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How the Media Try to Separate Your Children from Your Values
When I was a kid growing up in a small Southern town in the 1970s, I felt sorry for the Klein family. The Klein kids were popular and likable, involved in sports, band, and all kinds of activities. They were middle-class like most everybody else, though their dad was kind of an oddball—he had a ponytail, which was scarcely less frightening to us than if he’d had an actual tail growing out of his backside—but what really caused universal pity for the Kleins was—wait for it— they didn’t have a television at home.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I thought about this a lot, and that it was the subject of concern throughout our elementary school. We didn’t even have a Klein in our class, but we still worried about them. Look at Laura and Tommy, holding up so well, seeming so normal and cheerful, even though they can’t watch Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Welcome Back, Kotter. You couldn’t even blame it on their religion. They were Episcopalians.
Nobody knew why their parents were such screwballs, but the playground consensus at Bains Elementary School was that those kids had a mean, crazy Mama and Daddy. A childhood without the Fonz—why, that was no childhood at all.
A Real Childhood
Today, my wife Julie and I are pretty much following in the footsteps of Mama and Papa Klein. We have a TV, it’s true, but we use it sparingly, critically, and intentionally—and we give our son Matthew, who is five, little access to it. The television is a rarely used appliance. It is not the family hearth.
As a child in whose home—a morally conservative home, I should add—the television was on constantly, this is something I couldn’t have foreseen. And it is something that earns my wife and me pinched-lipped disapproval from my family members back home. They seem to believe that we are fussy, countercultural weirdos who want to raise our kids in the domestic equivalent of a monastery.
And you know what? They’re right. We want our boys to have what is increasingly rare in America today: a real childhood. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this quote from the late media critic Neil Postman: “If parents wish to preserve childhood for their own children, they must conceive of parenting as an act of rebellion against culture.”
Postman, a New York University professor and left-wing secularist curmudgeon whose thinking ought to be embraced heartily by thoughtful Christian parents, enunciated a truth I learned through my years as a professional journalist, including having spent most of my career as a film and television critic. He wrote:
But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media’s access to one’s children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this. The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they are exposed to, and to provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media’s content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not prepared to give to child-rearing.
This is the gospel truth. Getting control of your family’s media habits is one of the most difficult challenges of parenting. But we simply have no alternative, not if we wish to be responsible stewards of our children’s souls. Somebody is going to raise your children: if not you, then the popular culture. You have to decide which it’s going to be.
Rod Dreher is a contributing editor to Touchstone. He is a senior editor and blogger at the American Conservative and author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, and Live Not by Lies: A Survival Manual for Christian Dissidents. He is Eastern Orthodox and lives with his wife, Julie, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They have three children.
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