When most people hear the term “culture wars,” they think of big political debates and hot button issues. Abortion. Gay marriage. What should be taught in public schools? What role, if any, can religion play in the public square? Yet the real terrain of the culture wars lies far away from the political sphere: It's in the homes of families across the country who are struggling to impart their morals and values to their children.
Rebecca Hagelin's new book, 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family, focuses on this, the most important battleground of the modern culture wars. She seeks to provide readers with practical advice about how to encourage the moral development of their children in the midst of the mess that is modern American culture.
Each chapter arms parents with information and provides a mini to-do list that helps push parents to actively engage in improving their families and internalizing the book's lessons. Many of the lessons call for a back-to-the-basics approach in parenting: create family time, set an example for your children, monitor your children's media consumption, engage in your children's education, and set clothing standards for both daughters and sons. Many of these will be familiar to the reader but are presented in new and compelling ways that connect these values with the really challenges that parents face.
Some of Hagelin's most compelling information is in detailing the ways in which modern culture is hostile to these commonsense values and, in many ways, is hostile to children themselves. She reminds readers of the mistake we make when we blame youth for the problems associated with “youth culture.” It's not children that are creating the environment that surrounds them. As Hagelin writes:
Adults create and operate the hard-core porn sites; adults own the record companies that produce sexist, racist, and violent music; adults are the ones spamming your child's email account with porn; ...adults are spending billions of dollars on over-sexualized marketing campaigns aimed at your kids. ...the problem isn't with “these kids today,” the problem is with these adults today.
While urging parents to create a loving, fun environment that protects children from the worst our culture has to offer, Hagelin is realistic about the limits of what parents can do to keep the culture from children. Instead, her focus is on providing children with a foundation so that they can reject the worst of the messages that they will hear and offering them the example of an alternative path to take that avoids the coarseness that dominates so much of our public space.
Hagelin is a syndicated columnist, author, and has been an executive of one of Washington's premiere think tanks, the Heritage Foundation. Yet her book is written primarily from the perspective of a mother of three. She begins by voicing her own discomfort in providing parenting advice, and discusses mistakes that she feels she has made along the way. It's this personal tone and realistic perspective that makes the message resonate. Parents don't have to be perfect, but they do have to be dedicated to the cause of advancing their children's best interests.
Particularly those of us in Washington, who typically read books about political theory and debate what policies are conducive to one outcome or another, it's important to be reminded how little Washington has to do with any particular child's well being. Politicians may justify their favored cause as inexorably linked to what's best for “the children,” but, for the most part, it's parents who will set kids on a path, for better or for worse.
As Hagelin writes, “It doesn't take an act of Congress to make your home the nurturing environment it was intended to be. It does take developing a loving relationship with your children, a commitment to the daily battle, and making and upholding a pledge to become more involved in your kids' daily lives.”
Parents committed to this battle will be better prepared by reading this book.