My Abby wants an iPod for her 10th birthday next week. I guess they’re all the rage within 4th grade. But I’m just not comfortable with it. I feel a collision coming, and it’s not unexpected. The collision will be between my sensibilities and the cultural norms (dare I say: fads) which shape the environment my young children are discovering as they grow up.
Having the girls attend a parochial school, a decision which was primarily based on the desire to provide them a learning environment with at least one foot solidly planted in Catholic values, could only delay the inevitable collision. My fear now is that I have done poorly in preparing for this conflict.
I don’t have a problem with iPods – I own one myself, and use it frequently. Even within the house, my CD player was replaced by an MP3 player 5 or 6 years ago. One of the very few features I required when I recently went shopping for a new car was an auxiliary jack for the audio system, so I could plug in my iPod. My problem is not with the technology, but in the potential for it to be utilized in ways that are destructive, in my lack of confidence in Abby’s readiness to properly discern appropriate from inappropriate uses of the device, and, given Abby’s vulnerability, in my complete lack of control over how it would shape Abby’s attitudes toward the world once it was in her hands.
The problem has two heads, but I think one is a shadow of the other. Some parents complain that iPods, like many other similar and not-so-similar devices, become means of withdrawal and seclusion for their children – that children use them to isolate themselves from the rest of the family, disrupting communication and hardening relationships. This is no doubt the case, but I suspect the devices themselves contribute only in fairly small ways to the developing of the attitude that seeks isolation and disintegration, whereas the content borne by the devices can and will have decisive influence on the minds and hearts of the children who encounter it.
For the most part, the content delivered by these devices carries a message of disintegration, turning their hearts away from the good. It doesn’t need to be that way, and the world has much of real worth to offer – in terms of music, or other art forms that have come to be dominated by commercial self-interest and shallow trendiness.
The challenge is in differentiating – a challenge not always easy for an adult, and pretty much impossible for a 10-year old. What is crucial, from my vantage point, is to be able to communicate to my children what good music is, what music is for, how it can be perverted for bad ends… But how does one convey this to a 10-year old? And what would it mean to send the girl out into the consumer music jungle without any adequate guide? That just strikes me as irresponsible.
This is not going to be easy to think through.
[Note: the string of follow-up posts to this can be found under the Interiorizing Culture tag]