The challenge of parenting in a consumer culture

  • March 5, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 entered her teenage son’s vocabulary this year, Mary hit the panic button. First, she didn’t like that “all his friends” were playing this game with a mature rating, and second, she worried about the impact a controversial terrorist mission within the game might have on his developing mind. The arguments began.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Mary, who’s name has been changed for this story. “My son is a great kid, he does really well in school and he just wants to play the game to unwind.”

She talked to other parents, researched online and came to the table armed with a few points to back her up. Key to her stance was the game’s excessive and morally offensive violence. But she knew there was a risk he might play the game at the homes of classmates.

“I wanted him to know what values we’re against and why,” she said.

Although her son was upset she wouldn’t let him bring it into the home, at least they were talking and discussing moral issues. Also, Mary added, she felt she was doing what she could to show him how to use the Catholic values his family had instilled in him to make an informed decision.

According to experts, Mary approached the ordeal in the best way any parent could — by keeping the lines of discussion open, researching the object of their disagreement, yet keeping her foot down.

But often, that isn’t the case, especially when it comes to video games.

“When it does become a power struggle, you know you’ve got troubles because you’ve allowed an object that the child is attached to have almost as much influence as you as the parent,” said Clint Tyler, branch director for Catholic Family Services of Toronto.

Tyler said parents often blame the video game or the iPod for their child’s behaviour, when the question is how they raise their children in general.

“Get to know your kid, have a relationship with them, know what they’re doing, feel comfortable telling them no when they’re younger, that they can’t do certain things. Structure their time and guide them towards things that are positive instead of negative,” Tyler said.

But what to do if they’ve already withdrawn from you?

“At this point, you have to find a way to reconnect. If it’s a teen, you start restructuring how you’re going to talk to him at specific times, through family forums,” Tyler said. “You can get a family counsellor, but it’s more just talking (that’s needed)... If the parents can’t talk to the kid about games they aren’t going to be talking to their kids about sex and relationships and every other thing.”

On the other hand, small children don’t need an explanation, he added, and parents need to stop being afraid to parent.

“We’ve had a couple generations that have been taught not to parent,” Tyler said. “But it’s not a court case. You don’t have to give answers, but you can say ‘We do this because it makes our family better, it makes us feel good about ourselves’ or ‘this is not who you are’ or ‘this is who you are.’ Eliza Trotter, head of Hawthorn School for Girls in Toronto, was scheduled to give a presentation March 6 on parenting in a consumer culture. The conference, Dynamic Women of Faith, was organized by Catholic mothers to provide inspiration and guidance in parenting.

Trotter outlined some of the things she has tried to do with her seven children. Because character education is an integral part of Hawthorn’s programs, and because she spent a few years as the school’s director of character education,Trotter said the topic is probably on her mind more than most parents.

“I think one of the main things is to realize that you’re not raising a two-year-old or a five-year-old or a 16-year-old, you’re raising an adult, so you always have to be looking further down the road to see what kind of a young man or woman you want you daughter or son to be,” she said.

So, if a three-year-old is throwing a tantrum in the store over a candy bar, giving in once isn’t a big deal, but giving in more often builds a bad habit for them — the child doesn’t learn the virtue of self control.

“What you are developing for later on is the teenager who won’t be able to say no if someone offers them drugs, a teenager who may get involved in a sexual relationship, because they’re not used to saying no to themselves,” she said. “And as an adult, self control is a very important quality to have.”

Communicating and listening can do wonders, Trotter said.

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