but conviction as well. It bothers them that their twelve year old is gyrating her pelvis on stage (or even just in the living room) with her abdomen exposed and the rest of her body barely covered, but they aren’t really sure why and they’re not bothered enough to really DO something about it. In a culture that lacks a moral compass, lines are not easily drawn. If a parent has not taken the time to draw these lines both for themselves and for their child, they are not equipped to respond to the uneasiness that arises within them in such situations. And they will likely not become passionate about it until the threat of pregnancy or STD is eminent, because those are the only lines they ARE clear about.

But the lines are not drawn come middle school, when the sign-ups begin for the talent show—they begin as early as life begins with the choices surrounding what their children will and will not be exposed to and how they will deal with such exposure. Rebecca Hagelin states, “…media companies who want your child to like their programming at, say, fourteen, start trying to captivate them at age four. The idea is to get the kids and the parents gradually numb to certain ideas that would normally offend their sensibilities—and they start, oh, so subtly and cleverly to do so.” Many parents have become numb to the culture because they are over-saturated by it. About ten years ago my husband and I partook in a little experiment and for all intents and purposes stopped watching TV all together. As the time has gone by, we find ourselves more and more appalled by what is on television, because we have not been regularly and systematically desensitized by the entertainment industry for the last decade. This makes us all the more vigilant about what we allow our children to be exposed to, because we have seen first hand how we can become numb to our consciences.

As previously mentioned, in the interest of time and space, these are but a few of the reasons I believe many parents simply “give up” in the battle against our culture. I believe many (myself included, at times) lack the energy, the motivation, the conviction, and the moral sensitivity necessary to enter into a war that will likely not be won in our lifetime. Combine these factors with a driving desire to be comfortable and not rock the boat, and the pervasive message that parents are no longer the experts when it comes to their own children, and you get entire armies of parents who sit, dazed and useless, on their couches while their children become casualties.

Although the war is daunting, I strongly believe battles can be won for our children in the day to day if we only take the time and the energy to say no to that which makes us uncomfortable. Our conscience is our God-given, internal alarm that tells us that something is not right. As parents we must learn to trust it and follow it, because if we do not exercise our conscience, it will weaken over time, and our children will pay the price.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

ready or not...

“Momma, what’s sex?” My eyebrows shoot up involuntarily as my heart skips a beat. As she is turned away from me in the dark and using her “I’m feeling really self-conscious” voice, I’m not sure I’ve heard her correctly. I silently hope I haven’t.

“What did you say, Bub?”

“What is sex?” She turns toward me and I see her questioning almost-eight-year-old eyes in the half-light of her bedroom. I heard her correctly. I silently hope aliens will abduct one of us, rescuing me from having to answer her earnest yet uncomfortable question. They do not.

I take a deep breath.

Fortunately, I am not completely unprepared for this conversation—the lucky side effect of being a slightly neurotic parent who worries about too much about too many things and has too many books but too little time to read them. My bookshelves and nightstand all contain, smattered among the memoirs and novels and books on writing, titles like How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex or How to Talk to Your Child About Sex or Talking to Your Kids About Sex. (Books on the topic are prolific—alas, creative titles are not.) I’ve even read parts of some of them. And underlined in them. I’ve been a good student. I just didn’t think the final exam would come for, oh, about another year. Or two. Or five.

I silently wish I’d studied harder.

This is not our first conversation, which further complicates the situation. She has been asking questions, albeit infrequently, for about six months now, and I have been answering them in honest but veiled answers, explaining that more information will come as she is older. The groundwork has been laid. But she has been less and less pacified by my responses. She is wanting more. But is she ready?

“Where did you hear that word?” I begin with an indirect route, trying to determine how she’s heard the word used and by whom, who is saying what, what does she really know. As the conversation continues, it becomes clear she is getting some very erroneous information from some very confident but VERY misguided second graders. I am going to have to answer her directly. She needs honest, accurate answers. I silently hope for the Second Coming.

I don’t remember learning about sex for the first time, but there is much I do remember. Awkward conversations, questions directed toward friends who were more “experienced” though not necessarily more knowledgeable, avoided conversations, lessons learned about the hard way. Shame, embarrassment, and confusion were the threads that wove together my knowledge of sexuality. They do not pull out easily. It is not what I want for my daughter.

And so, as carefully and simply as I can, I explain “sex” to my precious, precocious almost-eight-year-old.

“That’s weird,” she giggles, wrinkling her nose. I wrinkle mine back. “Yeah, it is kinda weird, isn’t it?” We have a good giggle and then talk for while longer, allowing her to empty her overflowing bucket of questions. I kiss her good night, reminding her that second graders are not the authority on such matters. I leave her, hopefully, with thoughts of sleepovers and birthday parties.

I silently hope I have done the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

catching up

The tree is put away, the presents have all found places to live, we have been to Florida and back, and all the suitcases are finally empty. A few more loads of laundry, and life will finally return to "normal." (Or as normal as things can be with a spouse starting graduate school!) Hopefully, this will mean more WRITING.

In the meantime, my college friend Dean, inspired by having his first child, has had some great discussions going about several social issues that affect us as parents. Take a minute to browse through the past few weeks of posts, if you're so inclined. He has some good, intelligent points to make--feel free to make a few of your own!