Parents who feel outgunned, outmaneuvered and just plain defeated by today's lightning-fast, multitasking, techno-wizardry world have an ally in Rebecca Hagelin.
The former vice president of the Heritage Foundation and married mother of three has written a book to "practically and concretely" help parents engage, protect and strengthen their families.
Her goal is simple: "Equip parents to fight the culture battle."
"I've found that once you explain the cultural challenges to parents, they get it — and they want help," Mrs. Hagelin says.
Her new book, "30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family," is her answer to how parents can "start today" to upgrade their relationships with their children, open new lines of communication and teach them to decipher the manipulative messages of marketers.
The Information Age has totally changed the landscape for parenting, says Mrs. Hagelin, who writes a regular column at Townhall.com.
Today's children "have never not known the Internet. They have never not known texting," she said. Technology — instant messaging, iPods, video games, multitasking with media — is all second nature to them, she says with a laugh. "If I have a BlackBerry issue, I can hand it to my daughter and she can figure it out — without reading any instructions."
Marketers, however, are also fully plugged in, and they are using the mass media to bypass parents and "weave their way into our kids' pockets," she says.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), she says:
• Teens spend $159 billion a year, and children younger than 14 spend $40 billion a year.
• Children and teens are highly brand-conscious. Teens between 13 and 17 have 145 conversations a week about brands, about twice as many as adults.
• Companies spend about $17 billion a year marketing just to children. Children ages 2 to 11 see 25,000 advertisements annually on television — this doesn't count ads that might be seen via the Internet, cell phones, MP3 players, video games, on school buses and in schools.
Marketers want a piece of all this kid-consumer action and they are not averse to using sexuality and other inappropriate messages to attract and keep the kids' attentions, says Mrs. Hagelin, who steers parents to CCFC, Parents Television Council, National Institute on Media and the Family, and Salvo magazine, which she helps edit, for more information.
The chapters in "30 Ways" that Mrs. Hagelin thinks will be helpful to parents in general are the ones about writing a love letter to one's child, painting a vision of adulthood for them and finding allies in the cultural battle.
Mrs. Hagelin even took her own advice — she stepped down from her perch at the nation's largest conservative think tank to spend more time with her family.
"I was Heritage's vice president for six years and I loved every second of it," she says. Still, an "unrest in my spirit" grew as she found herself "staying for one more meeting, one more reception at night."
As she wrote the chapter called "Create More Family Time," her path became clear.
"I didn't want to be flippant about walking out as a vice president of Heritage. It is a great honor to work there. … I wanted to make sure it was a right career decision," she says.
But it dawned on me "that there were innumerable people who could do my job, and do it very well for Heritage and the conservative cause. But I am the only mom that [daughter] Kristin has, and it became clear to me in that moment that I needed to step aside."
With her husband and children's assent, Mrs. Hagelin shifted to senior communications fellow at Heritage, and now focuses on her lifelong desire to champion faith, family and traditional values.
"The family is the basic unit of society and there's that old saying that as the family goes, so goes the nation," she said.
"If we have strong, committed family units, it will be less likely that government will have to come in and be a nanny state, and come in and grow welfare programs.
"It's when families fall apart that government has an opportunity to step in and control our lives," she says.
Parents are an essential line of defense in the barrage of media aimed at their children, and it's easy to feel paralyzed, overwhelmed or afraid of doing the wrong thing and making mistakes with our children, she says.
"The book does not promise that if you do all 30 things, you are going to have a perfect family. That would be a big fat no," she says.
"But I do promise, that even if you take a few of the actions, that you will be closer to your child, that you will have taken steps to say 'I am passing on my values to my children,' and not letting Hollywood or the culture do it by default."
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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