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Rebecca Hagelin on Raising Kids in a Culture Gone Mad

  • Sarah Jennings Family Editor
  • Updated Apr 23, 2009
Rebecca Hagelin on Raising Kids in a Culture Gone Mad

You're cuddling on the couch, enjoying a TV show with your 9-year-old daughter, when a character makes a scandalous joke. You grab for the remote, but it's too late. Later, you're surfing the web on the family computer when you discover your foreign exchange student has been visiting "adult" websites - and showing your middle school son the "best" links to visit. Then, your oldest walks in with a parental notification form informing you that her school will start offering a "comprehensive" sex-education program next year.

Parents can feel overwhelmed in their efforts to raise godly children in the midst of a culture determined to push the morality envelope. And the battle intensifies with the average American home now wired to the Internet and other forms of media. As a mother of three and vice president of the Heritage Foundation, Rebecca Hagelin understands the challenges today's culture poses to parents. In her new book Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad, Hagelin offers practical ways for parents to rise up and protect their homes.

Crosswalk: Could you talk a little about your book and why you felt inspired to write it at this time?

Hagelin: I've worked on family public policy issues for twenty years and I'm a mother of three teenagers. About five years ago I started writing a column for and where I examine social issues through the lens of a mother. In the past two or three years I've received tens of thousands of e-mails that reveal a growing tone of concern from today's parents that the world has gotten out of control and that parenting is harder and harder. They feel helpless and that the family is under attack -- and they don't know what to do. So that inspired me to take these twenty years of experience and put all that together in what I hope will be a positive message of hope to parents.

Crosswalk: There are a lot of people who think America is a pretty nice place to live! So what exactly do you mean when you say our culture has gone "stark raving mad?"

Hagelin: Well, if you look at last year's Gallup pole asking parents about the values in our country, it is interesting to note that 78% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans feel that America's values today are fair to downright poor. There is a universal understanding that our modern media world is out of control.

When you have the number one internet moneymaker as pornography; when you have the number one searched-for word on the internet as "sex"; when you have media outlets who 24/7 send a bad message about sexuality and morality to our kids; when you have children who are consuming 6.5 hours a day of media -- the latest figure by the Kaiser Family Foundation -- filled with sexualized programming, you've got a nation awash in cultural sewage.

Then you add that to the fact that the most popular music genre for today's kids is now hip-hop and rap music. If you stop and listen to the music you will see there is a huge problem there with the language. You know, I think we can see that there is a real problem, and as a mother of three teenagers, I fight the culture every day in my house.

Crosswalk: With so many well-intentioned parents out there, why do you think parents fail to stand up to negative cultural influences?

You know, over the email that I've read -- and this answer is really based on anecdotal stories from parents that I interact with on a daily basis -- I've pretty much boiled it down to three reasons:

Number one is that parents are either too tired, or too lazy to fight the culture. They feel overwhelmed. They feel helpless. And so my message to group number one is this: The mass marketers with their worldviews are never too tired to market to your children. They are never too lazy, and they will never give up.

The second reason I find is that parents seem to be too distracted. We're too concerned about our own careers, and all the things that we want to do that we're just too distracted to pay attention -- not to what our child wants, but to what our child needs.

And in the third arena -- which I think is probably the most distressing -- a lot of the parents today grew up in the 60's "Me-generation" and these parents never learned as kids to deal with peer pressure. So as adults they still don't know how to deal with peer pressure, and they don't know how to teach their kids either.

Crosswalk: Those in favor of "freedom of expression" in the media argue that if parents don't want their kids exposed to something, they should just change the channel. Why is this no longer enough?

Hagelin: You know my answer to that is, change it to what? You see prime time family television that is suppose to be the family hour and the numbers of sexual incidents in there and the language is so bad that every parent has to jump for the remote control. And that is not even counting the commercials.

I would say a central message in Home Invasion is this: There is a lot of good that exists through modern technology. So I say to parents -- Maintain the good and get rid of the poison. Reclaim your home. Get Internet filters for Internet connections. Never let a child have a computer in their bedroom. If you have cable TV, make sure you get parental control locks on it.

And it goes beyond media we usually think of as entertainment. It also goes into what our kids are bringing home from their schools and their textbooks. When was the last time you picked up your child's textbook and looked at it? Most parents have no clue what the messages are that have made it in through the educational bureaucracy and establishment.

Crosswalk: In your book you note that one of the most frequent comments you receive from parents is, "I know I need to fight the culture, but I don't know how!" So could you share some overall guidelines parents can follow to raise godly kids in a culture gone mad?

Hagelin: Before I answer that I want everybody to know that in the back of Home Invasion I have about 38 pages of resources -- real help -- so you don't have to go it alone. There are people who believe like you do. Find those people. And bring them into your fold and your support network.

The first step is for parents to determine what their faith and values are. Ask yourself: What is it that you believe in? What are your issues of faith? What type of adult do you want your child to become? What do you want your child's world to look like? What do you want their character to be?

The second step is to commit on a daily basis to enforcing the rules and values and standards that you set for your family. It is a daily battle. And I can say as a mother of three teenagers, that I fight the culture in my house nearly everyday. I'm often tempted for a moment to give up or give in. But my husband and I determined long ago that we were going to arise each morning with the renewed commitment to enforce those values and beliefs that we believe in for our own children.

And then step number three is to teach your children the single greatest thing you can teach them -- that they have intrinsic value in God's eyes. That God loves them unconditionally, that he created them for a purpose. When children understand this, they are less likely to be involved in sexual activity. They are more likely to want to develop into the men and women that God would have them to become. And they understand that there is a place for getting moral absolutes.

The fourth step is to spend more time with family. What is so disturbing about the recent trends in media consumption is not just that it is 6.5 hours a day by kids, but that the vast majority of children say that their parents have no clue what they are watching. And that indicates that parents are becoming less involved in their children's lives while media is becoming more involved. So it is crucial that parents become more involved in their children's lives on a daily basis.

And then the fifth one is to be involved in your child's educational choices. Our children spend so many years in education and so many hours per day in education, it is absolutely crucial that parents take an active role in understanding what's being pumped into those little minds.

Crosswalk: You know, even with this great advice, some parents may still feel that the media, peer pressure, and the culture we live in has too big a pull on their kids for them to really make a difference. You wrote about the positive impact your parents had on you in Home Invasion. Could you share a little bit about your relationship with your own parents, and talk about the influence parents can have on their kids?

Hagelin: Absolutely. It's immense. I share in my chapter called "Foundation of Faith," what became a pivotal moment in my life, a very defining moment for me. It was when I was a very young girl, and I was at home alone with my father. I walked down the hallway, and I heard somebody crying -- a kind of weeping, a soulful weeping -- and I couldn't quite figure out what it was. I knew my dad was the only other person home.

So, I looked down the hallway and I noticed the door to his bedroom was slightly ajar. My father was a John's Hopkins educated pediatrician, a brilliant medical man, and a great man of faith. Well I just very quietly tiptoed over, pushed the door open enough to peak my head around, and I saw my father kneeling beside his bed crying and praying for a very sick little patient of his. I stood there in awe of this brilliant man who realized that he needed to go to the Great Physician for help. That tremendous moment of faith -- when he never knew I was watching -- impacted me for the rest of my life in terms of where I place my faith.

That is an example of when my dad didn't know I was looking. What about all the examples when we are with our children, when we know they are watching? There is an old saying that the most powerful words of any language is the word "mother," and I believe that with all my heart. Mothers can be an influence for good and positive or they can be an influence for negative. But mothers cannot be un-influential. So I would just leave you with those two thoughts.

Rebecca Hagelin has championed the pro-family message in both Washington and around the nation for some twenty years. She is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation ( whose vision is to "Create an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish." Her weekly column, "Heart Beat", appears on and For more information on her book visit: