What's KFC?

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.



PLease do not take this in a weird, stalker way...can we be best friends? Thanks for the wisdom and laughs!


Here's the important thing in all of this -
to a certain extent, NONE of this matters. What matters is how you handle it. Restrictions are fine, as long as there is no "flip-out"! Leniency is fine, as long as there are at boundaries based on love & genuine safety!
About the KFC thing, guess what? I know QUITE A FEW kids AND adults who just don't know that the LETTER STAND FOR Kentucky Fried Chicken... YES, even folks who eat there!! That's just one of those socially awkward "Oops! didn't put it together" moments! It has very little to do with actually letting your child eat fast food!
Keep doing what you're doing, and instead of considering leniency, try teaching your daughter how to handle faux pas' with humour, strength of individuality & aplomb. A witty reply goes a LONG way... and you don't have to change parenting plans!


To help you & your daughter, "Tom" is a pop-culture reference to "Tom" from MySpace.


My family lived in San Francisco for 17 years. Moved to Columbus, OH. My daughter was invited to a neighbor's house to play, make friends, and start to assimilate into her new school. All the girls decided to go to "Wendy's" for dinner. My daughter said, "I have to call my mom and see if it's ok, I don't know Wendy." It was an awkward moment, but she embraced her lack of knowledge of fast food and continued to be disdainful of the unhealthy eating of our MidWestern neighbors. She still is (8 years later) a very healthy eater and takes pride in the fact that as a family - fast food is not our first meal of choice.


Stick to your guns sister.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I don't think the issue is so much whether our kids are cool or geeky. The risk of sheltering kids excessively is that you risk giving them the message that there is some problem with THEM. That their parents don't think they can handle knowing what KFC stands for, or who Rihanna is, or a PG-13 movie. That the world of pop culture is dangerous and scary. That they are too weak or pure to handle it. I see the same phenom in kids whose parents think they are too young to handle sex education or knowledge about drugs and alcohol. For some time yes it is good to shelter kids -- but then the shelter turns into damage rather than protection. Kids need to grow up, and it's best if growing up is a gradual process. For every family there is a different tipping point...but if you are still picking out your kids clothes or screening books and movies or checking homework when they are a teenager, in my view it's clearly overboard! (Don't think you've gotten there yet, Risa!)



Our kids are both very "cool" (I am told by both their friends and themselves), straight-A students, and exceptionally intelligent -- as in genius IQs. Part of their measurable IQs has been their "social intelligence," so important for success in life generally, not just academically.

We have always believed that they should be broadly exposed to the classics, pop culture, kid-stuff, and adult things -- to the extent that they have an interest. We have consciously chosen not to limit their exposure, except for explicit sexual content, graphic violence, or misogynistic material. Our son, 15.5, and our daughter, 12.5, have turned out to be school leaders and model citizens -- not just because they are really, really bright and possess very high personal values (integrity, honestly, morality, etc.), but because they are "very cool."

Neither of us would consider changing a thing about how we have decided to raise them. Each step has been conscious and deliberate, and it has paid off in ways we could never have imagined! So, do I think that you can shelter a kid too much? Absolutely. Can early exposure to scary or explicit stuff damage their psyches? Possibly, but I tend to think that such "damage" to the psyche of a well-balanced, healthy child is far less likely than we parents obsess about.

Clearly, kids should not be raised in a smoking, drinking, or drug-taking environment. Watching parents engage in those activities (or just knowing that their parents do) is something that will do them far more damage. Presumably, the majority of readers are on-board about this. Our kids know that this stuff is "not cool," and make it clear at school that it is not to be tolerated. They choose friends on this basis, and they address this topic in school speeches. This is a conclusion that they have drawn on their own, by watching and observing us.

So, on the topic of "coolness," or anything else for that matter, be the person you want your child to become -- because, chances are, they will eventually become just that!


I grew up without may restrictions, no curfew, lots of processed meals, r rated movies as a tweener, no limits. While I turned out fine, okay more than fine, I feel that I really missed out on a lot of childhood experiences growing up so quickly. Now, I too now struggle everyday with balancing limits with 3 children from 2-10. I have really tried to explain to my kids, when we are not having a moment, about choices, the choices we make everyday and why we think they are best for our family. We limit sweets, but not completely, we preview movies before our kids can see them, we do not eat canned veggies or fruit, but have the occasional box of Mac & Cheese, we don't have cable, (okay we accidently got disney when we signed up for the local hd channels, but Hannah and many other disney shows are not allowed). I hope that we have given our kids some kind of balance but at the same time allowed them some freedom to make choices on their own, within reason, of course.

Frog Mom

I grew up on an island in the South Pacific and even though my parents did not intentionally cut us off from TV programs, we didn't have much access to them. Public TV on the one and only channel started at 6 pm each day and us kids could sometimes watch it until 7pm, but not every day. We moved to France when I was nearing my 11th birthday. I was enrolled at two big middle schools in the course of the 3 years we spent in France. I felt very cut off from the other kids. I didn't have the same referential system (music, TV, books, friendships) and was very shy, so I read a lot of books in front of the classroom door during recess. I was a top notch speller! and uncool as can be. Yet I don't remember really suffering from it. It was a fact of life. I did not belong with the cute girls who could chit-chat with the boys and talk about their weekend antics or shopping extravaganzas. I listened politely and smiled from outside the circle. Did I want to belong? To a certain extent, yes I did. But I never tried to change who I was or how I acted. I was just who I was, the straight-As girl who doesn't speak and wears so much navy blue you'd think she was wearing a uniform. 26 years later, I don't regret a single thing.

What am I doing with my kids? We don't have TV at home. We have a TV screen and I borrow movies at the library. They watch them perhaps 2, 3 times a week. They hear about Hannah Montana at school. We are avid music listeners and listen to lots of music on the radio (including online radios for kids). We take them out to the movies to see big releases, to musical theater too. I don't think my girls feel disconnected (they're 6 and 4). They accept that other people don't live the way we live and that's just how things are. Hopefully it'll work out in the long run and they won't feel the need to follow the herd. I'd rather them be independent spirits.


I'm having flashbacks to sneaking over to my friends house to watch Dallas (considered immoral and unsuitable in our house when I was about 12!) My kids are only 4 and 2, but fairly protected from popular culture. Peer pressure is kicking in already at preschool though. Guess I'll just play it by ear when we get to the "twilight" movies or their equivalent!