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.



I can so relate. It was Public Access TV ONLY until my mom walked out on us and her version of health food, which meant no junkie snack food; but, included all sorts of frozen meals I would never feed my son today. I cried often as a the only girl not allowed to play with Barbie and was just mad when I was 13 and was given a Skipper about 5 years too late. Being "left out" definietly becomes a larger issue as you near Middle School and can have disastrous effects on your child's social life. Kudos on realizing you need to allow them to "grow" into pop culture. My husband grew up the same way as I did; but, had the added bonus of a strict religion atop it all. He has the best advice ever on this topic "Unnecessary Restriction created unmitigated desire." How true....the minute my mom left, my brother and I ate a steady diet of home-baked Italian Bread, Orange Juice, Jelly Beans, and consumed every after-school talk show known to man. We stopped hanging out with our friends and participating in life so we could catch up on what we "missed." Warning: this gluttony can also overspill into more nefarious teen behavior- use your imagination, or I will refer to my brother's 13-year accomplishment of Mt. St. Marlboro erected in our back yard. Maurice Sendak made an important distinction in that you can tell a child anything; but, you need to let them know what's real and what's not. I think this can be extended to value, as well. I do not want my son exposed to things he cannot understand or which I cannot explain to him in a way he can understand. At the same time, I have to trust his judgement and ability to think. This is my test as a parent. I want him to fully participate in his culture and our culture; but, in a responsible way. This includes, as a parent, not creating that desire for unecessary and deadly vice.


I was that kid. OK, my parents weren't vegetarians, but pretty much everything else you said was true! I sometimes felt a little left out, but never in a debilitating way, and I never resented my parents -- in fact, I was always kind of proud of them. Really, honestly. I'm not just rationalizing ex post! I was reasonably (though not wildly) popular, self-confident, and had a great time all the way through school. I wonder if maybe one way to have your cake and eat it too with this stuff is to do everything in your power to promote your kids' sense of individuality and self-confidence -- and know that if they feel great about themselves that it might not matter so much whether they are getting all the pop culture references. Just a thought... my kids are boys, and really only just beginning to get clued into this stuff in any meaningful way (the older one is 8), so I could be completely off base!


I'm so with you, Risa. I'm not as strict as you about food, I think, but I haven't let my nine-year-old see "Twilight" ("But everyone else in my class has seen it!") and I'm a five-fruits-and-veg-a-day fanatic. Problem is that my husband thinks all pop culture is great. He's a music and TV critic for a living, so he is constantly downloading teen-angst songs onto her iPod Touch without asking me. I don't want my nine-year-old worrying about this kiss or that guy yet. She's not even double digits yet! :(


My son has never been to KFC, either. He was sucha picky eater that, until he was 5, he wouldn't even try fast food. My babysitter used to take him to McDonalds to use the Playplace - he called it "Silly town." Now, he loves french fries and McDonald's. My son likes little-kid entertainment for the most part and has shown absolutely no interest in video games. I have the same fears as you. I have decided to let my son lead and for me to protect/censor as needed. For example (he's now 6), he saw Avatar toys at McDonald's and expressed interest in the movie. My husband and I researched it for child appropriate content and determined that it is too violent for my son at this point. No Avatar. He's taken it well. He's now fixated on Alvin and the Chipmunks (much more appropriate).


When I think back on what I learned in the back of the yellow rocket (growing up in the country I spent up to 2 hours a day on the bus) I think she got away pretty clean. I'm sorry for her trauma.

Sounds to me like tipping the scales a bit is a good way to think of it. I think parent's need to watch what their kids learn.

I guess there also comes a time in a child's life when they need to understand why their parents have chosen to raise them a certain way.


The "Tom" he was referring to on the bus is probably myspace Tom. He created Myspace and he is everybody's "friend" on myspace until you delete him.