This is, to some extent, just a contemporary exaggeration and exploitation of the old story of the teen years. Many girls, particularly those who don't have a dad at home, believe that male approval in the form of a boyfriend is essential to existence. I don't think any sane person who doesn't live under a boulder would try to argue otherwise. Some boys sense this very well (hello!), pressuring girls to "get with the program." One good message that did come out of feminism - that girls can write their own program instead of just trying to please boys - is now out the window among many young people, especially when dealing with their peers.
Okay, so you're fully aware of all of these infl uences, and you're standing warily at the drawbridge. Or maybe by now you're up on the battlements armed with cauldrons of boiling oil. Next step, aside from insisting that your home conform to your values: You have to be vigilant about what goes on in your local schools. Th at means get out the catapult! To be eff ective, your reach needs to extend as far as it possibly can.
Here are some things you might want to look into. Is your fi rst grader reading about Dick and Jane getting a puppy named Spot, or is he learning how nice it is that Heather has two mommies? Is your eighth grader studying the fruit and vegetable exports of South American farmlands, or is he practicing how to put a condom on a banana? Or is your child not learning anything at all today aft er being sent home for wearing an American fl ag T-shirt on Cinco de Mayo—or any other day?
Don't hesitate to pore over your kids' assigned books and lesson plans. Do the history books teach them that America should be cherished—or blamed for something? Talk with your kids about what goes on in the classroom: Do any teachers preach according to personal agendas that confl ict with what you teach at home? Encourage your kids to read widely for themselves, rather than be bound by the assignments from school. Help them understand that they go to school to be educated, not indoctrinated. Class is supposed to be for exercising the mind. Th at means they need to be taught how to think, not what to think.
Pull Up Some Chairs Around the Table
Perhaps by this point you think I'm being too optimistic. But I'm also realistic. I know from talking with parents that many are about ready to throw in the towel. Th ey try and try again but don't feel able to counter the peer pressure and insidious media messages that bombard their kids every day. Many have come to believe that they may be fi ghting a losing battle. Th e struggle is just too diffi cult and exhausting. Well, I get that. But how hard is it to have dinner with your children? Let me share with you an amazing statistic discovered by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. For the past decade and a half, researchers there have been totting up the diff erences between teens who eat dinner with their parents "frequently" (defi ned as being at least fi ve nights a week) and those who do it only three times weekly or less. Th e results of a CASA report published in 2009 were dramatic:
1. Teens who eat dinner infrequently with their families are twice as likely to use tobacco and marijuana as those who have family dinners "frequently."
2. Similarly, they're one and a half times more likely to use alcohol.