The fundamental test of wills between parents and children hasn’t changed. But the ground rules may have.
Previous generations have worried about changing social values for as long as there have been young people to socialize and judge. But our young people’s lives have a murkier terrain than ours did: They consume more media in more ways than any previous generation. They are both hyperconnected and more isolated. They flourish in ways we didn’t, yet struggle with skills we took for granted.
As parents, we must ask: Does all their media-laced time create an outsized influence of the most corrosive elements of pop culture? Does every new technology – such as self-destructing instant messages that experts tell us will be used by tweens and teens for sexting – make our job even harder? Our children are growing up with a relentless barrage of messages more pervasive than the ones that blanketed us as children.
So, too often, we feel we are parenting against the worst of what we see around us. We are parenting against the bad behavior we read about and watch constantly.
It’s harder to parent against culture. It takes more self-discipline and effort at a time when we are managing more work and more demands than ever.
But this is the type of parenting that gives us a chance at raising the sort of humans we want our children to become.
“Parenting against culture” should become our mantra, repeated to ourselves during the moments when it seems so much easier to give in. Because this is what it really means:
• When you tell your child her tone is unacceptable and make her apologize, you are parenting against disrespect.
• When you insist that your children clean up their messes, wherever they have made them, you are parenting against unaccountability.
• When you teach your child how to stand up to a bully picking on another child, you are parenting against apathy.
• When you talk respectfully to people with different views within earshot of your child, you are parenting against incivility.
• When you admonish your child to work harder when he gets a bad grade, you are parenting against entitlement.
• When you invest as much time and emotion in your child’s academic achievements as in her extracurricular activities, you are parenting against a culture that undervalues intellectualism.
• When you let your children fail, you are parenting against perfectionism.
• When you take away their gadgets at meal times and other times when they need to focus, you are parenting against the fallacy of multitasking.
• When you limit their involvement with social media, you are parenting against the notion that privacy has no value.
• When you show them how to save money, you are parenting against instant gratification.
• When you encourage them to do their own homework and manage their own time, you are parenting against dependency.
• When you resist the urge to buy much of what they want, you are parenting against rampant consumerism.
• When you purchase age-appropriate clothing, you are parenting against the hypersexualization of their childhoods.
• When you instruct your sons on how to treat girls fairly and with respect, you are parenting against a culture of sexism.
• When you foster your child’s sense of empathy and compassion toward others, you are parenting against violence.
• When you enforce rules and consequences that make you unpopular, you are parenting against irresponsibility.
• When you praise your child’s effort and acts of kindness, when you hold them when they are hurt, when you listen with your undivided attention, you are parenting against a culture of distraction and disconnectedness.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Most parents reject much of what pop culture glorifies.
Most of us hope we are passing on values from the culture we create in our homes rather than the one projected into our homes. But no one raises children in a bubble, and there are peer pressures for parents just as mighty as the ones our children face.
But when enough of us decide to parent against culture, that’s precisely when we begin to change it.
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.