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Prime time? Not with a 10-foot pole

Pop culture can too easily become your family's culture

By Karen Stiller

Three weeks before Christmas, my mother called to say she had a line on a Hannah Montana doll for my daughter Holly. I had never heard of Hannah Montana. Neither had Holly.

Not wanting to diminish my mother’s zeal, or rob Holly of a crucial cultural icon, we found the Hannah Montana show on YTV and made a point of watching it. She’s blond, cute and she sings. In fact, she’s Billy Ray Cyrus’s daughter. (Remember line dancing — probably against your better judgment — to Achy Breaky Heart circa 1992?) Based on Hannah Montana’s following, she appears to be next in line in the Hilary/Britney/Lindsay singing dynasty thingy we have going on in North America.

My scramble to find out who exactly Hannah Montana was reminded me again of the power of pop culture in the lives of our children and the determination it takes to consciously pick and choose which bits you welcome into the culture of your family.

Pop culture can too easily become our culture. I grew up, like most of my peers, lying on my belly every night with a bowl of Hostess potato chips at my side, unwittingly memorizing the theme songs from The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. I truly fear that on my death bed those are the songs that will drift through my mind, offering me some kind of perverse comfort.

My children are 12, nine and seven. From the outset, my husband and I agreed that we wanted our home to be a television-less, learning, literary kind of place, filled with classical music and books of every kind and lovely Sunday afternoons discussing global topics, theology and poetry, and exploring nature with our fascinated children.
That was before our kids were born, of course.

What we have managed to do is issue a restraining order against pop culture (at least as disseminated through television and computer screens). It cannot come within 10 feet of our home more than once a week. The television we do in fact own (and enjoy) comes on during the weekends only (for the kids at least. I confess: I’m a Leno fan). Same with computers. And video games. There is no doubt that daily life in our house would be simpler and quieter if the television — That Thing Which Pacifies — was turned on after school, after supper, after homework, after Mom stops screeching.
The fact that it is not (and that we carefully monitor it when it is on) has given us a kind of monstrous mystique in the eyes of most of our children’s friends. The ultimate killjoys, we are their nightmare — the thing their own parents could turn into.

We believe that to welcome pop culture, without restraint and scrutiny, into the lives of our children would be to forfeit our role as parents and expose our children’s hearts to shows, music and videos that are too often cynical, hyper-materialistic, superficial, looks-based or misogynistic, and that send the message that following Christ is boring.

And why in the world would we do that?

Of course, pop culture is not all bad. It can be a lot of fun. We go to movies. We have a Nintendo Wii. We listen to a wide variety of music. Yes, we point out the inappropriate nature of some secular song lyrics, but we also point out the cheesy nature of a lot of Christian ones.

My kids sing Johnny Cash songs and fight each other until at least one person is weeping over Monopoly. As incredibly annoying as both those things can become, they feel more “right” to me than piling up in front of a screen every day and watching other people have pretend adventures and live a life that is not real.

We believe in empty hours with nothing to do because that’s when their worlds grow big. Forts get built, scary jungles are created on bedroom floors and 12-year-olds finally share what’s on their mind.

By controlling pop culture and not letting it control us, we believe we are doing right by our three children. Besides, we have told them repeatedly, that if they approach the weekly Canadian kid average of some 16 hours of television viewing per week, “Your brains will turn to mush!” That’s not even counting the dozens of hours logged onto video games and computers.
To be honest, though, it’s not their brains we worry about the most. It’s their souls.

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