Liberation's Children: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age
Orlando Sentinel, 6/24/2003
Shelf Life: Back from the USSR?
While we dither, the purveyors of sex and violence, via television, music, the Internet and video games, have a clear shot at our kids. And the stuff they are putting out is as damaging to them as you feared -- probably more so.
Diane Ravitch and Joseph Viteritti, education scholars and researchers, have collected the essays of experts in media and child development in Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children (Johns Hopkins University Press, $29.95), and the evidence they present against the entertainment industry is damning.
The editors argue that a variety of forces have conspired to reduce the power of traditional institutions, such as family, church, school and community, making child-rearing more difficult for parents who are going it alone.
In addition, children are more independent at a younger age and have more money in their pockets -- an irresistible target for mass marketers.
The expert authors of various chapters in this collection offer evidence of how damaging this stuff can be: from Todd Gitlin's explanation of how the pace of pop culture makes it almost impossible for kids to sit still for traditional classroom lessons to Peter G. Christenson's assertion that teens use song lyrics to frame their identities.
But more compelling than the impact of pop culture on aggressive behavior or run-amok consumerism in the young is Kay Hymowitz's essay on the failure of parents to act as gatekeepers.
Hymowitz, author of Ready or Not: What Happens When We Treat Children as Small Adults, argues that parents express concern about pop culture but rarely pull the plug on it.
"Some of it can be chalked up to parental peer pressure," she writes. "Everyone knows that alarm about popular culture is part of what goes under the rubric of 'being a good parent' in America today."
It is not that we are lazy parents or hypocrites or stuck in the permissiveness of the 1960s.
Instead, Hymowitz says, we are at the crest of a sea change in child-rearing and in the definition of childhood. American parents no longer see themselves as protectors and guardians. They see themselves as nurturers.
Discipline and denial have been replaced by self-expression and self-discovery. But the pendulum has swung too far when parents forget who is in charge. That confusion is the foot in the door for the entertainment industry.
Why don't we, as parents, simply turn it off, pull the plug, confiscate it or forbid it? We should. But, for some crazy reason, we seem to want our children to decide to do that on their own. We are confusing protectiveness with control.
Empowered children, of course, make better consumers than dependent, compliant ones, Hymowitz says, and television, especially, promotes this notion of competence with family sitcoms featuring clueless parents who are shown up bytheir smart-aleck kids.
The solution is for parents to act like parents and require that their children behave like children. But Hymowitz is not hopeful.
"To get parents to see their role as providing children with a meaningful counterculture would require a cultural shift of proportions that are, admittedly, difficult to imagine. It would mean nothing less than recovering an understanding of childhood vulnerability . . . and discovering a palatable, modernized image of authority."
Parents must turn off the TV, the CD player, the PlayStation2 and the computer and send the kids out to play in the yard, even if it doesn't feel quite right to do so.