Should You Shield Your Child from Pop Culture?
Filed under: Opinions
Should you shield your kids from pop culture?
This is a question many parents wonder about these days as role models for children have become increasingly less wholesome. Parents, however, are also susceptible to media influences and peer pressure. We fret that our kids will be left out, hazed or in some way damaged for not fitting in. We dread that other parents will accuse us of being controlling or even downright mean.
It can also feel hopeless. A parent's best efforts can be undermined even at school, where companies can bypass parents by offering budget-strapped schools an array of financial incentives in the form of worksheets, videos, book offers and coupons promoting their products.
Plus, the ubiquitous nature of modern cross-promotional campaigns means a trip to the local fast-food joint entails plastic character toys and beverage cups enticing children to consume the latest fad. Only the Amish (and maybe the Duggars) have the lifestyle and discipline to keep popular culture out of their lives.
Nonetheless, a great many parents continue to do their best to at least keep the worst excesses of what passes for kid "culture" at bay. Why? Because despite the pressure (and there's plenty of it!) their gut tells them that their children need some protection from a culture of commercialism, materialism and marketers who don't seem to understand the concept of "age-appropriate."
So, how do you keep limits on popular culture for your kids? For one, trust yourself. If you don't think it's a healthy trend, allow yourself to be the parent and just say no. It doesn't necessarily have to be all or nothing either. A friend of mine had a "no characters" policy in her home. Her child was permitted to watch and own movies and DVDs with Disney characters and stars, but she did not allow her to have clothing, sheets, or other merchandise bearing their images. Another friend was concerned about her teens being exposed to sexual and often degrading rap and hip-hop lyrics. She decided not to give that kind of music her implicit approval by banning those radio stations in the car. Similarly, my daughters know who Miley Cyrus is, but they do not watch her shows or own her music. Nor do I buy them any of the gazillion products the pop queen hawks. You can't control the culture, but you can decide if it comes into your home or car.
Finally, if your kids are young, begin setting the tone early when it comes to parental discretion. My first significant, "No" were the Bratz dolls, or as my husband and I call them – Lil' Hookers. Years back, when my oldest was in kindergarten, they were all the rage and most of her friends owned the dolls as well as the brand's clothing, purses, and make-up kits. We stuck to our guns and even took her to Wal-Mart to exchange one she had been gifted by a well-intentioned friend. Thankfully, the trend passed soon after the even more disturbing 'Brazt Babies' hit the market. Thankfully, we were able to redirect her interests into other more age-appropriate options. And that was an important lesson for us. Trends do pass and as it turned out, the well-crafted, timeless American dolls we bribed her with are still in good circulation in our home – both our 10- and 5-year old still play with them regularly.
But the truth is, it's hard to say no because vigilant parents are often accused of sheltering our kids from the inevitable and setting them up for social exclusion. For the most part, my kids don't seem to mind our media/merchandise rules. But there are, of course, times when they complain about it and it can be very tempting to just chuck it when your child feels sad or tells you that she's the only one who can't do (fill in the blank), or watch (you name the show).
Too often, we don't give our kids enough credit. Today's kids are savvy enough to detect bad influences, even as they beg us for them. A recent AOL survey reveals that girls and boys between the age of 9 and 15 voted Miley Cyrus the worst celebrity influence of 2009. Look no further than 9-year-old Noah Cyrus' dominatrix Halloween costume for evidence of her sister Miley's influence and a child's need for parents who can just say 'No'. The next time I feel tempted to go against my better judgment, I'll try to remember this survey -- and little Noah's costume.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.