Following the publication of my recent Huffington Post article, "It's Time for the Global Village to Stand Up for Our Children," I feel much less alone with my anomie.
For the past 15 years, I have grown increasingly alarmed by, and vocal about, the ways in which our culture sexualizes young girls. I have parallel concerns about boys, who are messaged to view girls as objects -- often by girls themselves, who have learned to tie their self-esteem to their sexual desirability, as so many marketers in this country have expertly orchestrated.
After my latest post came out, I started receiving personal emails, many from people unwilling to add to the article's public comment thread. They had a lot to say. Thematically, they were grateful that I had spoken out, they shared my deep concern about raising kids in today's culture, and they were looking for connection around this topic. I started conversing with parents across the country through the private channels they had chosen.
I soon realized that I'd inadvertently stumbled upon a topic that could be considered third rail. When I asked people why they had contacted me privately about the article rather than posting in the comment thread, I heard a lot about unwanted labels such as "prude," "dinosaur," "religious nut," "pessimist," "angry," and many others. So, people wanted to give me support and to continue the conversation, but not in the comment thread where they might be branded in one of these ways. They are tired of that.
I met some absolutely amazing people. I found a village of concerned parents from Maine to California. Some were mothers, some were fathers, some young, some old, and they hailed from all walks of life. Among them were a handful of entrepreneurs who, through grassroots efforts mounted at significant financial and personal cost, had imagined and executed unique plans for making positive contributions to the effort of raising wholesome children in America today.
This blog post is for them. It is also for all of the parents out there who care about this issue but do not necessarily have the ability or desire to create something on their own, and instead are looking for guidance and some pragmatic steps they can take to mitigate what can at times be a rather toxic culture for raising happy, healthy kids. And finally, this post is most definitely for me. If I'm going to cry "Fire!" because I think Rome is burning, and if I want to complain about all of the people who are fiddling, then I owe it to my readers to give them something -- some tools for putting out fires, or, more realistically, for building a firewall.
I welcome other ideas. Here are only ten. Some are specifically for the parents of boys or of girls, while others are for parents of all children. Some come from people you may never have heard of, while others draw further attention to the work of well-known individuals. One is a favorite government agency. Each of these strategies stands on its own; collectively, they stand as testament to the energy, creativity, wisdom and perseverance of everyone in the village who helps in some way, big or small, to make a difference.
It is with immense appreciation and a good measure of humility that I thank all of the people mentioned below--the ones I've gotten to know, and the ones I never will. My life, and the lives of all of our children, are so much the better because of you.
Raising Wholesome Children in Today's Culture: 10 Tips for Parents
For parents of daughters:
1. Get to know the work of Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. Ms. Orenstein has one of the most prominent and influential voices in today's debate about the effects of media and marketing on female development and the modern perception of girls. If you're looking for someone who flat-out gets it, look no further.
2. Promote physical fitness, positive gender messages and healthy body images for girls through play at http://www.gogosportsgirls.com. Founder and mom Jodi Norgaard, reeling from the experience of shopping for a doll with her nine-year-old daughter and encountering "Lovely Lola," dressed in a cropped t-shirt, uber-mini skirt, high heels and bellybutton ring (recommended for ages 3 - 12), said to her husband, "I think I can do something about this!" Two years later, she had won the toy industry's most prestigious award for Go! Go! Sports Girl dolls. Jodi notes: "I measure real girls and make the dolls' proportions accurate."
For parents of sons:
3. Get to know the work of Michael Thompson. He is the author of Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons, as well as the co-author, with Dan Kindlon, of the New York Times best-selling book, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. His latest book, It's a Boy!, is a comprehensive guide for the parents of boys. As a former boys' school administrator, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Thompson speak numerous times. When it comes to understanding and communicating the challenges of growing up male, Dr. Thompson is nothing short of a guru.
4. Get boys off video games and into books with Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How To Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives. Read about Pam's work here: http://pamallyn.com/. She is the Executive Director of LitLife and LitWorld, nationally and internationally known literacy development organizations that provide innovative literacy strategy support for grades pre-K-12. She is also the Founding Director of Books for Boys, an award-winning reading initiative.
For parents of all children:
5. Focus on reading and the important role of fathers. Chris Singer-stay-at-home dad, reader, blogger, social entrepreneur and technology wizard-uses his BookDads website to review children's books, blog about issues affecting children today, and promote the crucial role of fathers. Check Chris out at http://www.BookDads.com. He's got a lot to say about the kind of world he wants for his own daughter, and the relative absence of fathers' voices when it comes to the issue of society's sexualization of young girls.
6. Read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods. In this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation--he calls it nature-deficit--to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
7. Parents and teachers, visit Youngzine and bring your child/student with you! Parent Deepa Gopal developed a "well-lit," age-appropriate, unbiased online news magazine for children. Kids enjoy sharing their thoughts and questions in a moderated forum, and can have their original articles published on the site. Deepa believes that an awareness of the interconnected world we live in, a balanced outlook, and the ability to bridge different cultures and opinions are key to our children's future. Youngzine has recently been selected for inclusion in the American Library Association's "Great Websites for Kids." The site is superb, and there is nothing else like it on the Internet.
8. Promote mental health and resilience in kids. Find out what father and character educator Patrick McMillan has accomplished on behalf of his own children, and all of our children, at http://www.kidscandoanything.com. Patrick's programs An Exercise in Happiness and Attracting Happiness help kids determine what really makes them feel happy and how happiness can become a habitual way of being. When we think good thoughts about ourselves, the world we live in and about our future, we feel good, and when we feel good we do well by taking action on our good thoughts and feelings.
9. Support anti-bullying efforts by "liking" StopBullying.gov on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/StopBullying.Gov. I am so pleased to see this topic finally getting the attention it deserves in so many ways, and to know that our government supports parents and teachers who have had enough of "the playground as jungle."
10. Use humor and share it. A little levity goes a long way when dealing with so much breathtaking absurdity. This video Tom Hanks made with his daughter had me laughing for days!
There are so many ways to help our children survive in this culture, and further, to have the tools necessary to thrive in it. We can do it if we will. Cheers everyone!