Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for over 25 years as a producer for CBS News and as a columnist. She has written for FoxNews.com, “First Things,” “World Magazine,” and “Touchstone.” She is a Senior Editor for “SALVO” magazine and author of the book Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids.
The culture has always exerted its influence on kids to some degree, but the times we live in are dangerously different and it’s time for parents to wake up.
First of all, we’re different. Parents are encouraged to be friends with their children, to affirm and praise them, never to “stifle” them, and certainly not to behave like authority figures with them. Heaven forbid we should ever say “no!” and actually mean it. Discipline has become a dirty word. The state of modern parenting could aptly be summed up in three words: weak, confused and timid.
On top of that, the cultural onslaughts for children are both corrupting and pervasive. Educators take it upon themselves to school students in culturally correct notions of gender, sex and marriage. The click of a mouse or the touch of a smartphone can expose children to obscene pornographic images. The entertainment and advertising industries seem hell-bent on destroying childhood innocence and ramping up a propensity for materialism, to say nothing of promiscuity. With the help of technology and social media, peers often replace parents as the primary influence in a child’s life.
It seems that a perfect storm of anemic, clueless parents coupled with technology that has the potential to destroy childhood innocence and redouble peer influence have come together to wreak havoc on childhood.
It’s time for parents — especially parents of faith — to do two things: become the authority figures our children will listen to and work proactively to keep the culture at bay.
So what does it mean to be an authority figure? It means being in charge. It means being able to say “no!” It absolutely does not preclude being nurturing, caring and loving. In fact, these are critical elements to being an effective authority figure. As I explain in my book, Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids, there are simple ways for parents to exert their authority and it’s never too late to start. Make reasonable rules, assign chores, think ahead about how you’ll discipline, and make family time a priority.
Take charge of raising your kids. Start with education. Don’t assume that time spent in the classroom is benign. There are abundant opportunities for teachers to encourage progressive attitudes and introduce concepts that are anathema to Christian families. Consider the growing number of children’s books about transgenderism. What’s to stop a teacher or school librarian from reading aloud I Am Jazz or My Princess Boy or Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship, a book aimed at children ages 3 to 6? Know what’s going on in your child’s classroom and know what your options are if you’re not happy about it.
Take charge of the media your child consumes. Besides traditional media like television, books and teen magazines, parents need to be in charge of the digital media in their children’s lives. So many negative influences — pornography, social pressure to behave badly, a keeping-up-with-the-Kardashians materialism — enter their lives via technology. So it’s time to tame the technology beast. Here are some tips, straight from my book. Chances are you’re footing the bill for the smartphones, tablets and laptops your children use. From the beginning, insist on knowing passwords and logins, and reserve the right to monitor their devices. Make it clear that having a phone is a privilege, not a right. Wait as long as possible before giving your children phones, and start with “dumb” phones that don’t connect to the internet. When you do allow your children access to the internet, use filtering software. Some programs allow parents to monitor online activity and set parameters for app installation. Some even allow parents to block apps entirely.
Besides the obvious dangers technology presents, there’s the issue of influence. The more time a child spends connecting with peers, the more likely it is that he or she will turn to them for guidance about what matters and what doesn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong. Limit the use of screens as much as possible. Don’t allow phones at the dinner table and keep them out of children’s bedrooms, especially at night. Set a good example by limiting your own time on cellphones and in front of screens. If you want to be the primary influence in your children’s lives, you’ll need them to pay attention to you. Start by paying attention to them.
The job of Christian parents is to guide our children toward heaven. That’s not where they’ll be directed if we let the culture raise them.