If you read my blog, you probably realize that my mind contains a rather large jumble of things all being shaken up together -- Catholicism, mom stuff, wife things, homemaking, teaching, music, TV, movies, philosophy, politics... Sometimes, a bunch of this stuff blends together into an image in my imagination, which I want to express here, but the transition from what's in my head to the written word can be rather difficult. So, here I go...
Today, I have been reflecting on TV, music, modern life, youth, and faith. Specifically, how modern shows like "The O.C." and its music speak to and about young people -- their hearts and their faith -- their seeking for what is worthy of belief. And how can we, as parents, teachers, and adults, help them on their way?
First, I should probably say something about my philosophy of TV and movie watching with my kids. I allowed my children -- who are now 24, 22, and 20 years old -- to view many different types of things as they grew up. I didn't make decisions about what they could watch based, necessarily, on language, sexual content, and violence. Although, I did take these into consideration. I was careful not to overwhelm their senses with images they weren't ready for developmentally. The fast-forward/scene-skipping buttons on the remote came in pretty handy here. What I mainly looked for were stories that were well-told, that meant something, which we could use as a springboard for discussion and further learning. A few of the movies and TV shows my kids most enjoyed were probably the following: "Top Gun", "Jerry Maguire", "Band of Brothers", "Pearl Harbor", "The Lord of the Rings" triology, and "JAG". More recently, we have enjoyed together "Numb3rs", "Angel", "SouthLAnd", and "The O.C."
Now, as for watching "The O.C." My kids didn't see this when it originally aired. This wasn't a conscious decision on my part. We were just involved in other things at the time, and this show didn't appear on our radar. Although, my kids -- at least my older two -- were probably in the original target audience for the original air dates. So, I ask myself if I would have been ok with them watching it when they were actually in high school, as it does contain a fair amount of sexuality and other soap-opera-like drama. I was talking about this with my older daughter and I ended up saying, "Well, I probably would have let you watch it. And I would have watched it with you. But, I would have said one simple thing -- 'If you act like the kids on that show, you WILL get pregnant.'" She laughed, and did not disagree.
We actually started watching "The O.C." because we were watching "SouthLAnd" and learned that Ben McKenzie (Officer Sherman on "SouthLAnd") had done this other show. I, therefore, ordered the first season of "The O.C." on DVD, just for kicks. I wasn't going to order the other seasons. Then we all got hooked and some Hollywood people made some money off me. Money they earned well, I must say.
After watching all four seasons of "The O.C." and listening to the music chosen for the show, I have been having some wistfully philosophical thoughts, as I am want to do. Whoever chose the music for that show has epic talent. The writing, acting, and music all come together to really tug on your heartstrings. And for me, as a mom -- and a person for whom youth is not too far distant a memory -- it tugs on my heartstrings in a special way. I do not say to myself, "Young people are a hopeless, immoral, faithless mess; and the world is going to hell in a hand basket." Instead, I have the following thoughts:
It seems to me that "The O.C." -- and many other movies and television shows of interest to youth -- reflect a real seeking on the part of young people. Yes, these kids may be rebellious and do things that defy common sense, but that is the nature of this age group. It always has been. And if you don't believe me, read the Old Testament and Aristophanes. But, there is more to these kids than trouble making and sex drive. Their hearts do contain a real desire to love and be loved, to be part of families they can count on, to be involved in friendships where they can rest their hearts and be understood, to know the truth about things (even religious things). But, they don't want to be preached at. They don't want to feel constrained. They want to be listened to and really heard. They want to be trusted. And they don't want to be judged. They also don't really care to judge. One of the most wonderful things about young people, in my opinion, is their capacity for compassion and understanding, their open minds.
So, what should we -- as the adults in the equation -- do with this? I think it is helpful to recall our own experience of being young. When I remember my own youth, it helps me to observe, listen to, and talk with my own kids with an open heart and without so much of a need to immediately "fix" all their "faults". I realize that -- if there are any ways in which I have improved as a person over the years -- experience (combined with words of wisdom from wise people) has often been the best teacher. My father said one heck of a lot of smart stuff to me. But, I have often not recalled his advice until I have experienced the pain of not heeding it.
But, you might say, we want to spare our children the suffering and scars of making mistakes. Believe me, so do I. Has there ever been, though, in the history of the world, a person who has not "sinned"? A person with no scars? I don't think so. I ask myself, therefore, "Am I not being prideful in thinking that my own kids -- under my ever-so-superior tutelage -- are going to be perfect?" Haha.
Therefore, I will just try to walk with them and talk with them along the way. I will try to be gentle. I will attempt to remember that I need to let go -- little-by-little -- and let them make their own decisions. My mother-in-law is especially good at this, so I will try to follow her example. Her own five kids -- good people all -- have done some really crazy-ass things over the years, as I'm sure they would admit. And she has not always remained silent. But, after she has spoken her peace, she does the whole "live and let live" thing extremely well. Hat tip to you, Gail... And how does she do this? Well, she ACTUALLY DOES trust God to love her kids and take care of them, even better than she can. And she sees the virtue in each of her children, all the time.
So, maybe this is what my heart is feeling when reflecting on youth and the things they enjoy watching and listening to. These young people want us to see their virtue. They want us to see the virtue in others. They get tired of us constantly pointing out to them what is wrong -- with them, with people they like and admire, with the world. They want to see the positive, to have hope for the future. And they want us to do the same. If we are people of faith, especially, they want us to demonstrate that we actually do trust in God by our love and compassion and positive outlook, not by our constant negative judgements and fearful statements about the future of our country and the world. Our youth want us to BE WITH them along the way. And then, perhaps, they will truly learn from us anything we have that is actually worth teaching.