*This is Part 2 of a blog I started Yesterday about Shaping the Moral Lives of Kids. It may be helpful if you read this article first http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-01/taylor-swift-as-counterculture-icon-for-teens-commentary-by-amity-shlaes.html
While I am grateful that Swift is “systematically pro-parent and pro-family” the reason that this article grabbed my attention has more to do with how the moral lives of emerging adults have been shaped or not shaped, as the case may be. It is not provocative in the least to suggest that moral habits, imaginations and characters of emerging adults have been shaped more by celebrity, media and popular culture than by values of their parents, their church, and their community. But it should be provocative.
In his book, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Christian Smith, Professor in the Department of Sociology at Notre Dame, points to recent research from the National Survey on Youth and Religion. From conducting hundreds of interviews since 2001 they point out that an alarming number of young adults do not have a what may be considered a moral center. It isn’t that they do not know what is right and wrong – good or evil – necessarily – but it becomes an issue of moral relativism and or situational. While it may not be right for me I can’t say it is wrong for someone else. And – while I may not want someone to steal from me – or cheat off my exam – it is not necessarily wrong. It is difficult for them to define what is right and what is wrong.
This has a profound impact on their morality. This works itself out in many ways, not the least of which is the abuse of alcohol, drugs, consumerism, and sexual promiscuity. While this may not seem like anything new under the sun – there is a reason to be concerned. For these emerging adults these over indulgent practices are the norm.
The fact of how much influence the wider culture has on writing the scripts for what is normative in the lives of emerging adults is well known. Yet, Smith points out that these young men and women are deeply marked, shaped, and taught by what they perceive or have been directly or indirectly taught is the “norm.” For instance, why doesn’t it surprise us that a university student will be exposed to overt alcohol use – even when the majority of undergrads are still underage? Why doesn’t it seem odd that the university is a “normal” place where young men and women push the limits of sobriety and sexuality? When and how did it become the “norm”? It doesn’t matter where you went to school. It doesn’t matter if you were determined not to take part in any sort of the party life – you still expected to meet it and that is considered the “norm.” The trouble is, intoxication (whether from alcohol or drugs) and sexual promiscuity, according to Smith, are what is expected. In other words, there is nothing morally wrong with this picture. There is no right and no wrong – it is relative.
When was the last time you thought that being wasted was okay – just part of what people do multiple evenings a week? It is a normal part of what people do – a sort of “social lubricant.”
While we want to believe that we are independent thinkers and making decision based on our own desires – that we are the “captain of our own fate” – it seems to be that, at least for emerging adults – that decisions are heavily influenced by what has become a cultural norm. The trouble seems to be that some of the most important cultural cues are either gone or they have shifted. In essence there once was a sense that drinking may have its place but always in control and not to excessively. But if Smith is right that has slipped and the norm now, for many in his study, being intoxicated is a part of living. It is part of the norm. The same is true for sexual behavior. Both are seen as recreational.
The question arises for me – and perhaps for others – how are we as a community to “stop the madness.” Is it good and right for people to spend their lives running after money, a solid buzz and sex – especially when they’ve been shaped to believe that it is the normal thing to do – a normal part of growing up? Is it good and right and culturally responsible to abdicate the shaping of the moral lives, imaginations and character or children to people other than parents? Rather, should that role be given over to government who are legally bound to say or do nothing controversial (which doesn’t form character and kills imagination and virtue). Or – should the shaping of the moral life, imagination and character be given to the broader culture which seems to be ongoing?
Of course – this is a straw-man argument at the same time someone – somewhere – taught that during adolescents – it is the norm for kids to push away from parents – and parents ought to take a step back. That’s supposed to be norm – and we are supposed to follow the norm. It is to be expected. From what I can tell parents are supposed to be engaged in the lives of their children – until the parents are laid in the grave. Granted the relationship has to mature and grown but it is not normal for their to be a wholesale rejection of the parents role in the lives of their kids during adolescence. There doesn’t have to be an antagonist relationship between parents and their teenage kids.
As thankful as I am that Taylor Swift is pro-family / pro-parent isn’t it strange that is news worthy? Why is it not the norm? It should be strange and outrageous that anyone would be anti-family / anti-parent. But they are.
I hope I’m right about this. I hope I’m right about parents staying engaged in the life of their kids. I hope that Taylor Swift is able to influence the young women of our country in great ways. The last thing I want is for my sons and I to have a bad relationship. It could happen – but it doesn’t have to – it isn’t the “norm.” But the truth of the matter is that a lot of our families are being shaped more by what culture mandates as the norm than by what is true and good and right. More of our young women are being shaped by what Taylor Swift says and does than we’d like to admit. But at least Taylor seems to have it right. And for that – I’m thankful.