- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My three older children sometimes accuse me of going soft in my middle age. They say I allow things for their younger sister that I never would have permitted for them at the age of 11.

To wit: Amy owns an iPod full of pop music. She’s seen chick flicks like “Legally Blonde” and “Miss Congeniality.” She’s occasionally allowed to stay up until 10 on a school night to watch the end of “American Idol.” She can even do bits and pieces of a few famous “Saturday Night Live” skits.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of my evolving soft touch comes from Betsy, my high school senior, who recalls with a note of bitterness that I didn’t allow her to attend a fourth-grade birthday party that included a viewing of “Spider-Man,” a film I deemed inappropriate for a 9-year-old, while her younger sister saw “Spider Man 2” at the age of 7.

Even if she’s right, it’s time to let it go. It was just a birthday party. Sheesh.

No parent likes to admit she’s losing her edge. I’m quick to point out that Amy has no cellular phone, isn’t allowed to see the movies “Twilight” or “Fired Up,” and still has a nominal bedtime around 9 p.m.

Besides, Amy isn’t growing up in the same household as her older siblings. Once our kitchen had a toy box in the corner. These days, the toys are in storage and the pantry is stocked and restocked in my effort to keep enough food on hand to feed an army of teenagers.

I can’t fight the changes within our family that happen as we age, but neither have I gone soft. In fact, the world around us forces parents like me into a perpetual state of alert, keeping a watchful eye to protect the one thing we can never recapture once it is lost - our children’s innocence.

You’d think this would be such a worthy and universal goal that the culture would promote it, but the opposite seems to be true. At every turn, media and marketers aggressively exploit the “tween” demographic, encouraging a state of pseudo-adulthood marked by designer labels and high-tech toys.

Parents who resist the “tweening” of childhood and instead expect that children between the ages of 8 and 12 continue to enjoy imaginative play, wholesome media and limited exposure to pop culture are now something of an oddity. Sadly, it’s counter culture to raise a child who enjoys being a child, even though she’s - gasp! - already in middle school.

Not that protecting our children’s innocence is easy. In fact, it’s more difficult now than it was even a few years ago when my family was younger.

For example, I used to object to “The Simpsons” as a racy, raunchy TV show disguised as a cartoon. If “The Simpsons” pushed the envelope for tasteless TV, it no longer seems objectionable compared to the vile and vulgar “Family Guy,” a show so intentionally offensive that I can’t comprehend how it is not considered hate speech.

Do I now allow “The Simpsons”? No.

See? I’m not going soft.

Or maybe I am just a little. This week, Amy had a sleepover with her friend Christina. I let them stay up pretty late watching “Wizards of Waverly Place” on Disney. They had already spent the evening building a fort with blankets and pillows, having a tea party for their dolls and writing secret spy notes with invisible ink.

My older kids may have a point. I should get tougher. I never checked to see whether the girls had brushed their teeth.

• Visit Marybeth Hicks at www.marybethhicks.com.

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