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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2003 / 28 Shevat, 5763

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Guess what? Parents do know better than kids


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In a current advertisement for the popular Mentos mints, a young teenage girl and her boyfriend are passionately kissing in her bedroom.

Uh-oh, Mom and Dad pull into the driveway. They are obviously back a lot earlier than expected. Panic ensues, and the young lovers are flummoxed until she pops a Mentos mint - and the light bulb goes on. The music plays the refrain "fresh goes better with life," and by the time Mom and Dad put their heads into their little girl's room to check on her, they see what they think is their daughter and her girlfriend in bathrobes, hair wrapped in towels, and green beauty "mud-masks" on their faces.

Mom and Dad smile and start to close the door. But Mom rethinks the situation and looks back in, this time noticing the hairy legs and men's sneakers coming out of bathrobe No. 2.

Appalled? No - their teenage daughter and her consort who is, let's face it, interested in the young beauty's body and not her thoughts on the Iraq situation, have presumably disobeyed her parents and certainly deceived them.

But no matter - don't teens know best anyway? Mom simply smiles back knowingly at the pair. All is right in the Mentos mint world.

Over at Tide detergent, it's similar if less graphic. A single mom is heading out on a date. But first while fixing dinner for her teenage kids, she spills ketchup on her shirt - Tide to the rescue. Later, as she's returning home Mom wonders to herself, "Is it all right to kiss on the first date?" Then she spies her kids inside the house and comes up with the answer. "I know. I could always ask my daughter," she muses with relief.

Aren't these teenage gals the best? Moms and dads are such bumblers, if well-meaning, of course. Good thing we have those knowing youngsters around.

The movie "The Patriot," with Mel Gibson, was roundly criticized because its colonial youngsters used guns to fight the British. And no advertisement would dare portray a teenager smoking a cigarette, even in the process of selling to kids a different, perfectly appropriate product. Very recently, Kraft foods pulled a TV spot for Oreo cookies because it depicted a "too-sedentary situation" according to Advertising Age magazine. The ad showed teens hanging out and eating too many of America's favorite treat, and in this age of obesity awareness, that's a no-no. By the same token, so is showing a child in a car without being properly belted, or riding a bicycle without a helmet.

Ah, but kids and sex? And kids who know better than their parents, particularly kids who know better than their parents about kids and sex? Well, all of that is "in in in."

Mentos mints had a "no comment" when I asked them about their ad. But what is there to say, anyway? This isn't about Mentos or Tide detergent, or any product. It's about a culture where parents are seen as virtually useless except as a cheerleader for their child's self-esteem.

The idea that parents actually know better than their kids, that they have wisdom that their children need in order to thrive, is so passe. The ancient notion that parents should be an authority in their child's life for the well-being of their children is so, well, "old-fashioned."

Aren't we "beyond" all that?

Not in my family.

And that's what it comes down to. Outraged phone calls to offending companies aren't the answer. Answering for our own kids is.

My husband and I don't always try to shield our kids from the culture. We do try to help them think rightly about it. So, for instance, when I'm watching the "Brady Bunch" reruns with my four little ones on "TV Land" and the Mentos ad appears, we talk about how that pretty girl and her boyfriend are deceiving her parents, and how that puts her outside the zone of their protection. In fact we often talk about how our culture typically portrays parents as pretty silly, and that that could leave a lot of kids outside the "zone of protection" their parents can, and should, provide for them.

Parents who feel the same way can't just rail against the culture. Especially when it comes to our own kids, we have to be a lot bolder than that. We have to be the culture.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.

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