Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You Can't Teach the Next Generation By Insulting What They Love

So, I finally had a chance to see Miss Representation from start to finish. I liked it, overall. I do think it was very 101 level and didn't delve into intersectionality as much as it could have...but I don't even want to talk about that. Instead, I'd like to discuss my feelings about the Q&A that followed.

In short, it made my blood boil.

The Q&A was with a panel of local teen experts. I ask myself genuienly: why haven't I learned not to stay for public Q&As yet? Every time they enrage or embarrass me. Or both. This one was no exception.

The audience was mostly older parents who, while good intentioned, came across as "I know the solution to the poor representation of women in the media! SHELTER ALL THE KIDS!" and then dissolved into nostalgia for simpler times and the demonization of technology. It was absolutely a case of "back in my day it was so much better" and "in MY home we would NEVER allow all that!"

Luckily, one teen girl in the audience stood up for the GOOD that technology can do and one of the panelists chimed in with the point that I wanted to scream: while the impulse to shelter kids is natural and sometimes needed, the real trick is to teach them to be critical thinkers and savvy, intentional consumers of media.

Part of me left feeling SO discouraged. Over and over the proposed solution to the evils of our society was to shelter your children in your home. Surely I'm not the only thinking that is extremely unrealistic--and short sighted! You can't keep your kids from being exposed to the world forever, so why not begin equipping them with what it will take to navigate that confusing world from a very young age.

I'm very happy that these parents were at this screening and talking about these topics because that is huge. But I just don't think that the total rejection of media/technology is the solution. The teen girls who I work with that frequently feel most disconnected and shut off from their parents often complain that it's because their parents "won't talk to them about this stuff" (whatever topic we're, the media, etc.) I assume that in these cases, there is the sheltering impulse, when in reality, if your kids are asking you about something, it's so important to keep communication lines open. Tell your kids what you like/don't like about TV, movies, magazines, advertisements, etc, and WHY.

Of course I can't predict how I will react when I actually am a parent someday, but I really hope I can practice what I preach.

All in all, I simply don't understand the impulse that older generations have always had toward fearing and insulting the next generation's "big thing." Evolving fashion, the emergence of music (like rock and roll and rap) and technological changes (cell phones, the Internet, Facebook) --there has always been the tendency to downplay and outright disparage what "kids these days" are into. The truth is that you can never teach young people lessons if you approach your interactions with them with an inherent negative bias that is distrustful of progress. Young people will sense this and shut down to your message. Your important lesson will be lost in the noise of another person who is just "out of touch."

It reminds me of the schism between second and third wave feminism.

Of course, the lesson is that young people must be willing to listen to older people, but older people must also be willing to accept the new (and yes, sometimes scary) aspects of youth culture, even if they don't understand them. And again, while the sheltering impulse is natural, it is not practical. You will do your kids much more good by intentionally and critically consuming media with them and encouraging them to actually think about the messages we receive.

1 comment:

  1. ... Excuse me, but, are you me? Seriously? This EXACT THING happened when I stayed after for the Q&A about Miss Representation. However, because I was an actual student, and they were old enough to be teachers, I wasn't really allowed to get a word in edgewise, and they were really harsh on the younger generation of females, though, of course talking about them like they (myself) wasn't there. It didn't help that nobody else stayed except for these folks, so, there wasn't any other person to really help me out in calling out what they were saying. I'll be honest, afterwards, it kind of left me in tears, like I wasn't wanted in feminism. :(


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