You probably know that popular culture is a truly destructive force in your children’s lives. In a recent survey, three-fourths of parents believed that materialism and the negative influences from television, movies, and music were a “serious problem” in raising children. Over 85 percent of parents believe that marketing contributes to children being too materialistic, sexual content leads children to become sexually active at a younger age, and violent content increases aggressive behavior in children. Yet 66 percent of parents think they could do a better job of supervising their children’s media exposure.
What is popular culture?br> What is popular culture, you ask? It’s Shaquille O’Neal, J-Lo, Ludacris, McDonald’s, Instant Messaging, Coca-Cola, and on and on. But this list only gives examples of popular culture. They are, if you will, some of the weapons that popular culture uses against your children. But they don’t really tell us what popular culture is. One expert says that “Values are at the core of popular culture. It embodies popular objects or icons, heroes and heroines, and the rituals, myths, and beliefs surrounding these.” I say that popular culture used to reflect our values. No longer. Now it is a voracious beast of materialism, celebrity, and excess that shapes those values to meet its own greedy needs. Many heroes offered by popular culture are not heroic, many of its icons represent unhealthy values, and many of its rituals, myths, and beliefs are in its best interests, not those of your children. Popular culture is also pervasive, dominating virtually every part of your children’s lives.
In your children’s face
The presence of popular culture in your children’s lives is omnipresent, intense, and unrelenting. Your children are exposed to hundreds of television channels. They have free and immediate access to an almost unlimited array of information through the Internet. They have free and immediate access to other people near and far through email and instant messaging. And when they’re not on the computer, DVDs, video games, magazines, advertising, and shopping malls fill your children’s lives. Research has shown that typical children between the ages of two and eighteen spend well over five hours each day consuming popular culture.
Not all popular culture is bad
Though I will probably come across as militantly against any and all forms of popular culture, I actually believe that there can be a place for some of it in our society. Popular culture can be a wonderful outlet for entertainment and escapism. Whether popular culture is dangerous or benign depends on its true intention and how it’s received by children. Popular culture that is simply aimed at entertaining children has its place in our society. Whether film, music, theater, books, or sports, activities that transport us from our daily lives into temporary alternative realities can play healthy roles in our lives. These diversions act as brief respites from our otherwise busy lives. They give us a “time-out” that relieves stress, provides a small amount of escapism, creates pleasant vicarious emotions, and just plain entertains us. As long as the messages communicated in the media aren’t bad for children, who am I to say that Spielberg is worse than Fellini or Aerosmith is worse than Beethoven.
However, popular culture that is intended to instill in children bad values, attitudes, or beliefs, manipulate their needs and wants, sell goods and services that have no redeeming value, or impress upon children anything that is unhealthy psychologically, emotionally, socially, or spiritually, physically is by its very nature, destructive. Examples include advertising that connects certain toys, clothes, food, or drinks with being popular or cool, or music that encourages racism, sexism, drug use, or violence.
But let’s be clear here. Even “good” popular culture isn’t that good for children. Though there is certainly educational television, video games that encourage creativity and problem solving, and movies with positive messages, these media teach children bad habits:
- be observers rather than participants;
- experience life vicariously instead of directly;
- be sedentary instead of physically active;
- have indirect social contact with others rather than real contact; and
- prevent them from participating in activities that support their intellectual, emotional, cultural, spiritual, and physical development.
Know your children’s enemy
The first step in joining your children in the fight against popular culture is to know your children’s enemy. Study popular culture. Watch what they watch, play their video games, listen to their music, surf the Web sites they surf, read the magazines they read. Then, understand the value messages they are getting from popular culture.
Television, movies, and video games glamorize violence, sexuality, wealth, celebrity, and the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. Fashion and celebrity magazines affect how girls think about their bodies, the amount they diet and exercise, and the occurrence of eating disorders. The internet gives your children limitless access to a universe of inappropriate information. In sum, popular culture in excess and without guidance is destroying your children psychologically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically.
Popular culture on the attack
Popular culture is like a network of saboteurs that infiltrate your family’s lives with stealth and deception, hiding behind entertaining characters, bright images, and fun music. You probably don’t notice half of the unhealthy messages being conveyed to your children. It is also an invading army that overwhelms your children with these destructive messages. It attempts to control every aspect of your children’s lives: their values, attitudes, and beliefs about themselves and the world that they live in; their thoughts, emotions, and behavior; their needs, wants, goals, hopes, and dreams; their interests and avocations; their choices and their decisions. With this control, popular culture can tell children what to eat and drink, what to wear, what to listen to and watch, and children have little ability to resist.
The mere presence of popular culture shouldn’t be your greatest worry. Rather, your greatest concern should be the influence that this presence has on your children. Few people really understand how popular culture affects children’s lives. Even fewer people realize how truly harmful it is to children, families, communities, and to our society as a whole. Popular culture attacks children at their most basic level, the values that guide their lives.
Popular culture promotes the worst values in children and disguises them all as entertainment. Reality TV, for example, has made the “seven deadly sins” — pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth–attributes to be admired. Throw in selfishness, deceit, spite, humiliation, cruelty, and vengeance — all qualities seen and revered in popular culture–and you have the personification of the worst kind of person. Popular culture makes heroic decidedly unheroic values, characters, and behavior.