Books Ink Slingers Reviews Victoria K

REVIEW: Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids


Teaching or Raising?

“I’m paid to teach.  I’m not paid to raise other people’s kids.  So why does it feel like the other way around?”

The setting–a teacher’s lounge, complete with bad, strong coffee, a copier that didn’t work, and furniture which was falling apart quicker than my motivation to write lesson plans.

The speaker–a mentor teacher, when I asked her about discipline procedures.

The backdrop–I had a few “nightmare” students.  I hate to put it that way, but it was true.  Students who you could rely upon for one thing and one thing only–to completely tank your lesson and drive the whole class into chaos.  Students who were disrespectful, loud, bouncing off the walls, undisciplined, even violent a times…need I go on?

And when I would reach out to the parents…excuses.   Or worse…that the situation was my fault.

silence.  Or, even worse..silence.

I truly felt like I was raising these kids.

Abdicating Their Roles

“The doctors, therapists, and researchers I’ve interviewed, and the studies I’ve read, all seem to agree on two key points: First, modern parents are abdicating their role as authority figures.  Second, children desperately need their parents to be authority figures.”

In Marcia Segelstein’s book, Don’t Let the Culture Raise Your Kids, she addresses the concern I felt as a newbie teacher–more and more, it seems that many parents aren’t raising their kids.  Instead, they leave the job of “parenting” to outside influences.

Segelstein does an incredible job of demonstrating, from studies and various anecdotes, that the influence of parents over their children tends to be limited in our current society. Some of this is the parents fault–the tendency to want to be a “friend” rather than an authority.  Some of this is because society is shifting–for example, because social media increases the role of friends.

As the influence of parents decreases, the influence of the culture increases.  Through the book, Segelstein highlights five major cultural influences (school, media, sex, pornography, and consumerism), showing the impact these influences have on our children.  The studies and stories she shares are eye-opening–real wake-up calls for modern parents.

Countercultural Parenting

Overall, I think that the book is a good starting point for parents who want to raise their children in a countercultural way (as my husband and I do with our little two month old).  Not only does it demonstrate the negative impacts of cultural influences–it highlights ways that parents can take back the role as influencers in a positive way.

The first chapter, “The Critical Role of Parents” is an amazing reframing of what it means to be a parent, a welcome shift from the modern approach.  It gives parents the courage to be authority figures first–giving rules while also being loving.

The chapter on the media is a hugely important wake up call for our technology-dependant culture (of which I’m all too often a willing participant!).  It’s especially important when connected to the later chapter on pornography.  It amazes me how many people still haven’t woken up to how critical of an issue pornography is–and Segelstein does a phenomenal job in that chapter.

Issues to note

Although I love the overall project of this book, I have a couple complaints. The chapter on schools (Chapter 2) was disappointing and, to be honest, almost made me give up on the book entirely.  As a teacher, I know for a fact that there’s a lot to be said about the influence of schools: secularism, scientism, materialism, etc.; and the influence of the curriculum, teachers, administration, peers, etc.  Many teachers are wonderful people, but you have to be cautious about what is presented in a variety of areas.

But the chapter focused solely on the topics of sex education (which was a topic Segelstein repeated in the chapter on sex) and gender identity issues. Which, don’t get me wrong, these are important topics for us to be discussing.  However, these topics were not presented in a constructive way, but rather in a way that felt like an incendiary laundry list of worst case scenarios.  I would recommend reading chapter two with a grain of salt–taking from it what’s positive, and knowing that later chapters are more useful and satisfying.

Also, most of the book seems to be centered on sex issues.  The chapters on “Sex” and “Pornography” of course focus on them, but a major chunk of the “School” and “Media” chapters center on sex as well.  Which, again, parents need to be willing to discuss sex issues.  But there are so many other negative cultural issues which I wish had been given the foreground.  After all the sex, the chapter on “Consumerism” felt like a breath of fresh air!

A Wake-Up Call

These complaints, however, do not take away from how much I support the overall goal of this book.  Parents need a wake-up call.  The culture is shifting in so many ways.  It’s hard sometimes to get a grasp on the influences on our children: what’s influencing them, how much it’s influencing them, and how exactly it’s influencing them.  Parents have to take the responsibility to be vigilant in their child’s lives–especially when the norm is to take a step back from being an authority.

Because, however “wonderful” I was–you don’t want the newbie teacher raising your kids.

Devon Wattam Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Parenting Prayer Vocations

It Takes a Village

It Takes A Village

There are many pressures that come with being a parent, but the one that haunts me the most is the responsibility of passing on the faith. As I rock my growing baby to sleep or watch my preschooler eat his pancakes in the morning I think, “How am I ever going to teach them enough, challenge them enough, and nurture them enough to help them grow into the well-rounded, capable, holy adults I know they have the potential to be?” The truth is I can’t. Not on my own, at least. 

My parents have shaped me into who I am as a woman today through the examples they set in their own lives, as well as the guidance they have given me over the years. Parents can only do so much, though. Young people need strong, positive mentors throughout their lives to inspire, direct, and influence them, perhaps just as much as their parents do. I have been blessed enough to encounter many such people, but three in particular touched my life in unexpected ways. 

When I was in the seventh grade, my teacher hung posters of the Holocaust around our classroom. She was the first person to open my eyes to what the world held beyond our small, Catholic school—good and bad. Her posters not only depicted the wonderful things she saw on her worldly travels, but also the cruelty man was capable of. That’s when I knew I wanted to see what was out there for myself. 

Interestingly enough, she was also the first person I knew who would vote politically different than my family. She never said it, but I knew it. I didn’t know how to reconcile that in my heart, but I loved her anyway. During the critical time when I was trying to figure out who I was going to be in the midst of my parents’ divorce, she gave me hope. Hope that I could be whoever I wanted to be, hope for a future.

Three years later, I got my first job selling clothes. My boss took a chance on me. She hired an awkward tomboy and fostered in me a drive to work hard and reach whatever the next challenge was in front of me. Shift after shift, raise after raise, I absorbed her desire to succeed and genuine love of people like a sponge. I doubt she thought much about the direction she was giving at the time, but I felt like she believed in me, so I did, too. She gave me a break when I needed one, and held me accountable when I didn’t. She inspired me to do better.

That same year, I met a priest who taught at my high school. As a young teenager, I was starving for affirmation, purpose, and direction. I joined a group he led on a pilgrimage through Rome and my life changed forever. He affirmed my identity as a child of Christ in ways that no one ever had before, breathing air into the lungs of my faith that had laid dormant for so long. He went on to become my spiritual director through high school and college, and celebrated the Mass on my wedding day. After everything he had seen me through, his greatest gift to me was teaching me how to pray. How to genuinely ask the Lord for His help, praise Him for His blessings, and trust in His mercy. 

There’s no question that it is my husband’s and my responsibility to get our boys to heaven, but it’s impossible for us to do it alone. If I am ever uncertain of that reality, all I have to do is look at my own life and see all the hands who have helped me along the way. I pray that Walt and George are fortunate enough to encounter ordinary men and women of good will who will educate them when they think they know it all, push them when they believe they have nothing more to give, or carry them when they’re too tired to walk any farther.

Reflecting on how I have gotten to where I am, my heart is filled with gratitude. I am indebted to the many people who have gone out of their way to foster the good things that they saw in me when they didn’t have to, but especially those three unlikely mentors. The ones who taught me how to hope, work, and pray.

I ran into the priest recently for the first time in over five years. “I miss you, Father,” I told him. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “I’ll always be there when you need me most.”

I know he will. They all will.