by Risa Green
One of the hardest things for me about being a parent is finding the right balance between sheltering my children and exposing them to enough pop culture that they’re not considered weird by other kids. Because we all knew those kids (or know them now that they’re adults) – the ones who grew up without television and never saw an episode of The Brady Bunch, the ones who were raised by hippie vegetarians and never ate at McDonald’s, the ones whose parents didn’t believe in video games and never played a round of Pac Man. There’s something to be said for the shared cultural experience (I’m using the word ‘cultural’ loosely here, of course); it’s a way of bonding with your peers, a way of identifying with your generation, a way of connecting with your fellow countrymen. There’s not much that can make you feel more clueless and left out than not getting a common cultural reference (just ask my husband, who somehow managed to miss the entire decade of the ‘80s, despite the fact that he was born in 1973.)
When you’re a kid, you understand this instinctually. It’s why the go-to argument for people under the age of 18 is that everybody else has one/is doing it/is allowed to go. But when you’re a parent, it’s a lot harder to keep it in mind when you’re making decisions about what you do and do not want your child to know or do.
I learned the other day that I am failing miserably at this balance when my daughter came home from school in tears. Apparently, a boy on her bus was taking polls about the other kids’ various likes and dislikes, and it quickly became obvious that my kid was the loser who had no idea what he was talking about. According to her, it went something like this:
“Who likes KFC?” Hands go up; my daughter asks what’s KFC? Hysterical laughter, along with shrieks of OMG, she doesn’t know what KFC is! Same thing for Subway. Same thing for a celebrity named Tom, who I’m guessing is Tom Cruise. Same thing for four other celebrities whose names, when repeated by my daughter, bear no resemblance to any celebrities I’ve ever heard of.
Now, never mind that my daughter doesn’t even eat chicken, or any kind of deli meat whatsoever. Never mind that if I even suggested that we eat something called Kentucky Fried Chicken (or Kentucky Fresh Chicken, if you buy the marketing campaign, which I don’t) for dinner, she would scoff. And never mind that there are no Tom Cruise movies rated PG, and presumably no PG–rated movies with the other, unknown celebrities in them, either, and thus there is no reason why my daughter should know their names. But there was no explaining this to her. She was traumatized. She felt, in her words, “left out.” Ouch.
So, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to suddenly drop all of my convictions and start taking her out for fast food and letting her read People magazine? Am I supposed to rent her Top Gun, or Eyes Wide Shut? It’s tempting, of course. We all want our kids to be cool, right? And none of us want to see them made fun of. But I think that’s a little extreme, to say the least. At the same time, though, it did give me pause. I mean, maybe I do shelter my kids too much. Maybe I should expose them to more media than the Disney Channel, the Game Show Network and the 80’s on 8 channel on Sirius. And maybe I am depriving them by not buying buckets of greasy chicken for dinner. I mean, I have friends who tell their kids everything. Their second graders could name Paris Hilton’s last seven boyfriends, they could tell you exactly which pills Heath Ledger overdosed on, they know the words to Fifty Cent’s entire oeuvre, and they’ve sampled every junk food under the sun.
Are these kids cooler than mine? Definitely. Am I judging their parents? Not at all. If that’s what works for other people’s families, that’s cool. I get it. It just doesn’t work for me. I like that my kids are a little naïve, and I don’t want them growing up a minute faster than they need to. But, this whole bus episode did make me realize that my kids are growing up, and I need to make sure that I don’t hold them back or treat them like babies. I’m not going to change my values or expose them to things that I think are inappropriate. I just think that maybe – maybe – it might be time for me to tip the scales a bit in the other direction.