Parenting: You only get one chance to do it right

Posted: Sep 18, 2003 12:00 AM

Editor's note: The following commentary refers to language which some people will find objectionable.

My family recently returned from one of our legendary Hagelin road trips: Two adults, six children (three of them friends), a dog, a van and 20 hours of highway. Both ways.

We get a lot of camaraderie out of such trips. We rinse off a lot of sand. We go through a lot of suntan lotion. And we eat a lot of food you won't find on the surgeon general's recommended list anytime soon. Sometimes, we nearly kill each other – but, all in all, these family trips are loads of fun and are filled with the stuff great memories are made of.

On this most recent trip, we stopped in a chain burger joint – one of the biggies – and were eating when I noticed a made-for-television movie playing on a mounted television in the corner. As I watched, the characters began removing their clothes and, in very short order, were into some pretty heavy romping.

"Grab your food, kids," I said. "We have to go."

Less than a week later, my good friend, David Spady with Salem Communications told me about an astoundingly sexual fragrance ad in Teen People magazine. Not wanting to believe what he said, I headed to the grocery store to check out the magazine myself. There it was, in living color on the check-out stand. I picked up the magazine and it flipped open to the ad in question. It featured a young, shirtless teen boy snuggled up next to a teen girl clad only in her underwear.

The two were posed cozy and playful on a bed, with the caption, "Scent to bed." The name of the fragrance? "Fcuk you." I kid you not. The letters were not-so-cleverly rearranged, and their meaning is obvious. On the back of the page are two fragrant strips – one says, "open here to try fcuk her" and the other, "open here to try fcuk him." A quick scan of the articles in the magazine proved to be a parent's worst nightmare. Almost everything is linked to sex. It broke my heart when I turned to the letters from readers page and saw that girls as young as 12 and 13 are regular readers of the magazine.

Everywhere I turn, I have to fight for my kids' characters, if not their souls. And it's getting worse every day. From the movie theater to the grocery checkout line to the burger joint, the people in my generation – the adults who ought to know better – keep flinging garbage at America's children.

Have we gone stark-raving mad?

The problem isn't with "These kids today ..." – the real problem is with "These adults today ..."

We adults have messed up big time – and it's our children who are paying the price. We produce the rotten movies and television programming, and put up the big bucks for publications. We adults create the marketing plans, write the lyrics, take the photos. And all for the sake of the almighty dollar.

And it's our children who are paying the price.

The sexual images that pummel them promise popularity, security, acceptance – all those things on which teens feed. And it's all a bag of vicious lies. As my colleague Robert Rector has pointed out, teen sex leads to deadly STDs, unwanted pregnancies and lost futures – and also to increased depression, lowered self worth and increased possibility of suicide.

Because pre-teens as a group now spend millions of dollars every year, we're targeting kids with graphic sexual images at younger and younger ages. Recent research shows an increasing amount of sex-oriented marketing aimed at children in what psychologists call the "latency period." This is the period before full puberty when boys and girls don't generally get along, when they form their own identities unburdened by the need to impress the opposite sex. They need to be left alone, not encouraged to "get with it."

Yet, we take their innocent, pliable, trusting young minds and allow others to destroy them each time we make a purchase, look the other way or simply shrug our shoulders in despair.

Parents, you need to realize you're in a 24x7 war for the minds and souls of your children.

They are depending on you to protect them. Read what your children read. Watch what they watch. Listen to their music. If it offends you, if it's something you don't think they should hear, tune it out, turn it off and drop it in the trash. Your kids may not like it, but they'll know you care about them. And one day, they'll appreciate it.

Oh, I can hear some of you now: "I can't take on the whole world!" and "But they're going to see it anyway!" Oh, yeah? Well, not in my house. Not on my watch. I'm the mamma – it's my job to protect my children, because they're just that ... my children!

It helps to realize I'm not alone – and neither are you. Take heart. There are plenty of folks out there who do care, and who want to help. Here are a few great resources to make our jobs easier:

At Focus on the Family, you'll find a lot of information to help parents, including offerings of teen magazines for boys and girls you can trust not to run ads like the one mentioned above.

The Internet can provide hours of entertainment, and the American Family Filter, a product of the American Family Association, can ensure that fun is safe. It's the tool we use on our home computers to protect our kids from venturing into sites that would harm them.

You don't even have to put up with filth in otherwise worthwhile movies anymore, thanks to Clean Films and others that take movies, remove the sex, violence and strong language and then make them available for families.

These are but a few of the tools you can employ now to protect your children. If you have favorites, share your recommendations with me and I'll pass them on in a future column.

Stay connected, stay informed and stick to your guns. Remember, raising kids is not a dress rehearsal ... you get one chance to do it right.