Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

24 March 2008

Radio Blues

I was interviewed today regarding my post of 28 February—about allowing my daughters to watch The Hills Have Eyes—on a Christian radio program called John and Stephanie. Stephanie was clearly outraged that I would let Charlotte watch again a movie that had given her nightmares and then that I would let her even younger sister watch it. I explained my miserable parenting as a preference for permission with discussion over prohibition and simply relenting to teenager pressure. And I tried to talk about the other part of my post: the fact that equally creepy stories are found in the Bible, and I see this as evidence that we are to confront and talk about such matters, work them through, even with our children, and not simply forbid the topics altogether and deny their existence.

As is to be expected in any discussion of objectionable or graphic material undertaken among believers, Stephanie quoted Paul to the Philippians: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (4:8). Then she asked me if I didn't think allowing my kids to watch the movie with discussion wasn't tantamount to letting them have sex in the living room or use drugs in my presence. She also wisely pointed out that, while the Bible was made for teaching us how to be, movies were made for entertainment. Her parents had forbidden such movies, she said, so she had never seen them and never wanted to see them. The few glimpses of scary scenes she had caught in her life had stayed with her and damaged her.

I felt bad afterwards. I suppose it shouldn't have been any surprise that my parenting looks exactly as bad to others as I always feel it is. Parenting, I've said many times, is the hardest work I have ever done, and I always feel like a failure.

For the record, though, here's what I'd like my parenting to look like: I seek to be an engaged parent by being aware, really aware, of what my girls are thinking about. I want my daughters to like and trust me enough to keep me in the conversation, so that they will later talk to me openly about more difficult and personal issues—issues that I kept secret and dealt with entirely on my own at their age. I want to allow my children to gradually grow up and away from me. At the same time, though, I also want to have the kind of relationship with them that permits me to retain some small input in their decision-making.

Currently, I am the cool parent among my daughters' acquaintance. Not cool in the sense that I allow my kids to do anything I consider dangerous or immoral, like having sex or using drugs in my livingroom. And not cool in terms of being on top of the latest fashions or able to sing along with the popular music they like, as some of their parents can. Just cool in the sense that I am open to any discussion. I am frequently stern and preachy and demanding, even toward children not my own. I forbid language that they blithely use that, even in jest, belittles and hurts others, and I hold them accountable for racist and sexist views. They have to, in other words, talk nice. But just about any topic, as long as it's seriously considered and not raised purely for the sake of shocking me, is allowed in my presence. So we talk, and because we do I am cool, and my coolness—as well as the fact that my girls like spending time with me—is my main hope in this business of parenting my kids out into a pretty scary world.

My Christian students at JBU often intimate to me that I must be glad not to have been a Christian when I was their age because I got to experience, with impunity, all the stuff they missed or are missing out on. They think my life before I became a Christian must have been, in other words, more fun than my life afterward—and, more importantly, they think that a life without God is probably more fun than their own Christian lives are. I think this sort of skewed thinking comes from never really talking with their parents or other experienced people about depravity. My students grew up believing that sin, however true it might be, was something you just didn't talk about. As a result, they romanticize sin and don't realize such simple truths as that foulness really is foul and feels foul and that immoral behaviors never result in happiness.

There wasn't time in my discussion with John and Stephanie for me to go on about the thinness of the line—if there is a line at all—between teaching and entertaining. I think all art—and I include among it, somewhat reluctantly, even the often bad art of popular culture, even movies like The Hills Have Eyes—has the capacity to teach. Indeed, that's what I think the unconscious goal of most writers and filmmakers and painters and composers is: to teach while entertaining, or, to use Horace's words, to delight and instruct. I think the biblical writers have the same goal, otherwise there would be no complicated organizational schemes, like arranging a psalm's lines in the order of the Hebrew alphabet—no word play, no verse. The stories of scripture, Jesus's stories, would not teach as well if they had not been designed to entertain, and entertain well.

Anyway, I'm somewhere way off topic and must to bed. Sleep well, all.


Anonymous said...

I applaud your desire to be honest and real with you children.

I, since becoming a Christian, have seen some parents who lied or kept some of the truth from their children about "sin."

One parent told me that she told her children that drugs kill. And that was that. She seemed proud that she probably had snuffed out any possibility of her children desiring to do drugs. I blew that for her, however, as I told her, that I was scared of certain drugs growing up because of that same thought until I started hanging around some people who did the drugs I thought would destroy them. The funny thing was their lives didn't look devastated at all. Then I realized someone had lied to me about them. (I am kidding here.) But this is what I told the parent, "You need to inform the children of the truth about drugs or anything that is dangerous or a sin. Yes, sometimes people do die from the use of them, but most of the time it starts out "fun" but eventually it catches up with them."

Keep being real with all of the people in your life. That is how we will affect this generation with the truth of Christ.


Bev said...

Much, much to take in here. Too much to comment without writing my own post here in your little comment box. I will say you obviously see the difference in 'cool', one at the benefit of keeping lines open and one at the cost of giving up parental boundaries. Keep them talking, it's so valuable to keep the conversation flowing.

Katy said...

Hi Mrs. Kirk,

I loved your post on "The Hills Have Eyes" and watching it with your daughters. I sometimes wonder if I will be strong enough to not immediately forbid my children (if I have any) from watching such movies, if I will be confident enough to have those discussions. I hope so, though I would venture to guess that it's fear that compels most parents to forbid their children from seeing such things...a fear that maybe has been brought upon by all those pesky media studies that claim youngsters will act out according to what they see on TV or in video games.

This post comes at an interesting time for me. My fiance and I have been talking a lot about the things we were taught growing up (both of us in conservative Christian homes) and both of us have done much rethinking in the past few years with issues such as politics, religion, even things like gun control. One of the biggest issues for us, I think, is the open discussion of our physical boundaries. We've both been taught NO SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE for years and years and both of us made commitments to wait until marriage because it seemed like we would all get AIDS and get pregnant and die if we had sex before we got married. There's some deprogramming that has to happen, I think.

We're still being patient, but not out of fear or guilt or sin. We're doing it simply out of commitment. And it's interesting "unlearning" the mindset of NO NO NO and taking on the mindset of the appointed time for the sake of fulfilling a commitment and nothing more.

Winston said...

This is my first blog ever. My wife and I were talking about your blog- Radio Blues. We both relate to what you were sharing. For years I have believed in "permission with discussion" over "prohibition" in most cases. How to implement that when the prevailing winds blow elsewhere has been the trick. However, as I see it, every faithful and authentic reach in the right direction is a pioneering for change. Your blog, in my opinion, is probably neither unread nor unconsidered. Although I would like to continue with a few more thoughts, I'd rather make sure first that I am doing this right and it works. I'd like to write without worrying whether it will even get through properly. I'd also like to know what's the difference between an "open I.D", "name/url" and "anonymous" when blogging.
Thank you.

Robbie said...

Hey, Patti. I was gratified (and a bit relieved!) to read this follow-up post to the horror-flick parenting dilemma. I was known to my sons and their friemds as a pretty "cool mom", too, even though we/I did draw different lines than you might. I think, with certain things, I was a "prohibition with discussion" parent. The thing you have going for you is your clear love for your kids, your willingness to be honest with them--even with mistakes-- and at the same time really parent them like you express in this entry. All parents pretty much feel like failures. I've found the parents who don't can sometimes (maybe often?) have kids who do end up hiding their lives, never asking important questions, and sometimes just explode somewhere along the way. Parenting is hard and none of us get it all right all the time. For this (and for everything) we have Jesus--and our best witness to our kids is letting them see how Jesus deals with us, firmly, kindly, wisely and patiently. All of us only have one perfect Parent. And it's not us. Fondly, your friend, Robbie

Luci said...

I appreciated both blog entries on this topic. I do have some thoughts on teenagers and movies/media. On one hand I do see why it would be better to be involved and available for discussion; there's some truth to the fact that they will watch what they can at friends' houses anyway--I know I saw stuff at friends' houses that my very conservative parents would have been horrified over. On the other hand, because they taught me to take responsibility for my choices and think about the value of things, I was more cautious than I would have been on my own and was not afraid of bucking "peer pressure" to say "No, I don't want to watch that--I think it's going to make me feel slimed." Because they brought me up to appreciate and be critical about art and literature, I think that did help me to develop over time my own sense of what wasn't worth watching and what was trashy. Still, I think there are some huge distinctions to be made.

The big one is that there is more than one kind of film. And I'm not talking about genre. There are meaningful films and there are trashy films--in all genres. Some trash is more harmful than other kinds as well. Pure entertainment can be good or bad, too. I think it's more important for teens to learn to discern quality, and know what sort of trash isn't worth it. And they need to know how to be reasonably critical and when to just enjoy something. While it would be easier to give examples in other genres, horror is not completely different--although within the genre, there's more cheap sensationalism than meaningful story. Teens who have been unlucky enough to see the trashy ones should at least be held accountable for being able to explain why they claim to like a film--did they like being scared--why? Was it fascination with the supernatural or the idea of how far a human can go? Was it the idea of retribution (i.e. the Saw franchise)? If their friends didn't think the movie was cool, would they still want to watch it, or are they just trying to make themselves like it to conform? (The "it wasn't that bad" line makes me wonder about this.) Personally, I'm not a horror fan, although I recognize that there are a few quality films within the genre (although those are more supernatural horror--like The Devil's Advocate--than the more prevelant gore/shock movies). There are more trashy films in the genre that are light on story, so I do think this is a genre to have some rules about--they can indeed help desensitize a teen to real violence and evil (both originating from humans and the supernatural). I tend to think that they're probably only considered entertaining and worth shelling out zillions of dollars for in relatively peaceful countries. Yet, if confronted, most Western teens would be able to understand why a teen in Uganda who has seen their family murdered and experienced rape would not find a horror film of this type very entertaining or cool, and that's something worth discussing. I think the bottom line is that we want to teach our children discernment and thoughtfulness about life. They need to learn the difference between art, quality entertainment of the lighter sort, and cheap trash.

I do strongly disagree with Christians who say "You shouldn't watch anything that you wouldn't let your child watch" in that your life experience as an adult makes you able to watch mature subject matter that your kids have no context for; also, you're not as moldable as them and aren't going to start cussing profusely from merely listening to people who do (even that's real life). With that in mind, though, I do think that just because a film deals with real subjects that should be talked about no matter how brutal, kids are not always ready for the way it's presented. True, the Bible is full of brutality and tragedy and is often more explicit than people think, but there's a big difference between the written word and the huge impact of a film--it engages so many of the senses. The medium is so powerful (and sometimes overpowering) that it's easy to manipulate a viewer. For most thoughtful adults, even if you're intellectually or emotionally manipulated while watching, usually after the fact you're able to reassess and accept and discard. (e.g. You may be able to rationalize a character's behavior while immersed in the story, but after you see it you can accept that the character was sympathetic but not excusable; it thus has not necessarily manipulated your life even if it affects you). But teens who are still trying to decide exactly what they believe about life can so easily be overpowered in a way that it colors their thinking.

Sorry for the long post!

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic! I did want to mention something interesting that people have told me about the reason why they like horror movies. They say that the more they watch, the more in control they feel, because they're watching "horror" and are progressively less bothered by it. They know the movie will end or they can shut it off whenever, so they feel like they've conquered something. With practice, watching them makes literal horror seem diminished to a certain extent, so that experienced horror fans will find something funny that is scary to others; some claim to focus on the 'fake' aspects, as in "these are people in costumes" or "these are cool special fx, etc. (Somehow to me, though, it almost sounds like teaching yourself to like the taste of Budweiser!)

I worry that some of that mentality can make them not respond to real-life horror that is taking place around the globe every day...or make them more likely to ignore the very real spiritual reality of evil. There's such a thing as positive fear...not that we have to be 'overcome' by evil, but that we have to recognize its power. When we recognize the reality of the spiritual realm's dark side and that we are not immune to it, I think we more deeply grasp the reality of God's power as well. Just an only slightly related thought.

Jodi said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. It's got me thinking about my approach toward movies with my own teenage girls. I am quite careful about what my girls see, because of an experience I had when I was about 13 or 14.

I spent the night at a friends' house, when they turned on the movie "Risky Business," which is rated R. There were so many girls, I was sort of trapped watching it. I was unprepared to deal with that situation, and I didn't know what to think, as the parents were in the next room, and obviously approved of us watching it. The movie had some graphic sex scenes, that are etched in my mind. It really bothered me for a long time after seeing it.

I think this experience has made me afraid that my girls would see things that were too much for their young eyes to see, and I've wanted to protect them.

Recently, my girls wanted to watch the movie, Juno. I said "no." I said no, because I'm afraid of the subject matter of teen pregnancy, and how the movie will present the topic. I don't want to expose them to differing values than ours, regarding sex before marriage. After reading your post, I'm thinking that I should watch it for myself, and then let them watch it to open up a discussion about it.

I think a balanced approach is the best approach to parenting, and I appreciate that you're striving for that balance.

Jennifer F. said...

For the record, though, here's what I'd like my parenting to look like: I seek to be an engaged parent by being aware, really aware, of what my girls are thinking about. I want my daughters to like and trust me enough to keep me in the conversation, so that they will later talk to me openly about more difficult and personal issues—issues that I kept secret and dealt with entirely on my own at their age.

I couldn't agree more. What a bummer that you had a difficult radio interview. I flounder enough when I'm on the air and having a nice, positive dialogue! I'm sure if a host ever tried to confront me I'd respond with something profound like, "Err, uhh, ummm..."

Anyway, I just now found your blog after discovering your book Amateur Believer on Amazon. I look forward to reading it -- I think we have very similar stories.

Thanks for these thoughts! I look forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

I am a new Christian. My three beautiful daughters, 11, 11, and 14 are also new Christians, although I am unsure of the depth of their faith at this time. I have always had an open and honest relationship with my children. The only way anyone can make an decision about anything is to have as much information as possible. While my children are not of the age that the movie in question is appropriate, it doesn't mean that once they are at an age, at least 15, that I would not let them watch an "R" rated show. The topics we have discussed tend to amaze people. We talk about sex, drugs, and numerous other touchy subjects. I have frequently admitted that some of thier innocence is most likely gone. However, I do feel that they are prepared for what life in this century is going to throw at them. The best part about our relationship is now that Jesus is part of it, we talk about that too. We talk about the Bible and Jesus and God. I encourage them to read the Bible as much as possible. Why? So they have first hand information about their new Christian beliefs. When someone questions them, they will be able to answer based on their own intelligience, not just what someone has told them. I guess I am rambling, but the point I am trying to make is that you cannot sheild your children forever...the unknown is always desirable. I want my children to have the all the facts about everything so that when they are faced with difficult situations, they will not only have God to help them, they will have knowledge.

Viticulturist said...

Patty, every time I read your writing, whether blogging or your essays, I fall in love with you and your honesty all over again. I, too, hope to be a parent some day (and at your prodding), and this is the stuff I want to know. All the grit. The relationship with my own mother has suffered over the years because she can't handle honesty and talking about the ugliness of life, and sadly, it's kept me from enjoying the glory of life with her. That your girls want to be with you is proof they love you and that you're succeeding. I don't want to spend time with my mom. I wish we could have talked about movies together. Now my husband gets that task when I hate a certain character's actions. "She's not supposed to be good, she's written as immoral." So, thanks. Thanks for trudging through the muck with your girls and sharing it with us.

Deanna said...

Great post. My job as a parent is to prepare my kids to live and think in this world as Christians, capable of engaging, not running from it. Sometimes that means protecting them from it, but more often it means walking through it with them and teaching them how to process and overcome what the world is throwing at them. I applaud your efforts.