- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR KID’S CHILDHOOD IN A GROW-UP-TOO-FAST WORLD

By Marybeth Hicks

Berkley Books, $14, 313 pages, paper

REVIEWED BY LARRY THORNBERRY

If it takes a village to raise a child — and Marybeth Hicks doesn’t agree that it does; she argues it takes courageous and committed parents — then the village isn’t doing all that well.

America’s current toxic popular culture is producing children — and often adults — who are materialistic, self-centered, rude, disrespectful, hyper-sexualized at a trivial level, under-achieving, spiritually vacuous, and willing to lie and cheat to get what they want. Anyone who comes across young people in the course of the day sees this behavior (and much good behavior as well, of course). Try going to the mall without seeing it. The stats on drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancies among teens are too well known and too melancholy to bear repeating here.

Not a pretty picture, but not one that should be surprising. After all, our cultural transmission belts — schools, universities, media, the retail industry, and, too often even churches — have for decades been promoting the corrosive ideas of moral relativism, consumerism, pushing children into adult behavior before they’re ready for it, permissiveness and the quaint notion that the most important thing for children is that they enjoy high self-esteem regardless of how little they achieve or what wretched behavior they engage in.

Marybeth Hicks, a frequent speaker on parenting, the weekly family columnist for The Washington Times and mother of four (ages 10 to 18), is having none of this. “Bringing up Geeks” is an owners’ manual for parents with kids, at least for parents who want to raise children with good character and strong values. The kind of kids most Americans wanted before the left made a dog’s breakfast of the culture and of our standards.

“Good judgment and moral behavior don’t come naturally — they have to be learned,” Ms. Hicks writes. And considering the fact that the cultural left has largely succeeded in disabling the institutions that used to help parents enforce standards, parents who want children with good values and good strong character, “geeks,” in Ms. Hicks’ slightly smart-alecky expression, will have to do most of the heavy lifting themselves.

It won’t be easy. Modern media daily feed young people (and any adult silly enough to tune in) a near steady diet of sex, violence, crudity, cynicism and disrespect for adults, tradition, and all authority. Modern parents who wish to raise successful (not just in the material sense) children have a lot to work around. “Bringing Up Geeks” is a “how to” for this critical mission.

In her book, the second after 2006’s “The Perfect World Inside my Minivan,” a collection of her Washington Times columns, Ms. Hicks pins the tail on the right donkeys. She goes after psychologists and other “experts” in various branches of the head trade who promote crackpot notions such as it is bad for a child’s spirit to try to make him or her obedient. (As Dave Barry has taught us to say, I’m not making this up.) Read the book for the name of the guilty party who came up with that one, or other examples of parenting advice from “experts” with Dr. in front of their names who you’d have thought could have been just as silly with a lot less preparation.

Ms. Hicks faults pushover parents who’ve bought into the current nonjudgmental mind-set to such a degree that they consider trying to instill morals in their own children as “moralizing,” one of the seven deadly sins in the secular, post-everything world. Kids already have enough chums. They need their mothers and fathers to be parents, not just a couple of more friends. And don’t even get Ms. Hicks started on parents that allow drinking parties for underage kids at their home.

One vital approach to raising geeks, i.e. good kids ready for fulfilling lives, is not to give in to “the culture of cool,” which decides which kids are popular in middle and high school. The problems is that coolness, thus popularity in school, calls for some of the worse characteristics of the mainstream culture - consumerism, rudeness, cynicism, anti-intellectualism, defiance of authority and experimentation with all sorts of things most parents would prefer their kids put off for at least a few more years. The traits that make a youngster the leader of the mall rat pack are in most instances not those that lead to an empowered life.

In a little more than 300 pages, Ms. Hicks gives parents 10 geek strategies that, in her words, “promote innocence over exploitation, substance over style, and genuine self-esteem over superficial acceptance. I hope they inspire you toward your most courageous, effective, and satisfying parenting experience.”

It’s rare when parents who wish to raise decent children rather than media monsters get much help these days. Parents who read “Bringing up Geeks” may find it to be that rare gift.

Larry Thornberry is a writer living in Tampa.His e-mail address is [email protected] earthlink.net.

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