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My Deprived Kids

Some might say my children are deprived. For most of their childhood we have not had cable television. In the last two years I subscribed to the bare minimum of cable television in order to get a cable internet connection. (Our current home is not eligible for the phone company’s DSL service) We do not get MTV, Nickelodeon, Disney, or a host of other cable channels. For this reason we have avoided a large chunk of the ridiculous drivel that passes as television entertainment. Recently, I was listening to mothers discuss one of the latest reality shows that engages their daughters, MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen.

This show documents the “travails” of wealthy teen girls as they plan their over-the-top sweet sixteen parties. Of course, each of the girls is presented with a new car for her birthday. The parents tolerate pouting and ingratitude as the gross materialism fails to satisfy these spoiled divas’ expectations.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to see these excesses creep into the lives of the not so affluent. My daughter was recently invited to a “sweet sixteen” party that involved a Hummer limo transporting twenty girls to a dinner theater for an evening of food and entertainment. I walked into a convention center hotel recently and encountered a bevy of young girls in formals and young men in suits. I thought it might be a high school prom. No, this was another sweet sixteen party. Soon the honoree showed up in her limo complete with a sparkling tiara in her perfectly coiffed hair.

The good news is my own daughter turned sixteen a few months ago. Her birthday was a gathering of a few girls for a sleep over and rented movies. I made her birthday cake and decorated it with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitar motif. The girls were all modestly dressed. There were no excessive piercings or tattoos. There were simple gifts, classic rock on the stereo, and plenty of laughter.

How did I get away with such a modest affair? I guess we have never indulged in excessive material celebrations so there was no reason to expect anything different now. Not having cable television, attending Mass every Sunday, expecting children to speak to adults with a respectful “yes ma’am” or “yes sir” impressed on my children that we set our own standards and do not march to the drum of society at large. This family resistance to lower cultural norms has helped the kids resist the individual pressure of their peers.

My kids are not perfect. However, with a great deal of prayer and vigilant parenting we are getting through our third teenager without a significant rebellion or behavioral crisis. I do wish their rooms were neater. I wish the boys would drive a little slower. But for the most part, I really enjoy my teens. They have not turned into monsters. They have grown into young adults that are interesting to talk to. They cherish their faith. They seek to serve. Maybe a little “deprivation” is a good thing.


Michelle said…
Yes, kids need to be deprived! I've found over the past few years that my automatic reply to any request is "no." I remember my parents saying no to everything too, and in my teen years learned to present a better proposal (hint: whining didn't work and, in fact, generally led to a no). In the real world, the answer is usually no too, so I think this is the best training for adulthood.
bookstopper said…
For most of my childhood, I had no cable. My parents probably didn't want to deal with the gross materialism in our society, although the same thing is on normal TV. Most cable entertainment is reruns of old shows or second-rate movies that couldnt' make it on network TV.

We had relatively little sympathy for families who were starving but had enough money for the cable bill each month. As a result, we had most everything we wanted, even though we had far less money than the parents of the rich girls on the show.

From my experience, whenever I wanted something, I'd talk to my parents about it. If it was useful, I'd explain the logic about why we needed it. If it was frivolous, it was a crap shoot as to whether I'd actually get it. From the time I was about 12, that wasn't so much of a problem as I had my first job (only on weekends), which was enough to allow me some spending money.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like your kids are being seriously deprived of nonessentials. Tsk. Tsk.
We were not poor, just didn't have much money. We were probably the last family in the neighborhood to have a television set. Now, many years later, I find that a lifetime of work hasn't allowed much of a nestegg, and when the TV burnt out a couple of years ago, it was not replaced. You know, I don't miss it, instead, I continued an interrupted college education, finally completing a BA and and MA. My son is excelling in school, three foster children do not appear harmed by lack of TV and "no" as necessary,we are going to visit historic places and observe geography during a two-week camping vacation. And my nieces have all gone back to school, one becoming a nurse; I like to think they got the idea from their uncle.
What can be said of such deprived people? Good citizens? Good Christians? How can one ask for more?
Barb, sfo said…
My neighbor put it well, when I mentioned that some 8th-graders in my son's class had arrived at their graduation dinner-dance in a limo: "Those people have more money than brains."
I want my kids to know that simple fun (that they make themselves) is most often the best fun. Their friends have always commented that we have the best birthday parties. Countercultural for sure: they're IN OUR HOME, with homemade cake, and games and crafts (when they're younger).

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