I just finished reading Bringing Up Geeks (Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids): how to protect your kid’s childhood in a grow-up-too-fast world by Marybeth Hicks. It is so excellent, full of totally common-sense objections to our culture’s vision of childhood, and I heartily recommend it to any parents who feel overwhelmed by the culture’s negative influences on their children or who feel alienated for having protected their children from them.
In her straight-shooting, funny style, Mrs. Hicks lays out in 300 pages her and her husband’s approach to parenting, that is: intentionally raising GEEKs or genuine, enthusiastic, empowered kids. (Geeks, according to Mrs. Hicks, are kids who are: braniacs, sheltered, uncommon, well-liked by adults, late bloomers, team players, true friends, homebodies, principled, and faithful.)
In describing how she and her husband sought to assist in the development of the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual selves of their four children, Mrs. Hicks relays with great humor and poignancy the challenges they faced as their values and decisions in child-rearing brought them head-on with the “culture of cool”. In her second chapter “Raise a Sheltered Kid”, Mrs. Hicks relates how her husband went with a friend to see Matrix Reloaded, an R-rated movie described by screenit.com as “’heavy’ in blood, gore, frightening and tense scenes, profanity, sex, and nudity; and ‘extreme’ in guns and weapons, violence, disrespectful or bad attitudes, and scary or tense music.’” The kicker? Just before the movie began, Mr. Hicks watched as a mom walked into the theater with a group of his daughter’s twelve-year-old friends. Mrs. Hick’s writes, “My husband’s review: Uncomfortable. ‘I’m watching these graphic scenes, but the whole time it’s really awkward knowing Betsy’s friends are a few rows ahead of me. I felt like the girls should have covered their eyes,’ he said. ‘Since they didn’t, I covered mine instead.’ (p. 59-60).”
With water-tight logic and abundant statistics, Mrs. Hicks shows time and again how we as American parents have handed our children over to consumerism, unlimited media consumption, rudeness, and early sexualization, despite our knowledge of these things’ deleterious effects. In her chapter entitled, “Raise a Sheltered Kid” Mrs. Hicks lays out some harrowing statistics regarding negative influences in the media, like “77 percent of prime-time shows included sexual content and 68 percent of all shows included talk about sex, with 35 percent of all shows incorporating sexual behaviors into their content (65), and the lack of supervision and standards at home regarding its consumption.
Regarding current Internet trends and safety, Mrs. Hicks mentions the Chris Hansen series “To Catch a Predator” that ran on Dateline, and she writes
Some forty million people have seen Chris’s hidden-camera investigations in which he snags evil pedophiles in the act of attempting to meet young teens for sex. The series as wells as the companion best-selling book of the same name have exposed to all of us the underhanded and insidious behaviors of those who use the Internet for criminal purposes. And still—still—millions of kids hang out on My Space every afternoon, millions of kids have computers in their bedrooms, where they can roam unsupervised through the unchartered territories of cyberspace, and where they are routinely and repeatedly approached by icky sickos for unthinkable exploitation…But rather than belabor the mind-boggling trends, I’ll simply note that more than 85 percent of children and teens now enjoy regular access to the Internet, while only a quarter of the young people report that their parents have rules about how to use it (67-68).
Far from being a list of not-to’s when parenting, Mrs. Hicks offers with each chapter the culture’s answer to parenting questions and the positive, formative, loving response we as parents can choose instead. On the problem of talking-back in middle and high schoolers, Mrs. Hicks writes that she found online from a social worker at a major children’s hospital a manual which read, “As children grow and become more independent, they have a need to assert more control over their own lives. Talking back can be a way for children to separate themselves from their parents…Kids need to talk back, but they need ways to do it that aren’t disruptive to your relationship” (122).
Mrs. Hick responds in her usual, refreshing way, “Kids need to talk back? Really? And we need to help them do it in ways that aren’t disruptive to our relationships? Man, there sure is a lot I don’t know. Quick. Someone, sign me up for a degree in child development.”
Later she offers her own tried-and-true method of teaching kids to be mannerly in an increasingly rude world. After noting that her kids are often praised by adults for their good manners, she writes, “Again, are Jim and I proud of our kids? Naturally. But we’re not surprised by their skills. We’ve worked on them! We spend time coaching them about how to converse politely, we correct them when we see rude behavior, and we engage them in social chatter so they can learn to chat socially. Heck, we even practice handshaking and getting them to look us in the eye when they say hello” (132) She offers practical advice on how to work on manners at home and reminds the reader again about the importance and beauty of good manners, as they are the way we acknowledge others’ dignity in ordinary conversation.
I encourage any parent who feels weary from saying no to the culture to read this book for encouragement and hope. Mrs. Hicks proves that saying no to the negative influences of our culture really is about saying yes to those things that help a child reach his full potential as a child of God, and she has the beautiful fruit of her “happily uncool”, well-adjusted, mature, polite, intelligent, and faith-filled children to prove it.
She concludes, ”It’s not enough for me that my kids seem happy. It’s certainly not enough that they be considered cool or that they feel popular. It’s emphatically not enough to sell them short on character development in the name of social standing. My obligation to my children and to the God who created them calls me to expect much more” (303).