How can you protect your daughter's innocence? Author and mother of three, Dannah Gresh, talks about the importance of creative play, unplugging your child from the media, and helping your daughter grow up.
How can you protect your daughter's innocence? Author and mother of three, Dannah Gresh, talks about the importance of creative play, unplugging your child from the media, and helping your daughter grow up.
Bob: What kind of rules or standards do you have at your house for what your children can and can’t watch on television or in movies? Dannah Gresh says it’s important to have some standards in place.
Dannah: Fifty five percent of tween kids who see mildly sexual content on television, maybe PG or PG-13 movies with just a little bit of that stuff in there, 55% of them are sexually active between the ages of 14 and 16, compared to 6% when they haven’t seen that stuff. That’s huge. And there’s just statistic after statistic that says that we really should be careful about what our kids see.
Bob: This is FamilyLifeToday for Thursday, April 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Dannah Gresh joins us today to talk about what we can do as parents to help protect and preserve our children’s innocence and purity.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious. I have to wonder whether our guest has taken any heat for the title of this book. I mean, as parents we want to protect our children’s innocence, but I can imagine some moms and dads read the title of a book called Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl and they think, “Oh, you just want to shelter her and have her never grow up.” Right?
Dennis: Well, let’s ask her. Dannah Gresh joins us on FamilyLife Today. Dannah, welcome back.
Dannah: Thank you. It’s good to be back.
Dennis: Taken any heat?
Dannah: Well, the funny thing is the title I don’t take heat on, because in almost every mom there’s a little bit of that female intuition that says “I think something’s off here in our culture. I just don’t know why, but I think maybe my daughter shouldn’t be wearing a miniskirt and a belly ring,” but she doesn’t know why.
Where I begin to take heat is where we get into the six specific areas where the research proves that there’s risk associated with letting our daughters grow up too fast in these areas. The worst one, really, is the first one, when I take a stand about what kind of dolls they should or should not be playing with.
Bob: Now wait. You’re saying that to protect your child’s innocence into her teen years you need to pay attention to the doll house?
Dannah: That’s exactly what I’m saying. I should back up by saying that one of the most powerful developers of self control in a child is imaginative play, which, if you look at how kids play today, is almost non-existent. People didn’t use to think of play in terms of an object, a toy. They used to think of it in terms of “open the door and let the kids out.” And they went outside and they created cowboys and Indians, or moms and dads with families, or all kinds of things.
The thing that happens when our kids experience that is they begin to self-regulate. If, for example, a little girl is role-playing mom, and she’s making sand pancakes and the sand pancake tower falls down, she says to herself, “I really feel like throwing the shovel at the kids, but I’m not sure that’s what a mom would do.” Seriously, that is self-regulation, executive function in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain being enacted. And that is what teaches our kids as adults to have self-control.
Dennis: Dannah, you actually quote a study in your book that compared a child in the 1940s to a child in 2001. That’s fascinating.
Dannah: Yes, it was fascinating. I don’t know if this is what it’s called, but I call it “The Great Standing Still Study.” In the 1940s they took three-year-olds, five-year-olds and seven-year-olds, and they asked them to just stand still. There would be a reward at the end if they could stand still.
Three-year-olds couldn’t do it, five-year-olds could give you three minutes, seven-year-olds were indefinite. They would stand there up to an hour if they needed to for the reward.
In 2001, three-year-olds still couldn’t do it, five-year-olds behaved like three-year-olds; they could not stand still, and seven-year-olds could only stand still for a total of three minutes. So in not having that imaginative playtime that kids used to have in the olden golden days, they were losing some of that executive function, or self control.
Bob: So, are you saying “Send them out in the back yard. Don’t let them play with dolls?” Are you saying that dolls are a good way to engage in that kind of imaginative play? Are you pro-doll or anti-doll?
Dannah: I am pro-doll.
Dannah: Dolls are really an important way for little girls to experience not only imaginative play, but play that develops a value for family and nurturing and motherhood. Now in the ages of maybe two to five, I call that the copycat phase of moral development, a little girl should have just a baby doll that she can feed a bottle and change its diapers. She just wants to hold it and cuddle it because she sees Mom nurturing so she wants to be a nurturer. And still little girls today tend to want and moms tend to buy those kind of dolls for two- to five-year-olds.
But in the six to 11 year range is when the risk starts to happen, and I see some things that I’m very concerned about. That’s more the counseling phase. That’s when our kids start to ask ‘Why?” “Why do we do things the way we do?” “Why is a man married to a woman?” “Why does Daddy go to work and Mommy stays home?”
All these important questions – just something as simple as “Why can’t I have a popsicle before dinner?” These questions develop moral values. During those years moms tend to get caught up in the more popular sensual-looking dolls. I don’t want to be – well, I will be happy to step on some toes today.
Bob: Oh, here we go. Here we go. Just before we go any further, you might want to go to the bedroom and get your Barbie collection set aside. Because you’re not real big on Barbie, right?
Dannah: I’m not a huge Barbie fan, and I do have Barbies from my childhood that are still in my attic. And I’m not a big Bratz doll fan. I’m not a big Monster – the Monster Girls doll fan - they’re kind of sensual looking. They’re wearing the fishnet stockings and the miniskirts, but they have kind of a vampire, dark look to them.
Let me tell you why. When they play with dolls that look more sexual, they tend to have a knowledge that they’re supposed to be catching something. Even some of the most left-leaning thinkers, some of the people whose work I’ve studied, they have agreed with me on this doll stuff.
Susan Linn is one who gets on interviews constantly and apologizes profusely for what she’s about to say about dolls, because she’s pro-choice and she believes that women can be empowered and feminists and all this kind of thing, but I really do see that little girls who play with Bratz dolls or the more sexual dolls, tend to have – she says “they are put on a conveyer belt to sexuality.”
Dannah: Barbie. Could I just tell you the other bone that I’d like to pick with Barbie is that she’s not physically possible.
Bob: Well, I understand that.
Dannah: I mean, her neck would be nine inches long. She’d be so top-heavy she’d have to walk on all fours. I mean, there’s that other standard of unattainable beauty there.
Bob: But you know how many people we’ve got listening who go, “I grew up, you grew up playing with Barbies.”
Dannah: I did.
Bob: Did it hurt you?
Dannah: Well, I don’t know. Am I okay?
Dennis: Well, no, now we’re laughing about that, but the first time you appeared on FamilyLife Today?
Dennis: It was around your story.
Dannah: A lot of hurt in my story. I did end up on a conveyer belt to early sexual activity, and it broke my heart.
Dennis: You know, here’s what I would say to someone who’s kind of pushing back from the radio and who hasn’t turned it off yet. I’d just say you have to take a step back in this culture and just say, “Am I going to be a part of the mindless masses that just enter into a line that get funneled through hearing all these messages and allow my children to hear the same without regard to the consequences of where these choices are leading us as a nation?”
We are sexualizing our kids at earlier and earlier ages, and we have to push back and go, “As parents, will we be the parents? Will we appropriately protect the modesty, the innocence, the spiritual condition of our children?”
Bob: One of the more popular lines of dolls today has a little controversy with it. That’s the American Girl line of dolls. First you have to be able to qualify for a small loan at the bank to buy them, but then the company – there’s controversy around the values of that particular company. From a pure doll standpoint I would think you would say that’s the kind of approach you want to take to creative play with your daughters, right?
Dannah: Right. From a pure doll standpoint, yes. And you know what I did when I found out that American Girl was funding organizations that were really the antithesis of my moral values? I found dolls that looked like American Girls that cost a quarter as much. And you know what? My daughter loved them just as much.
Dennis: I want to go on to the second way to keep the little in your girl. When I read this one, I have to tell you, Dannah, I said, “Really?”
Dannah: You’re going to talk about this one?
Dennis: I know I’m a guy, and it’s not a guy thing, obviously. It’s something that a young lady only experiences, but why is this important to helping your daughter grow up?
Dannah: And you’re going to make me say it.
Dennis: I am going to make you say it.
Dannah: Well, way number two is celebrate her body by punctuating her period. I think this is one of the most critical areas of moral development because it gives us an opportunity as moms to speak into the value of life.
Here’s one of the things that scared me as I polled moms as I was writing this chapter. I asked them, “How many of you had a really frightening experience that first month?” So many of them said that they did, and my research found that something like 40% to 45% of women experienced their first month of menstruation – Yikes, I can’t believe I said that word – and never knew about it.
Bob: Never knew what was going on?
Dannah: Never knew it was coming.
Bob: Nobody prepared them for it.
Dannah: Nobody prepared them for it. So what I chose to do when my daughter was younger, when she was about nine years old was I took a very radically different approach. I found four of my friends and I asked them if we could try something new.
I took them into a room after several weeks of building up friendship and opening the Word of God on other less-scary topics, and we showed a little video of a pregnant woman. We were able to see photos of the baby in utero, which were amazing. We spent just a long time talking about that, opening the Scriptures and getting the girls so excited about this.
Then we said, “God is soon going to begin to prepare your bodies,” and then we brought out the basket of all the girls’ stuff, including chocolate. And we just talked about all these different things, and we said “This is going to happen.” Do you know that every one of those girls – there were five of them – came to us in great celebration. They wanted to tell their moms, their dads, their brothers, because they thought this was a beautiful gift from God.
Dennis: That’s amazing!
Dennis: It’s part of the reason why we created Passport to Purity, which is a weekend getaway for a mother/daughter or a father/son. In Passport to Purity, one of the CDs in there is an hour-long conversation with my wife, Barbara, and a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old young lady talking with her mother about what to expect. It talks about a woman’s body. It doesn’t talk about a young lady’s body in a shaming way, but it talks about it in a way that honors God, because he’s the one that made us male and female.
Dannah: Passport to Purity is one of my favorite products to recommend to moms of older tweens and young teens, and I think every mom and every dad should do that with their son and daughter.
Dennis: I do, too. There shouldn’t be any 40% of the young ladies whose moms listen to this broadcast enter into puberty without having known in advance what’s about to happen to them.
What’s the third way you can help keep the little in your girl?
Dannah: Well, if I could just say that this third one was really hard for me to write about, because I think as a mom I haven’t done well with it. It is unplug her from a plugged-in world.
If I could just say one thing to the mom or even the dad that’s listening that says “I’m such a failure. I’ve given them all the wrong dolls to play with; I haven’t talked to them about their period.” I have felt that way, too.
Writing this book was a great conflict for me because I knew that talking to your kids about what they watch and what they listen to is so critical, but it’s an area where my husband and I bear a lot of guilt because we haven’t done things as well as we would have liked.
Dennis: Well you’ve said that twice now.
Dennis: What haven’t you done?
Dannah: Well, as I was writing it and some of the guidelines and some of the risk associated that I learned about in the research – for example, my kids haven’t experienced this, per se, but 55% of tween kids who see mildly sexual content on television, maybe PG or PG-13 movies with just a little bit of that stuff in there, 55% of them are sexually active between the ages of 14 and 16, compared to 6% when they haven’t seen that stuff.
Dannah: That’s huge. And there’s just statistic after statistic that says that we really should be careful about what our kids see.
Bob: Dannah, this is the point, though, where a lot of moms and dads will hear you and they’ll say, “Okay this is one of those sell the TV and move to the country” kinds of statements that says, “Throw up your hands and hide in the cave and hope that it all works out when you come out.”
Dannah: Well, if I could just throw myself out there to be potentially crucified, my family has watched during some seasons American Idol.
Dennis: What you don’t realize is Bob and I, we didn’t do it with our kids, but Bob and I both have watched American Idol. I don’t hold any stones to throw at you for watching American Idol. Are you finding there’s a push-back?
Dannah: Some people do, just by virtue of the name.
Bob: I tried out but I wasn’t able – I was too old to get on. I think I would have done great if I’d just passed the age.
Dennis: I mean, American Idol is one thing. Cell phones and sexting are another.
Dannah: Well, but even – if I could just say, American Idol gives you an opportunity as parents to talk about the lifestyles of the different contestants, what are their values, why do we agree with them, why do we disagree with them? There are times during some of the seasons where we’ve had to turn the TV off because some of the stuff that was on TV was not appropriate.
So I just want you to know that your kids don’t have to be monks, but they do have to be discerning. And I think that talking to them about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate and when Bikini Girl came on on American Idol, turning it off. That helps them understand that sexting probably isn’t a good idea either.
Dannah: If we’re not looking at a girl in a bikini, we probably shouldn’t be looking at a girl with nothing.
Bob: I think one of the big issues here is the amount of time that’s devoted to all kinds of media. You talk about it being a plugged-in world: our kids are almost never unplugged. They’re in their room listening to music on their iPod or on their computer, they’re watching TV, they’re on the computer while they’re listening to music on their iPod or on their computer. It’s just everywhere all the time.
Dannah: You know what’s one of the most mind-blowing things I found as I was writing this book, is that the people creating this stuff aren’t letting their kids see it.
Eminem didn’t let his daughter –
Bob: You’re not talking the candy, you’re talking the rapper.
Dannah: Eminem the rapper, not the –
Dennis: Well, some of our listeners don’t know who that is.
Bob: I just wanted to clarify.
Dennis: Yeah. I’m glad you did.
Dannah: He has some very sexual and sometimes violent lyrics, very terrible language. He wouldn’t let his daughter listen to that, so he created clean versions for her. Madonna didn’t let her kids watch TV. She didn’t want them to see the filth of her in her lesbian kiss with Britney. She wouldn’t let her daughter see that. She took her out of the audience for that particular part of the show. Because they know the impact; they know that what our kids see they want to be and they want to mirror.
Just look at E.T. and the sales of Reese’s Pieces, after just making a little trail for a little alien to follow. Our kids will act on what they see and hear and we have to be careful about what they see and hear.
Dennis: So what age do you allow your daughters to have a cell phone?
Dannah: Well, too early. That was one of my regrets. My son got his when he got his driver’s license, and because it was cheap and we were on a family plan, so did my daughter.
Dennis: At 16.
Dannah: She was 13.
Dannah: Lexi and – we got Autumn shortly after that, adopted her – and she got one right away because – and I would have, if I had it to do over again, I would have waited until they got their drivers’ license, too.
Bob: But there are parents who are listening to us now, and their 13-year-olds or 12-year-olds or 10-year-olds have got a cell phone and they go, “It’s a great device for keeping track of my kids, knowing where they are, being able to get in touch with them.”
Dannah: It is a great device, and as soon as they have wheels, I want you to have that ability to control everywhere they are and know everywhere they are. But here’s my concern, what I regret as a mom.
The value system of my kids is being developed up until the age of 13, and then we’re coaching them, because they’ve already had that planted. You’re too late if you start talking about sex and drugs and everything when they’re 13. They’ve already got a value system before that, whether you like it or not.
So from the age of about 13 to 16, I need to be so in contact with them so that I can coach them through the decisions that they’re making to live out their moral value system. And so what I think a cell phone does with texting and all that kind of thing is it removes their need of you. I regret that, personally.
Dennis: And also texting is more difficult to monitor.
Dannah: Monitor, yes.
Dennis: No doubt about that, and then sexting comes next. You quote a study in your book that said girls as young as ten have received sext messages, and girls as young as twelve have sent them. And then you ask the question, “What factors motivate it?” 82% say it’s to get attention, 59% say it’s to make them popular, and 55% say it’s to get a boyfriend. Now, we all know that’s what makes the world go ‘round in terms of young people and their sexual attraction to one another.
What you’re saying is, as parents we ought to take a step back and say, “What kind of devices do we want to put in the hands of our kids to allow them to be plugged in to a worldwide communication system that could be dangerous for their lives?”
As parents, I think we’ve got to remain the parents. It’s back to what I said earlier. You cannot abdicate your responsibility as a mom and a dad. You’re not running a popularity contest. You’re not trying to be like everybody else. In fact, if your kid isn’t saying, “Oh, Mom, Dad! Everybody does that, everybody gets to have it,” you’re probably flexing way too much.
Bob: And there’s the verse I’m thinking of here in Ephesians 5 that says, “Look carefully then how you walk.” And that’s a great verse for parents. Be careful about how you walk and how you lead and how you guide, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are” – what?
Bob: “The days are evil.” We live in what the Bible calls “an evil age,” and we’ve got to be on the alert as parents. I think it helps to get the kind of coaching that we’ve had here today and that, Dannah, you provide in your book Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl, which we’ve got in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center, along with your book of Eight Great Dates for Moms and Daughters to talk about beauty and fashion and modestyand the other issues that are about to emerge on the radar screen for your daughter if she’s a pre-tween or a tween-age girl.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Six Ways to Keep the Little in Your Girl, and Eight Great Dates for Moms and Daughters. Dennis, you mentioned the Passport to Purity resource earlier in today’s program. We’ve got that in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center as well. A lot of parents have found that to be very helpful as they prepare their children for the issues they’re going to face in adolescence.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about any of these resources. Or if it’s easier, just pick up the phone and call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.” When you get in touch with us, we’ll let you know how you can get a hold of any of these resources and we’ll make arrangements to send them out to you.
Quickly I want to remind our listeners that today and tomorrow are the last two opportunities you’ll have to register for the upcoming 2012 FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise that we’ll be hosting Valentine’s week, February 13-17, leaving from Miami, heading to Grand Bahama Island, to Nassau and to Great Stirrup Cay. We’ll be stopping at those locations, and onboard the boat we’ll have Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Voddie Baucham, Gary Thomas, the author of Sacred Marriage.
We’ll also have musicians like Matthew West and the Annie Moses Band and Michael O’Brien and country music singer Paul Overstreet, all of these folks joining us for what will be a fun getaway for couples, next year, Valentine’s week. If you sign up today or tomorrow, [it’s] your last opportunity to identify as a FamilyLife Today listener, and to qualify for a $200 discount on the cruise by typing my name into the promo code box. You have to type “BOB” into the box in order to take advantage of the special offer.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click on the link to the Love Like You Mean It Cruise, sign up, be sure to include my name in the promo code box, and plan to be with us when we set sail next year for the FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise.
And I hope you can be back with us tomorrow. Dannah Gresh is going to be here again, and we’re going to continue talking about how we preserve innocence and purity in the lives of our children, particularly our daughters, so I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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