When my daughter started preschool, I changed my work schedule to spend time ... OK, the truth is best. My wife changed my work schedule so that “Dad can go to his daughter’s first school experience.” Having attended this same school myself, as a five-year-old, memories of my own, like popcorn exploding in a microwave, leaped and bounced inside my head.

My own childhood struggles, captured on film or photographs taken by my parents, showed a boy who carried upon his face a perpetual furrowed brow. This look of worry became the thermometer by which my levels of distress were to be measured. I was just too sensitive and thin-skinned to enjoy the rough and tumble of early childhood socialization. 

So, it was one of those great parenting moments when my daughter, on her first day of preschool, did something I could only dream about: after learning and using the names of her classmates, she played, laughed, giggled, and more importantly, connected to her peers. I watched as her social talents unfurled, like a barn-sized banner proclaiming: Joy is friendship!

As my daughter grew older, I was able to get to know many of her friends, as she often invited them over to our home. Then one day, when she was 10, she came up to me with tears running down her cheeks: “Megan is moving away, her parents are divorcing.” Since Megan lived in our neighborhood, I was able to recognize the impact this loss had on my daughter. But what came next hit me much harder: “Dad, promise me you’ll never divorce mom and that I will never have to move away from my home.”

As a father, I knew she was asking for stability and security. As a psychologist, I knew her need for a stable home had become much more essential than it had ever been for any previous generation of children. For the world had changed and the culture my daughter lived in had lost those protective elements which, like the stone walls outside a castle, had sheltered children from physical and emotional harm. 

What were those elements? Here is a partial list:

• TV/movies praised basic values such as a hard work ethics and honesty, respect for elders 

• Grandparents, aunts and uncles were a part of the family fabric 

• Front porch conversations by adults were a way children learned about the world

• Small schools allowed parents and teachers to work closely on a child’s education.

American culture has shifted from treating young girls as a protected class, to the current girl-poisoning one where the new value system goes like this: Be beautiful and focus on perfecting your personal appearance. Buy into the advertising and media image where alcohol, drugs, sex and violence merge to form the new image of adolescent femininity: gorgeous, recreational toys. (Pipher, 1994)

How can this culture change in America be explained? To answer this question, allow me to first give you two recent research findings (these findings were reviewed by Anne D. Ream, in a Nov. 16, 2008 article in the Chicago Tribune):

Research by Joan Brumberg revealed how a new cultural shift, starting in the 1980’s, transformed the basic value system of America’s youth. Brumberg took diaries written by adolescent girls, from the past 100 years, to see if the concept of “self-improvement” had changed. She found that a shift had occurred: Prior to the 1980’s, the way to better oneself was through education. From 1980 on, the way to make one’s life better shifted to making the body, or one’s physical appearance, better.

A second study identified a new parent-child relationship, based on age compression, a process defined as follows: A phenomenon in which girls are adultified (made to look older), and women are youthified (made to look younger). In effect, mother’s give up their parent role to be as cool as their daughters.

So now that you have a taste of the destructive power of your child’s culture, you may need some ideas about how to change their culture. Here’s some hints on where to start: 

• Add up the amount of time per week you spend with your children. Whatever the total is, try to double it. 

• Turn your home into the social hub for your child. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. 

• Fire up your ovens and bake cookies — lots of cookies — so that your children have a strong memory of their mom or dad baking at home. 

• Make sure your children spend time with extended family members — grandparents, aunts and uncles. 

• Take your children to live performances so that they can be touched by the beauty of art and music.

• Get to know your child’s teachers and build a good relationship with them. 

• Teach your children to dress properly. 

• Take your children outside to enjoy nature. 

• Stop feeling guilty for saying “no” to your children. Strong parental authority is an essential part of protecting your child. 

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.

Source: “Reviving Ophelia”, Mary Pipher, 1994.

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