If you took your teenage daughter to the movies this summer, what did you see? Laura Sessions Stepp, who frequently writes on trends among adolescent girls, saw something that bothered her. But it's not what you might think.
In a thought-provoking article in the Washington Post last year, Stepp wrote, "If you're a young Hollywood heroine today, you lip-sync your way to rock stardom overnight...win passage of a bill by giving [cosmetic] makeovers to members of Congress or solve murders by posing as a stripper cop...You entertain, but you don't inspire, at least the way movies used to." For these young women, she says, "Power lies largely in how you look and what you buy...Perfection through consumption, that's the (young) American Way."
Many of us are concerned -- and rightly so -- about teen culture's promotion of sexuality and violence. But I think Stepp has put her finger on a problem just as important: the encouragement of selfishness among our youth.
Movies like the Charlie's Angels franchise, Legally Blonde 2, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and other popular summer fare may pretend to teach about independence and maturity. But the truth is that real "character development" is out; consumerism and feel-good messages are in. Or as Stepp puts it, "Life revolves around these young women." For the most part, instead of stories about girls who grow up facing real challenges and learning how to help others, we get fictional girls whose main concern is me, myself, and I. And that pervasive message is not doing real girls any good.
There's more than one factor at work here. For one thing, at a time when many adults act more irresponsible than teenagers, or want to stay juvenile, our definition of maturity has changed. For another, feminist leaders have long been putting pressure on both our educational system and our popular culture to try to make up for a supposed lack in girls' self-esteem.
But the biggest factor may be that teenagers today have more spending money than ever before and have proven themselves vulnerable to marketing campaigns, which means that those campaigns grow more and more aggressive. And it's good marketing strategy to present the consumer with an image of herself the way she'd like to be: glamorous, independent of parental and moral restraints, easily able to overcome all obstacles. It's not good marketing strategy to suggest that she still has a lot to learn about the world, that there's life beyond adolescence, and that developing strong character is more important than instant gratification.
I'm not saying that every movie has to be serious; everybody needs a little comic relief now and then. I'm just saying that when frivolity and egotism become trendy among such an impressionable age group, we need to pay attention. Christian parents in particular have a duty to inoculate their children against these kinds of trends, for in our worldview, there is more to life than self-interest. We believe in the value of good character, humility, and self-sacrifice for the good of others. Let's make sure we're communicating what we believe to our kids and grandkids.
Copyright © 2004 Prison Fellowship
BreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective. Heard on more than 1000 radio outlets nationwide, BreakPoint transcripts are also available on the Internet. BreakPoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship: 1856 Old Reston Avenue, Reston, VA 20190.