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Further Reading

Department: Home Front

Teachable Moments

What to Do When the Culture Intrudes

by Marcia Segelstein

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 32

In a world that seems increasingly bent on destroying childhood innocence and undermining faith, trying to protect children is part of the job description for modern Christian parents. Dangers lurk in schools and on TV, on computers and in the culture of greed and selfishness all around us. But even with the use of every protection imaginable—internet filters, V-chips, homeschooling—it is simply not possible to put an impenetrable wall between children and what's out there.

Author Marybeth Hicks believes that parents must not only acknowledge that fact, but use it to their advantage. In her new book, Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith, she explains how to use "cultural intrusions," as she calls them, to communicate what's important. From school classmates discussing a gay romance on a popular TV show, to magazine covers of a scantily clad Miley Cyrus at the grocery store checkout line, to overhearing a mother yelling obscenities at her child in Walmart, the world intrudes whether we like it or not.

Why It Matters

Beyond the fact that such occasions present opportunities to reinforce values, "not infusing our values and beliefs into those moments sends an equally powerful message that the values of the dominant popular culture are A-okay with you," Hicks writes. As she puts it, seizing the chance to talk about such intrusions may be upsetting, awkward, and uncomfortable, but doing so is better than letting them chip away at the heart and soul of a child.

Sex, for Example

According to Hicks, "the likelihood that kids will be exposed to sexual content that conflicts with your values and religious beliefs is approximately 100 percent, so prepare that ready answer!" In her book, she conjures up a scenario in which a joking reference is made to a "threesome" during an otherwise appropriate family sitcom. If kids ask about it, Hicks offers one potential answer, which can be adapted according to the child's age: "The word itself just means 'three people,' but the show we were watching meant it as a sexual reference, implying three people in a sexual situation. Obviously that's not God's plan for the gift of human sexuality." The only way to compete with the values of our hypersexual culture, says Hicks, is to talk with kids so they learn to distinguish the true meaning and value of sex from the way it's portrayed in the media.

The Gay Culture

Something else your children will not escape? Exposure to the gay culture and the predominant view that compassion requires approval. Hicks says that, as a Catholic Christian, she tried to convey to her children a pretty straightforward message: What matters is being chaste; that means abstinence outside of marriage, and marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.

Modern Families

Rare is the family not touched by divorce, so it's fair to say that children are going to come across divorce at some point, whether in their own families or those of their friends. Hicks believes that what most children need when they hear about divorce is reassurance. "They want to know that just because their grandparents or other relatives have divorced doesn't mean you will. Your teachable moments should include reassurance that you are committed to a lifelong marriage, through good times and bad," she writes.

Two-Pronged Approach

Parents should protect their children's innocence to the degree that they can for as long as they can. "But," says Hicks, "you also want to be feeding information into the pipeline in an age-appropriate way, using those encounters, those exposures and real-life experiences to constantly instill the morality, virtue and values you believe in." 

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