Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Subscribe to Journal

January 19, 2009

6:03 PM

Don't Our Teenagers Deserve Better Role Models & Representation?

As an author and a mother, I am both concerned and discouraged by the book, film and television projects of the last year that reinforce and even celebrate lack of self esteem, promiscuity and shallowness. Are there no teenage heroes and heroines anymore that possess real spirit?

The premiere of Steven Spielberg's new TV show "United States of Tara" depressed me last night, with yet another sassy teenage girl character who is sex-obsessed at 15 and greets her boyfriend with phrases like "Hey, sex robot". Her storyline was mostly concerned with purchasing the "morning after pill" and shopping with credit cards stolen from her father. Welcome to a media dominated by Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and MTV reality contestants as role models, a universe where even the Disney teen idols are taking their clothes off for the internet (and Vanity Fair).

Hasn't this run its course yet? Does anyone else think this isn't entertaining? And  at least a bit disturbing?

I'm not saying that we need to recreate "The Waltons" and "Father Knows Best" for the 21st century, but our children have minds, hearts and souls that need to be nourished. They need to see that it is cool and desirable to be intelligent, confident and have a conscience. Why does this seem to be impossible in the current climate of entertainment, and how do we change that? Why are there no teen characters on TV who volunteer at retirement homes, help out at food drives, march for AIDS awareness and care about the world that they live in? And don't tell me it's because real kids don't act that way, because my kids do all of those things, as do many of the teenagers I know. They're not striving to be like the Gossip Girls or the Tool Academy guys. They want to live authentic, rich lives - and incidentally, I live just over the hill from Hollywood.

My concern spirals to the "Twilight" series of books, where another teenage girl with little-to-no personality finds her identity through falling in love with the most gorgeous boy in town and his family of super-model-pretty vampires, who are soooo fabulously beautiful - because they are "undead". Wow, let's just stop and think about that message for a minute. I have been talking to teenage girls ad nauseum about the popularity of this series, and they are across the board 'in love" with the vampire boy, Edward Cullen. But the theme here is that Edward loves the teen girl, Bella, with absolute obsession. OK, fair enough. Obsessive love stories are a huge part of human history and I understand that part of the appeal. But why can't we create stories where the teenage girl has strength, integrity, intelligence and personality - and finds a boy who loves her with that kind of power BECAUSE of those qualities? Why can't we create stories where the high school girl doesn't have to ABANDON HER HUMANITY (while also risking the life of her mother, among other things) in order to be loved by the super-human (or sub-human) Romeo? By the age of 18, the "heroine" of the Twilight series has abandoned her parents and her humanity, become a vampire and had an inhuman baby. Really, is this what we want for our daughters?

Don't get me wrong, I believe in free will and I am horrified by censorship in the arts, and would never support that in any manner.  What this really all all adds up to is PARENTING. I believe that if your daughters are reading the Twilight series, so should you. Read it and discuss it with them find out what it is that they are responding to. Pay attention, be involved - and help them to find art that inspires them in a more constructive way.

But most of all I am asking myself of late, WHY are these projects continuing to be so plentiful and WHY aren't there more projects with real spirit out there for our kids to attach to? Do they exist but simply aren't getting noticed? Or do we need to make a concerted effort to begin creating such projects? If a book series, film or television program with real depth and social value had the same marketing as "Tara" or "Twilight" I have no doubt that it would have the same success.

Steven Spielberg has six children and a social conscience. I wonder if he has ever looked at his art form from this perspective. Because it's time that somebody did.

We are at risk of creating a generation of shallow, self-absorbed consumers, who have lost the understanding that love and sex are sacred. They deserve better. Thus, I throw the gauntlet down to all of my artistic friends in Hollywood and elsewhere: let's start creating and promoting work that is really entertaining for our kids, but also inspirational.

Their future, perhaps, depends on it.

18 Comment(s).

Posted by Wilde Queen:

I agree with you entirely. It's not just Twilight - and the like, it's Disney channel where everything is goofiness and loud music. When my kids were young there were afternoon specials that were mysteries or dramas. Not all this annoying fluff. I banned Disney channel from my TV when I babysit my neice. Instead I let her watch classic movies. She's 12 and she loves them. I had high hopes for the Nancy Drew movie with Emma Roberts a few years ago. They ruined what could have been an excellent series of movies with an intelligent, independent heroine, instead they made her silly. I noticed it was made by men - not a woman who understood Nancy.
January 19, 2009 @ 9:38 PM

Posted by Kristin Wilson:

I thank Kathleen for her blog, and Wilde Queen for her comment also. I agree that teenagers and "tweens" (isn't that what they are calling it now?) need some better role models. My niece is turing 10, and she is a huge fan of Hannah Montana and The Cheetah Girls - both from Disney. I've watched the series and movies, and can find no real substance in them either. The Cheetah Girls do seem to always help each other out though. I guess sometimes it's okay to watch something for fun, so long as it is not what they try to model themselves after. When my niece is here, bless her heart, she usually ends up watching a cartoon with my kids (age 5 and 2) like WallE. I like the idea of classic movies as an alternative, especially the musicals. I will look into titles. Oh, and to be fair to Disney, some of the princesses do have character and a backbone. I am thinking of Ariel,Belle and Jasmine. My little girl(2)is starting to like them, so we've been looking at books and watched a couple of the cartoons.
Hugs and blessings to all.
January 21, 2009 @ 8:26 AM

Posted by Jessica:

While I agree with most of what you wrote, I have to disagree with the "Twilight" comments. But, before I get to that, I'll address everything else.

I grew up with strong morals and a strong will and found that I always had to defend myself against my peers for my beliefs and decisions. I felt that nothing on TV or in music representing ME as the typical American Teenager (and I'm only 23 now, so this is recent), because I wasnt. I was abstinent until marriage, I volunteered for an AIDS organization, I went to church most every Sunday and sang in the choir. So, I agree, society needs to stand up and recognize that there is a need for virtue and morals in the entertainment world.

With that being said, I dont think the "Twilight" series' Bella is a weak, personality lacking character. I think she's a very real character. Think back to your first "true" love. Maybe he wasnt a hunky vampire, but when you fall in love, especially for the first time when you're 17 years old, you're going to be gaga. And Stephanie Meyer wrote the novels extremely chaste by today's standards (even censoring out Bella and Edward's Wedding Night details) when many authors would have written all the gory details for teens to read. And one more thing and then I'll get off my "Twilight" soapbox, Stephanie Meyer didnt actually write the series FOR young adults. She wrote it for herself (and she was 30 or so at the time), the publishing company marketed it towards them...and I say, if there's a book on the market that gets teenagers excited to read, then by all means, READ...no one does anymore.
January 22, 2009 @ 3:39 PM

Posted by Jane Peever:

Being a mother of two I can so understand your comments. They bring up so much about what we are dealing with in today’s world. I was brought up in a household where reality was censored to what my parents felt best benefited my moral upbringing. I have a soon to be 13 year old daughter who has tested that in me every day since she was born. She is a beautiful loving spirit who has taught me that all things exist in this world both light and dark. To fully understand ourselves we must be able to sit with and view all of it without picking and choosing what we feel is good and bad. As everyone’s reality is different, my daughter, who watches these reality shows with a vengeance, has shown me it is all about perspective. She sees the humanity in these people, she sees their passion and their pain, she questions it in them, then in herself, then in humanity as a whole. She amazes me with the depth of spiritual understanding she can take from a soap opera situation. We then can sit and talk about how this shows up in her life and in the lives of those who surround her. I believe these shows are over the top for a reason. They are a mirror to our societies struggle to accept its shadow side and balance it with its light. Everything is intensifying at this point in our human evolution. We are being shown where it is we need to work on ourselves and where we need to start working together to create a new unified consciousness of love. Remember it is easy to love someone who shows the good and love in themselves. It is a much harder task to love someone who we feel represents a bad example or does things societies deems unacceptable. Each person perceives in this world that which they need to see in themselves. That which we won’t accept in others, is only what we won’t accept in ourselves. These shows are giving us the opportunity to talk with our children, to listen to their wise spirits. Why do they bother us so much, why do they seem so shallow?
January 28, 2009 @ 11:28 AM

Posted by Autumn:

I think that there is a great point being missed here. All vampires, etc aside, if children are guided and taught respectfully and well, whatever their spiritual background, then they will become wise young adults. Learning is through example first and foremost, not through preaching, proselytizing and threats.
And there is a very simple answer to all of the above. Turn off the tv.
More importantly, there is something profoundly disturbing in the vitriol of "inhuman" spat out. In truth we live in the 21st century not the 12th and the idea of not being alone in this universe is not an unfamiliar one. May I remind you that not so very long ago it was considered by many that people of colour weren't human and any fruit of a union between a caucasian and a person of another culture would have been considered against God, even worthy of execution in some places. There are some today who still believe this idiocy. Yet I can tell you that it would be abhorrant in God's eyes that anyone would think this.
We live in a vast universe and it would be arrogant, to say the least, to believe that we are the only intelligent(?) beings in Creation. We would be even more arrogant to think that the only intelligent things God, in His great wisdom, would create would be human and that the only Way to Him would be ones that we would devise. It is mathematically known that in just this gallaxy alone, the potential and probability for planets that could support intelligent life are about 10,000. We live in a small gallaxy. Our civilization and technology are advancing and the time may come, perhaps not in our lifetimes, but in the future, when we hold congress with other lives from other worlds, wherever those worlds may be. Are we to believe that God's love for those beings (which He also created) will be less than that which He holds for us. This would be utter folly...to shrink God down to our own prejudices and fears. Don't be too quick to scoff. People were burned for teaching
February 8, 2009 @ 9:17 AM

Posted by Ian Clarke:

Thanks Kathleen, you are so right, but how can we strike that middle ground between being "prudish", and an open society?
My issues really are that our children are being encouraged, or led, into growing up too early, being taught that it is OK, even expected to be sexually active way before they are emotionally capable of handling it. Most teenagers now seem to be 13 going on 30 - & it's scary.
The ever increasing teen suicide rate is one side effect, emotionally scarred adults another.
We have to start with the magazines that are published, & create an attitude of responsibility within their role models.
I have successfully brought up two step daughters, who have come through the challenges of growing up, but it was always a battle against their role models and peers and the magazines they read, the music - the messages they are bombarded with. I gave them freedom as their "father", but refused to allow the standards to be lowered.
I knew I had been successful when told that they had a constant battle between their standards and the lack of standards among their friends.
Good Luck.
February 11, 2009 @ 4:02 AM

Posted by Maria:

I agree with you, too. Nowadays films, music etc. have no contents, and are mostly immoraly and you can see the bad influence even in the vulgar languages of young people. But I`am complaining about my own generation - I'm 20, but I had the luck, that I was parenting by my mother and Jesus, and I love them. Jesus told me everything what I wanted to know and he did many things, I don't know how. But before my comment become a love-letter to him I tell you something about myself.Although I could change in my own apartment I don't want. The problem with the TV-Generation, I solved in a very simple way- I sold my television.
PEACE with everyone
February 13, 2009 @ 10:32 AM

Posted by christine:

Thank you so much for stating what I have felt to be the obvious about the Twilight series and tween pop culture. I read the first book on recommendation of an adult friend. I was astounded that she was obsessed (as well as the doctors and nurses where she works!) about this series..."couldn't put it down..." I tried the second book to see if it got better, no it got worse. I felt that child needed a good psychiatrist! When discussing it with folks...and let me tell you, my opinion isn't popular! I too was given the argument of "when you were a teen and first in love.." yes, I was obsessed with my first boyfriend, I came from a very dysfunctional family and I really needed help, not the boyfriend. I mistook sex for love.

I raised three wonderful and intelligent children who think for themselves. I watched what little TV they got too watch in the late '80's and 90's. We discussed subjects that came up. My children were very involved with 4H, etc. They certainly weren't perfect, experimented, got in trouble, you name it...I think the key has been communication and an open mind, but clarity in my values. I think it is great that teens are reading, but there are so many other inspiring heroines out there...ultimatly it is parents who can direct their children to better role models as well as modeling heroic behavior themselves.
March 5, 2009 @ 10:02 AM

Posted by Deborah Friend:

Thank-You Kathleen for your books!The encouragement of taking pride and power of being a woman is so needed! After years of being treated like I should be ashamed of being born a woman, being taught by my father that all women are born to serve man and all his needs, I am so thankful I've had a mentor teach me that Choice=Power. Now in my Crone years, being lead to books such as yours is a breath of fresh air!
Now it is my turn to teach my daughters, and grand daughters of their heritage as women.
I cry when I read "THE BOOK OF LOVE" because I can feel the Love being poured into me.
To those who have ears, may they hear, Thank-You.
March 12, 2009 @ 7:04 AM

Posted by Bella diBianchi:

It is my opinion that we have the media to thank for the lack of anything approaching works of good quality that represent good moral values. In the media's opinion, things like that won't sell, so you have to put either sex or drugs or foul language or all of the above in order to create something that will sell. :(
March 21, 2009 @ 12:16 AM

Posted by Bridgitt:

While in many ways I agree with you and most of the others here, Kathleen, I do take a bit of a different view. I, too, was a little disturbed at first by Bella's obsession with Edward, even though I like vampire novels (with the exception of Anne Rice). However, when I learned that Stephanie Meyer is a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon, it explained a lot. I had recently learned what that meant in terms of committing onself to a partner. I had been invited to attend the reception, but not wedding, of a dear friend. I was puzzled, not only by the inability to attend the marriage ceremony itself but by the wording of the invitation. I asked an LDS co-worker and she explained it to me. LDS couples marry in a chapel that can only be entered by those who have made the pilgrimage to Salt Lake City or by those who are undergoing certain rites, like matrimony. LDS couples, when they marry in this life, are pledging themselves to each other for eternity...even after death. So, Bella's obsession isn't so stange after all. She has recognized the other half of her soul in Edward and is willing to spend eternity with him...in whatever form that takes.
April 8, 2009 @ 10:58 AM

Posted by Alice:

Brigitt: First of all the Mormons don't preach abandoning your family and friends for anything, even love. Especially when that family is a loving family like the character's family in the book. This book is speaking to young girls. I don't think Ms McGowan is concerned with 25 yr old women being mislead by this book, it is the young girls we are all worried about. I agree with Ms McGowan, this book is bad for young women.
April 16, 2009 @ 10:44 AM

Posted by Ashleigh:

I personally believe Walt Disney would be turning in his grave at what Disney has become. His movies had meanings, both apparent and hidden. Now you see Disney producing the same meaningless garbage based around the ‘high school experience’.
April 27, 2009 @ 3:37 AM

Posted by Bridgitt:

Alice, I realize that LDS members do not preach abandoning their families; I have many LDS friends. And, as it happens, Bella managed to "change the rules" so to speak and was able to keep her "human" family around her. I don't think young girls are being misled by this book...I believe young people have a lot more sense than they are sometimes being given credit for. And this book wasn't written for young girls; it was written for Stephanie Myers herself.
May 6, 2009 @ 7:28 AM

Posted by Chris Greaser:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!
I cannot tell you how I worry about the way women are treated on screen and in real life. I have a very beautiful, strong daughter, that is now in her 30's with her own daughter. She is trying to instill in my granddaughter a sense of worth and pride and also keep her that cute feminine little girl, she's 3.
I have no doubt that my daughter is capable of doing that, but when you are bombarded with all of the crap that is on TV and the movies, it will be hard for her in the upcoming years.
I am also concerned with my grandson's future. What does it tell them when they watch junk? Is that how you treat people? I just wish more people in Hollywood would stop and ask themselves what kind of human race are we molding for the future.
Please keep up the great work. I loved The Expected One and The Book of Love. I have recommended it to many.
June 2, 2009 @ 8:46 AM

Posted by Susie:

Just have to comment on the Twilight thing. If you read the series in it's entirety, you see Bella transform from a slightly insecure weak link into an entirely confident young woman who is seen by one and all as a fierce protector of her child and her family (both human and "monster" alike).
June 20, 2009 @ 8:51 PM

Posted by DJ:

First of all Smyere did not right Twilight for heself.

I do agre that somethings on Tv and whatnot are not so nice. but come on turn off the Tv if u dont whant your kids to wacth it.

SMyere is a devoted Mormon so don't you talk ill of her. It's agains her faith to writte things that are dirty and harmfull.

Shame on you.
October 9, 2009 @ 1:54 PM

Posted by Pieter de Meijer:

No it has not run its course yet. It is the extremity that is needed for us to experience. And to obtain the insight that this ping pong game of extremities going from bad to good, from dark to light has at last brought us LOVE. Gods love to understand correctly. This duality is bound to pass by but alas its is needed for us to create all forms of the extreme. Not until then we will see through the illusion of nothing, of shallowness.

Your outcry is well timed. And in a certain way you are right of course. When you look at it from this world it seems right and consequently we suffer and feel the anguish, the pain, the fear. When you do so from the point of view of the opposite heavenly world than it does make sense. We are here to get to the source of Gods Love. Only through suffering we can gain consciousness. It is our process we created that we have to endure.

We are here together at a certain time. And we and our children are well equipped to experience, though we might think the opposite. There is no one who is not specially chosen to play this part in our time and place frame. Trust in God. We do not oversee, God does.
This is the world of illusion, and never in history we have created more illusion than today. Wonderful. The more, the sooner enlightment can come. This is not cynically ment. This is our purpose and chance. Of course we have the opportunity to bet on the wrong side again. And continue playing our ping pong. But we ultimately have the chance to choose for no extremes any more. To choose for the centre of God. To choose for love.

That is not the love of men, as we often see in films. Of sex, drugs, promiscuity. That is a spiritual love with not one partner but with every creature. There is no need for fear. Only if we truly believe we must solve all the problems there are. But why not admit we have tried and failed. We are only half people, we can not solve anything, only make it worse. History proves it. Just accept Gods guidance in
November 2, 2009 @ 2:15 PM