Being raised in a very conservative church, I grew up around families and church leaders who advocated for the sheltering of children from the “evils of the world.” Many of these families prohibited their children from watching many movies and television shows and home schooled their children in an attempt to minimize the influence of “the world” on their kids (although these same families would often send their kids into the work place no questions asked, which often corrupted their children within several months if not weeks).
Before I go on, let me first say that I’m not trying to denounce these practices. Parents do need to watch out for their kids and protect them. However, I think these practices can be quite naive. What these families often misunderstand is that the influence of the world has already reached their kids. As they drive in their car, kids see a plethra of advertisements and logos. They watch commercials on television. Parents buy Happy Meals. Kids walk down the aisles of Target. And let’s not forget their friends– their peer educators and influencers. And finally, the parents. The parents are the chief infected influences in the kids’ lives. Everything about our world– our house, car, job, stress in paying the bills, dressing up or down for certain occasions, looking in the mirror, shopping at the supermarket, watching the news, discussing political concerns, etc.– brings “the world” into their lives.
A great example of this is the series Veggie-Tales. Many Christians buy their kids these movies to help the kids learn biblical lessons/values and stories. However, the very idea of Veggie-Tales plays right into the consumerist value system– one of brand marketing, consumption of a product, filling the need of constant entertainment, etc. At the end of the day, it represents captive Christianity– the gospel being placed in servitude to a different story/message/value-system. One must learn how to discern the medium and what it promotes before before even looking at the message.
My point is that we cannot escape the infiltration of the consumerist world into our minds and lives. We cannot hide the children from it. However, what we can do is to create a new imagination that will create a counter, alternative form of divine-human agency in the world– a gospel-storied people formed by an immersion in the tradition and liturgical practices of the faith and transforming the world through the simple means of life– conversations, eating together with our neighbors, our enemies, and the disenfranchised/marginalized/ignored, etc. The true task that is given to parents is not one of sheltering but one of discernment and critical thinking. Children learn first-hand from adults how to see the world and how to respond in it. Children need to learn first-hand from a Christian community how to see the world (and its various component parts) differently and how to respond to it in transformative ways.
I am starting the book Branded– Adolescents Converting From Consumer Faith by Katherine Turpin. Her introduction got me thinking about my own up bringing. Turpin described how her daughter knew everything about The Incredibles and was completely enamored with it even though she and her husband had decided not to allow their daughter to watch the movie because of the level of violence in it. On later reflection, she and her husband realized that their tactic did not work and that their daughter mimicked the violent actions of the characters with her friends on a daily basis. She uses this as the opening story in her book. Here is a quote:
… the average American child recognizes over 500 brand names before they reach the age of five…. After just a few days, I realized that she [the daughter] is well past the five hundred mark already. She knows names of restaurants, department, and grocery stores and recognizes their signs even though she does not yet read. She knows characters from Disney and Nickelodian and the Sesame Street Workshop…. She knows a few brand names of food items, particulary breakfast cereals. All of this is particularly remarkable because she has never watched “commercial” television. (page 2)
I am very intersted to see where this goes!
(Disclaimer: I know that even blogging this makes me a part of the consumer culture. I’m not advocating that we no longer participate in the consumer world, rather that we make ourselves aware of its influence and find ways to foster an alternative formation of our imaginations and actions. Thus, how does the medium of the internet, the computer, and the blogging world impact me?)