CULTURE WARS: by Rebecca HagelinNews Weekly
How to rescue children from a toxic culture
, September 2, 2006
For too long, Western families have complacently assumed that their homes and neighbourhoods were safe havens for their children. American social commentator Rebecca Hagelin challenges this view and shows how, today, there is nowhere to hide as our homes are invaded by an insidious enemy via the unmonitored Internet, tele-vision, magazines and music that our families ingest on a daily basis.The day I signed the contract to write Home Invasion just so happened to be the day that six teenagers and I set out in our 15-passenger van on a 2,000-mile vacation. We always take other kids along with our own three when we go on our family road trips. This time we were heading south from Virginia to visit Disney World and the beautiful Florida Gulf Coast beaches.
It was easy to begin composing thoughts about America's toxic culture as I drove my precious cargo down the highway - painfully easy. Barrelling down the highway, the roadside was filled with tacky billboards screaming, "Topless! We Dare, We Bare!" advertising the many topless bars that now dot the countryside.
There was no escape from them, state after state. I wondered, "Okay, I've got six teenagers in the car - what messages are the billboards sending them about acceptable behaviour? What are they learning about the value of women in our society?"
After a few hours, we pulled into a gas station that had an ice cream counter. When I paid the bill, there were the two girls, standing at the register devouring their ice cream right beside a product called "Horniest Goat Weed: sex stimulant pills for men and women". I waved the girls away while I paid the bill, only to turn around and find them standing by a magazine rack filled with pornography.
Down the road we stopped at a Burger King for dinner - a safe place, at last. Or at least I thought
it would be an opportunity to just relax with the kids while we munched on burgers and fries. We soon discovered that mounted in the corner was a television blaring the images and sounds of a scene featuring a naked man and woman bumping under the covers.
Everywhere we go, from the grocery store check-out stands with their tacky women's magazines, to the mall with windows filled with mannequins and photos of young women in their underwear, to the video store with ultra-violent and pornographic movies, to the sexually graphic books many public schools are using to "teach" our kids, our sensibilities are under attack.
But tragically, the toxic culture that is poisoning the hearts and souls of our families and our children isn't just "out there". Often times the American home has become the sump for cultural sewage.
It used to be that the home was the nurturing oasis providing relief from outside dangers. It used to be that a parent's greatest worry was looking out for the guy in the trench coat lurking in the shadows at the edge of the school playground. Well, that guy in the trench coat is now in our homes.
According to the London School of Economics, nine out of 10 children who go online, usually to do homework, will stumble across hardcore pornography. Let me repeat: 90 per cent of children will fall victim to pornography in their own homes. And then there's intentional porn consumption by kids.
Oh, children might pass around a pornographic Web address at school, but it's in the safety of their own homes - often in their own bedrooms - that they close the door and consume hours of pornography.
Over 50 percent of kids who enter chat rooms - where conversation is often raunchy and racy - say they have given out personal information to complete strangers. Chat rooms and sites such as MySpace.com have become playgrounds for sexual predators.
Online pornography is a more than $10-billion-a-year industry, working 24/7 to make porn addicts out of our kids - and too often succeeding.
Tired of Internet porn? Turn on the television and flip to MTV. Why? It's what your teenagers are watching. MTV is the number one viewing choice for teen girls. Today's MTV programming is filled with reality-based shows that feature kids dressed in teeny-weeny bikinis licking whipped cream off each other.
By the way, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Report reveals that 68 per cent of teenagers say they now have a TV in their bedroom, and the vast majority say their parents have no idea what they are watching.Decapitation
Check out the video games our teen boys are playing. The second most popular of these games is Grand Theft Auto
, in which the player actually becomes the character who steals cars, rapes women, has sex with a prostitute and then clubs her to death. And that's not to mention the decapitation of policemen.
What about some of the books our kids are reading for school-assigned reports? I looked at a few books from a list recommended by the American Library Association for ages 12-14.
One described a sexual encounter between fourth graders. Another was written from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who describes, in detail, watching his first homosexual encounter.
So mums and dads should know that sometimes when Susie is upstairs being a good little girl reading her book, her mind is being filled with rot. Of course, you should also check out the sex-ed class materials that may include contests where kids race to put condoms on dildos and cucumbers.
Corporations spend billions of dollars every year on advertising. Why? Because they know that media affects behaviour. They are selling a "lifestyle" to our children that robs them of their innocence and their best futures, and capitalises on the natural raging hormones that mark the teen years.Sexual power
These marketers are teaching our young girls that their lives are all about their sexual power, and our young boys that life is all about who can be more crudely funny or irresponsible. Sexual activity is expected and has no consequences. Civility does not exist.
The harm, then, is that - in addition to the obvious degradation of our humanity - our children are paying a terrible price with their bodies, their emotions and their futures.
A September 2004 report in the medical journal Pediatrics
reveals that, in the U.S., one out of three teenage girls will become pregnant at least one time before she is 19 years old. Half of the new sexually-transmitted disease cases in this country every year are in young people ages 15-24.
The suicide rate among children 14 years old and under has increased 75 per cent in the last 10 years. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education
, freshmen are entering colleges in record numbers with clinically-diagnosed depression. The college suicide rate is the highest it has ever been.
Before we point the finger at Hollywood, the government, or the business community for what is happening to America's youth, we must look at ourselves. I know the solutions to these problems do not rest in Washington, DC. Most of the solutions can be found in active, loving parenting. It doesn't take an act of Congress to take back your home.
The last time I checked, a 13-year-old boy didn't have 60 bucks to buy a video game unless his daddy gave it to him. Eleven-year-old girls can't drive themselves to the mall, nor do they have the cash to buy trashy clothes that make them look like streetwalkers.
And who pays for the cable television, orders the Internet connection and buys CDs for Christmas presents? Well-meaning parents who are too busy or too absorbed with their own lives to see that their kids need them to push back against the toxic culture, not invite and pay for it to invade their homes.
Many parents are more concerned about being their children's friend than they are about parenting. But kids don't need more drifting friends; they need their mums and dads. Our children are feeling around for boundaries, for a firm foundation on which they can build their lives, for love and nurture.
I wrote Home Invasion
as a wake-up call to parents and as a handbook for how to take back their homes. I wanted to provide resources to help people fight back. So it lists counselling organisations that can help if someone in the family is addicted to pornography; resources on educational choices; information about controlling Internet infiltration; and research on the tremendous impact that simple acts like having family meals together can have on children.
What about the movies your kids rent at the video store? Be smart. Check out movie reviews written by people who share your concern for decency. Internet sites such as pluggedinonline.com
are excellent tools in this regard.
The best tool we can use is our expression of our love for our children as people. And sometimes, that commitment is difficult. I know what it's like to have my 13-year-old daughter look at me with tears streaming down her face and say, "But Mum, all my friends are going to that movie." It rips my heart out.
But in those moments, I sit Kristin down and I say, "You know what, Kristin? God made me your mum, and I love you more than anybody else in the world could possibly love you. I have to do what I think is best for you. Please allow me to be your Mum, allow me to love you, allow me to protect you the best way I know how. I might make mistakes, but as long as there is breath in me, I will be here for you." And then, we always find something else to do that's fun for her.
Those situations could easily turn into ugly scenes where I scream, "No, you're not going to that movie and I don't care what you say! Go to your room!" Or they can turn into moments where I give in, too tired to fight another battle, sending my daughter off with the message that standards only apply when I'm not worn out.
We must remember that our kids want us to be involved in their lives. They don't really want or need another gadget or the hottest video game. What they really want is more time with Mum and Dad. They need us desperately, not to build walls around them that shut them off from the world, but to build within them a moral compass that will guide them when they go out into the world each day. Not only will they be spared much harm having this compass, but they will succeed better as adults.
And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us commit now to taking back our homes, there will one day be enough adults to reclaim our culture.- Rebecca Hagelin is a mother of three, a social commentator and author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad (published by Thomas Nelson). This article is an edited extract of a speech she delivered earlier this year at Hillsdale College, Michigan, USA. It is reprinted by permission from Imprimis (April 2006), the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu.