Someone to Admire?

It’s not unusual to read about celebrity meltdowns and their falls from grace.  In the last couple of weeks, we’ve gotten to read about Billy Ray  Cyrus’ regrets about his daughter, Miley, and her slide into infamy, as well as the complete unhinging of Charlie Sheen.  There’s plenty to say about the gleeful schadenfreude that people are taking part in – poking fun at the involved parties, laughing and passing on bizarre quotes from various places –  but what I’ve been thinking of has been the idea of heroes, especially for our children.

My girls watch limited TV, mostly consisting of a few kids’ shows and the few offerings EWTN has for girls their ages.  They have movies, naturally, and a Wii console with games that include a few Guitar Hero games.  But we really limit the kinds of shows, movies, and games (even which songs within those band games) that they’re exposed to.  Most parents I know are, even if our girls think we are much more strict than other parents.

But one thing we’ve never let the girls get into watching is the tween and teen shows on Disney and Nickelodeon.  When they got to be old enough to be a part of the target market for those shows, I sat down and watched some of the popular ones, especially on Disney.  What I saw bothered me enough to say “no way” to watching the shows.

Hannah Montana was filled with smart-mouthed teens and the typical so-stupid-you-aren’t-sure-how-they-got-there adults.  This general character development is typical for all shows of this genre, but Hannah and her buddies were so fresh to the adults – without any adult objecting to it – that I didn’t want her in my house.

I watched some of The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and discovered that, in addition to the deplorable example of respect for your elders, we had a setup where divorced, wealthy parents abdicated their responsibilities and left their sons to grow up, pampered and given their every wish, in a hotel.  Or cruise ship.  Depending on the season you’re watching. (A closer look shows that the hotel one was actually based on their mother being the bar lounge singer, but appearances by parents are rare; the show I watched, admittedly, was on the cruise ship, where the boys were sent off without parents.  I guess for a vacation?)

But everywhere I looked, I saw kids with little adult interaction.  When they did happen upon an adult, said adult was slow-witted and spoken to ask though he were a rotten little kid who deserved no respect.  Conversely, the adults ask for no respect and are all buddies with the teens on the shows.

I’m about to sound like everyone’s favorite old lady, but I remember when I was my older daughter’s age – sixth to seventh grade – and we would watch shows like Cosby, Family Ties, Silver Spoons.  Kids didn’t get away with sassing adults like they do incessantly on today’s geared-for-kids shows.

So we don’t let these bratty children into our home via television.  And if that makes our girls odd-men-out, then so be it.

What’s interesting is the situation many parents are in when it comes to the rise and fall of the stars of these shows.  It’s been happening for much longer with sports’ stars, as far as I know; Tiger cheats – serially – on his wife, Kobe is accused of rape, Le Bron acts like a big poopyhead by not letting his boss know he’s quitting until he announces it on TV, Carmello Anthony whines and cries until he gets traded to the Knicks, football players galore beat women, knock them up, insist they get abortions, get into bar fights … the list could go on forever.

You don’t even have to be into sports or kids’ TV to see this, either.  A quick look at the world of politics garners the same results.  Someone cheats on his wife, another one takes bribes, those six dozen didn’t pay taxes (and won’t go to jail) … It never ends this way, too!

It’s easy to see that the Fallen Nature of our world affects people of all stripes.

And this is where you start seeing helpful news stories: “How do you help your kids understand and process the news stories that we’re shoving down your throat about [fill in celebrity name here] ?”

It’s a good question, really, but it’s looking at this whole thing from the wrong angle.  What we really need to be asking ourselves is this:

Who do your children look up to as heroes and why?

For us, we’ve never pointed out celebrities or sports stars or politicians as heroes to our kids.  At first, it just didn’t seem right to do anything other than say, “Wow.  Look what they can do!”  Obviously, we don’t shield the girls from Tiger Woods’ abilities in golf or Ben Roethlisberger’s abilities as a quarterback or how well someone can sing or act, or even from the political success of a person.  But that’s where the praise ends.  We don’t get into trying to get them to be just like this or that person a whole lot.

Sure, we’ll compare the work involved.  “If you really want to be a soccer star, it means practicing for hours every single day,” or “Being a singer means really working on your music, practicing with exercising your voice.” That kind of perseverance is commendable.

But for real heroes, we’ve always pointed the girls in a different direction: that of the Saints.

Do you love to dance, like my 9 year old? You could be friends with Saint Genesius, an actor who was anti-Christian and had a sudden conversion.  He was martyred for his new faith when he refused to renounce it.

Do you love sports, like my 12 year old? Saint Sebastian is a patron saint for athletes and sports.

Musicians look to Saint Cecilia for patronage, librarians to Saint Catherine of Alexandria.  Women who have suffered from a miscarriage can find solace in asking Saint Catherine of Sienna for prayers.

Are you worried about your daughter maintaining her purity? Teach her about the courageous life of Saint Maria Goretti, a girl who was murdered as she fended off a rapist.  (Not only that, she forgave him completely on her deathbed.  So did her mother, who, after he was released from prison, took him in until he entered a monastery.)

Do you want your son to stand up for his faith in the face of persecution? Saint Maximilian Kolbe‘s story is one to tell.  Imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II for the crime of being a priest, he stepped forward and offered his life in exchange for that of a married man who was randomly chosen to die.

Are you concerned that, perhaps, your child is a bit too materialistic?  Look to Saint Francis of Assisi for an example of someone who found more pleasure in abandoning his material possessions for a life totally dedicated to God.  (That’s right, the birdbath guy.  He’s so much more than that!)  Think your daughter can’t relate to a young man in that case? How about Francis’ dear friend Clare? She ran away from home – her home in a castle as a nobleman’s daughter – in order to live a life of poverty, praying constantly and doing God’s work.

Are you concerned that your child has run wild and she doesn’t think there’s redemption for her? Introduce her to Saint Mary of Egypt.

The point here is that there are real heroes to have, and they are the ones who have attained our ultimate goal: Heaven!

No matter how much my daughters might want to be dancers or soccer stars or singers or mothers, their top goal is Heaven.  And what better role models can they have but those who have run the race and won?  Who better than the Communion of Saints in Heaven?

I asked my girls who they look up to, and they fumbled a little.  Finally, my nine year old asked me, “Do you mean only alive people, or dead ones, too?”  Anyone, I assured her.

“OH!” she squealed. “Well, then, Saint Therese, for sure.  She’s my favorite, and I want to be just like her.  But I also want to be like you, Mommy.”  She went on to talk about a couple of other saints.

My older daughter, too, came up with several saints’ names.

To me, this shows me I’ve done pretty well so far.  I want them to look up to our brothers and sisters in Heaven.  I want them to be friends with those who are closest friends with God.  I want them to read about someone like Saint Scholastica and be inspired to live holy lives.

My kids have heroes, but I don’t have to worry about them falling from grace.  And, for that, I’m grateful.

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