No one is immune to cultural imagry

Families do not exist in a bubble, outside of culture, immune to its powers. Fathers and mothers are affected by popular cultural images, too. When a father teases his daughter for getting "chubby," or his son for not being able to throw the ball well enough, when parents encourage their teenage girls to become mini-superwomen who get the best grades but never forget the importance of looking good, they too are responding to (and perpetuating) messages sent to them from their culture.

Parents know what the cultural rules are. Seeing their daughter put on a few pounds, they may worry about where it will lead, how it will affect her popularity, how this might ultimately make her unhappy and depressed. She'll be discriminated against at work, she won't have a boyfriend. All of these are realistic fears.

The fact is that cultural images are far more powerful than parents might like to admit--more powerful in their kid's lives, and more powerful in their own. It's kind of wishful thinking to imagine that things are like they used to be when mom and dad were the most forceful communicators of values. Sure, a parent can prohibit a child from watching things and buying things; often, this will only make it more tempting. And it's very unlikely that they will be able to monitor their children's activities along these lines 24 hours a day. I don't think it's the wise thing to do anyway. It sets up rebellion. And we have to face facts: the culture is there, it is pervasive. Teenagers need to learn how to negotiate it, how to develop ways of dealing with it.

I think that the most productive thing a parent can do--is to provide different models, through their own behavior, other ways of being happy, other notions of what an exciting and full and successful life can be, than those provided by the media.

Singletary Chair of Humanities
University of Kentucy

To inquire about this project
in video, and printed formats,
send an email to project creator Dan Habib.

All photos ©2010, Dan Habib