Is Pop Culture Polluting My Child’s Mind?


When I first became a parent, I wanted to avoid all forms of mainstream media – ie no “screen time” for my kid. I envisioned my daughter spending her days frolicking in the forest while identifying mushrooms and molding moss into gender-neutral toys. But… life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it. Eventually her grandmother exposed my daughter to the world of cartoons because MOM YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!  Once that seal was broken, my kid would never unsee the magic of animation. Before long “Curious George” crept into our lives like the sneaky little monkey he is.

A snowball effect occurred. The more my kid saw, the more she wanted to see and the more I enjoyed the moments of quiet as she catatonically stared into the neon abyss of “My Little Pony.” Of course there were rules and restrictions. I didn’t want her caught up in Disney’s masterfully marketed propaganda machine, but I did justify living with 45 “Frozen” dresses while still considering myself a decent parent. I had created a media bubble for my child and I was comfortable with – except for the occasional exposure to Caillou, who really is a little asshole.

One day I decided to show my daughter the music video for “Chandelier.” I am obsessed with this video.  It features an 11-year old dancer, Maddie Ziegler, who I actually considered following on twitter - but I don’t BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT (and all she talks about is lip-gloss).  My daughter, the aspiring ballerina, loved the Chandelier video.  She watched it non-stop for two straight hours. Eventually I gave her my phone to continue practicing her dance moves while I did important “adult” things like staring at the wall wondering what my life had become.

Here is the thing with children today. I’m pretty sure they have been genetically modified to have an inbred knowledge of technology.  It’s like Apple programmed my daughter in utero to understand their products. She may not know how to read yet, but she manipulates apps like a Silicon Valley wizard. Since she had access to my phone, my kid eventually started searching through a variety of videos, including a charming one entitled “Pu$$y” by the Australian white-girl rapper, Iggy Azalea.

The lovely lyrics of this sweet tune snapped me out of my existential coma. I ran upstairs to retrieve my phone while attempting to explain that this particular song wasn’t appropriate for her young years, to which she replied, “who is that? I love her.” In an instant, life as I knew it was over.  By introducing her to “Chandelier” I had in fact opened Pandora’s box and initiated my child into the addictive world of pop culture. 

She started hounding me to watch more Iggy Azalea.  I wanted to punch myself in the throat. How could I have been so naïve? Why didn’t I pop in a VHS of Isadora Duncan to familiarize my kid with the beauty of modern dance? Why Mother Gaia, why? Oh right. I watch videos on YouTube all the time.  As much as I abhor much of modern media, I am also a product of it. I am the MTV generation. I love “top 40” music. Hold me.

Pop music princesses soon occupied much of my daughter’s imagination. Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor, and Ariana Grande quickly replaced Baa Baa Black Sheep and Wheels on the Bus. Of course I was allowing all this to ensue -- but I am not Tipper Gore!  Despite being extremely concerned about how she’ll internalize pop-presentation and packaging, I’m not going to replicate the “Footloose” plot where I insist she can’t dance to that “devil music.”  

My daughter is at still too young to understand the meaning of the lyrics she is learning, but the messaging will undoubtedly have an unconscious impact. It may be subliminal, but the effects can be profound. I don’t want my daughter corrupted by the over-sexualization of the female identity. The tracks she likes are fun and catchy, but the thought of her looking up to these young women as role models gives me wrinkles, which obviously I can’t allow because then I will have zero value in society!

I decided we had to contextualize the music she was exploring. I believe she can like Taylor Swift and also be enthusiastic about women who make waves because of their intellectual impact. We watched Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism. I read a Gloria Steinem essay for a bedtime story. We talked about Susan B. Anthony, and the women’s suffrage movement. I explained how Malala Yousafzai won the Noble Peace Prize.  My kid finally hit her breaking point when I tried to make her memorize Alice Walker’s poem “Our Martyr.” 

Unless I move to an off-the-grid intentional community, change my name to Spirit Fire, and subsist solely on acorns, chances are my kid is going to be interested in mainstream culture. Yet I believe that doesn’t have to mean a cerebral death sentence. As long as I continue to balance her exposure with perspectives that honor the mind over thrusting one’s hips at an alarming speed, I think she’ll be okay. Besides, my favorite song when I was a kid was “Darling Nikki” by Prince. Remember that lovely ballad to a woman where he describes their first interaction by moaning “I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine…”? And I turned out okay, right?

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