|For young Loren and Chelsea Brock, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" must've been a blast. Hanging out with Christian musicians. Slipping backstage at concerts. Rollerblading outside the edit bay while Mom produced award-winning music videos. But from the time Darlene and her husband, Dan, launched ForeFront Records in the late 1980s, Darlene's forays into the creative and business aspects of Christian music gave her girls a front row seat for much more than that. Loren and Chelsea also got to see a godly woman modeling the biblical principles they would need one day in their own lives. "Of all the jobs I accomplished," Darlene recalls, "the one I find to be most rewarding with lasting benefits is the job of mom." We spoke with Darlene about parenting daughters in the media age, and her unique perspective on entertainment's impact on adolescent girls.|
PI: There's a chapter in your book, Help Wanted: Moms Raising Daughters, about a mother's role as "media director" in her daughter's life. Early on you wrote, "We must recognize that there's not a single stronger source of influence on our daughters than the media." Want to unpack that for us a little bit?
DB: Certainly. Every influence has its impact. Media has the biggest. Media will shape her thoughts, her emotions, her expectations, whether she thinks there's some cute boy out there or some wonderful end of the story—or whether she's willing to let down guards you don't want her to let down. Media can influence that in her life, and will.
You've also blogged about television's rather narrow view of what young women should aspire to. What inspired that?
I was watching a television program where one attorney said to another, as the young attorney was exiting to be a wife and mother, "That's not what we worked for. That's not the glass ceiling we worked to break." I thought that was ironic, because I thought the "glass ceiling" or what that generation of women wanted to do was to enable a woman to make a choice and do anything she wanted.
So long as it's their choice.
Exactly! That's the ironic part of it. There's only one choice in some of their minds that's acceptable, when that's not true at all. If they were really sincere about what they were touting and what they were going for, it would be that the choice is broad, the choice is manied, and all of them have potential up sides and down sides.
And yet when our teenage daughters are seeing this repeated over and over from one perspective on prime time, what conclusion are they left to draw?
That if they're going to be of any worth or importance, they need to go after the career and become that career woman with the position and "importance." And anything less than that isn't worth very much.
You made an observation at this year's Grammy Awards that parents may want to share with their girls. Can you tell us about that?
If you watched the Grammys, you saw some female performers, one being Adele. She gets front-and-center, opens her mouth and can sing, like, unbelievable. Her talent is amazing. And that's just it. It's the rawness of her talent. She did not need all this "production." Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, surrounded herself with every prop, every special effect, every piece of wardrobe—or lack thereof—that you could put onstage to perform. And it was as if she was insignificant. Everything around her became important. I found that ironic, because girls should want the respect that the raw talent earns, as in Adele, versus the production that is anything but you. All of a sudden you are not worth anything. It's whatever you can put around you or achieve or put out. So a mother can walk away from a Grammy Awards like the one I'm speaking of and sit down with her daughter and ask, "Who got the standing ovation?" Well, Adele did. Adele got the standing ovation from a crowd that doesn't necessarily support true art. They might support success, but that night they supported true art.
That's a great observation. I think a lot of us are inclined to deal with artists independent of one another. It's one thing to break down lyrics to a song or album, which is important, but your Grammy experience illustrates how we can take teachable moments to another level.
I think if, as a parent, you lecture your child or only give them the dos and don'ts, you're not going to teach them to create their own dos and don'ts. You're simply gonna box them in. Your child will make mistakes just as you made mistakes. Don't expect anything less. But at the end of the day, if their heart is where it needs to be and they do ultimately make those good decisions, you've done a great job.
Teachable moments can happen at pretty much any time. We just don't know which ones will have the long-term impact. I love the story you tell about something that happened years ago while riding in the car with your father.
Oh, yes, when I got in trouble with my daddy. I was 13 or 14 years of age, and I got my dad to turn the radio on, and there was this pop song by Jonathan Edwards named "Sunshine." It was a nice little ditty, and I was singing in the back seat along with it, singing every single lyric in it. Now, my father in his entire life never said a foul word, and had a whole list of words that we were not allowed to say. Well, this song had one in it that he did not like. So instead of yelling at me or getting after me, he turned the radio down. I stopped. He said, "Keep singing, Darlene." I was so nailed. I had to sing the next line, which had a word in it he did not care for and we were not allowed to say. He didn't do or say anything else.
And by today's standards, it was a mild profanity, but it was enough that it really drove the point home, didn't it?
It did. And you're right, by today's standards it would've been innocuous, but not by my father's standards. And he really nailed me.
How does a parent find that delicate balance between protecting a child without being overprotective?
You have to protect, but you have to protect based on their age and temperament. And your goal is to prepare. So it's like an athlete. You are training them so that they can do it themselves. That means you're exercising some of those discretion muscles. You're helping them learn what they think is right and wrong—fundamentally what you think is right and wrong, but ultimately they have to make their own right and wrong choices as far as what's acceptable behavior. We did not let our daughters watch R-rated movies in high school. When my eldest turned 18 I said, "Well, at 18 technically you can watch them, and you're going to be leaving for college in about six months. I don't think you should, but the decision now is going to be yours, not mine." That child agonized and agonized. She'd come and ask, "Should I go to this movie or should I not?" I'd tell her, "It's not my decision. It's time for you. It's time for you to decide." She didn't go to that one because she couldn't bring herself to do it, but it made her ponder, "What do I think? Why would I think it?"
That's sort of what happens when our children reach legal drinking age. All the conversations we've had with them growing up will have a lot to do with whether they suddenly go wild and experience all the things they've been "deprived of," or if they'll have that voice in the back of their head that says, "Here's the way I need to think about alcohol." It's really no different when you're dealing with movies. We can lean on an arbitrary cut-off date: Now you're an adult. Now you have complete freedom. That's the wrong time to start imparting values, isn't it?
It is the wrong time. And I think the ironic part about the whole rating system is that no one knows who creates the system. No one knows who institutes the policies that make it G, PG, PG-13 or R. So we're following blindly if we go by that, alone, into a world created by people we don't even know. We don't know what their standards are. We don't know what's acceptable in their lives. Which is why we have to look at things individually and dissect it ourselves.
In your book, you break down show business into two types of people parents need to understand: performers and behind-the-scenes folks. How are they different, and why is it so important that we make that distinction as we help our kids navigate pop culture?
I think we need to humanize the industry. We tend to think of it as this evil blob that's coming to consume us, and it's really not. It really is made up of people. My eldest daughter is in the film business. You realize they're mothers, they're fathers, they're children. They deal with life and death. They're individuals, and they come in two types. One is the performer. That person has a need to be liked and accepted, so they get on that stage and put out who they are. And they're accepted or rejected by the consumer. So it's a personal thing. For the behind-the-scenes people, it's really based on money. If they don't make the money back, at some point they can't put out the movie. Again, that's determined by us.
How is that difference important in terms of the way we help our children perceive the culture?
We need to understand that they fill different roles. We adulate the performer. Our children look at them as if they're something special. We need to bring them down to a human level for our kids' sake so they don't look at something that's really false. And I have a heart for performers. I feel for them, because they're putting a lot on the line, especially when they're young performers. We step back as mothers and say, "Don't follow Britney Spears. And that's technically true, but she was a little girl who was not protected. So my heart hurts for her. I don't want to use her as a battering ram over my daughter's head, but rather have my daughter look at her life from a human point of view by saying, "This is the road she chose. Look where it led her. So don't do that."
You've lived on the other side, among the behind-the-scenes folks. I imagine there's a certain amount of pressure placed on performers by managers, record labels, film studios and so on. Talk about the pressures they feel to bring home the buck. Because I wouldn't think they're necessarily trying to exploit the performer, but they've got a job to do. And if they're not coming at it from a Christian worldview, it could very often turn into that, couldn't it?
Absolutely. The performer becomes the product. If the behind-the-scenes people don't approach it from a Christian worldview or even just a simple compassionate view, then the performer becomes a product only to be used for financial success.
You believe talented Christians can change entertainment—even mainstream entertainment—from the inside out, don't you?
I do, and I have a daughter who's intent on doing that. My eldest is living in L.A., working freelance in the film business—general market, not Christian film. She's working post-production and production. She'll go to a city for six months where they're filming, or go back to L.A. and work in the post-production facility. But she lives and works among, probably 90 percent lost people.
What advice did you offer her that girls out there with a similar dream might benefit from hearing?
When she left she went to college [in California] first, to Biola University. Great school. It had a film program, and we thought it might be the bridge. But we knew she wouldn't graduate, because her determination was, "I'm going into film." Parents need to go in with their eyes wide open. There will be points where their children step off, and you need to let them because they're following a road. Well, we were OK with that, but during her two years at Biola, every semester we wrestled with getting in as much Bible and film as possible before she jumped. My encouragement for her was, "Life is hard. You have two roads: Life is hard and you have it with the Lord, or life is hard and you have it without Him. The choice will be yours, and especially in the world you're going into, because it can be a dark, difficult industry. So you need to be able to do it with the Lord and you'll survive it. If you don't, it can eat you alive."
During your career in Christian music, you worked closely with artist's who've become good friends of ours here at Plugged In, including a terrific role model for girls, Rebecca St. James. She's something special, isn't she?
She is something special. She's the real deal.
What are some of the things that, from a young age, allowed Rebecca to withstand pressures in the music industry that have taken a toll on other young women, even Christian singers?
She was very much surrounded by people who protected her. Her family was around her. And at ForeFront Records, we chose a standard for our artists. We had expectations for the artists we signed, not just musically but for their choices. We wanted people who cared about what really should be cared about, not just the fame or the opportunity. So she was surrounded by that, but she was a pretty strong girl, too. From the moment we signed her when she was 15, she was pretty focused on who she wanted to be. I think that was part of Rebecca's personal success. … And I think it's a testament to correct parenting of a child who's destined to be on stage. That is a huge issue. Some parents who have talented children whom God has called to this road, they need to remain as parents. Some of them abdicate that position in light of their child's success. In Rebecca's life, it was the purest form of caring for their child well.
Another hurdle today's parents face is guiding their children through technology that wasn't around when they were growing up, so they don't even have the benefit of looking back at how their own parents handled it as a model. Things like texting or Facebook. Any advice along those lines?
As with any medium that comes into your child's life, do not be clueless. Even if you're in a learning curve, you need to learn it. When you text, what in the world do those characters mean that they just typed in there? And as in anything, how much time is it taking in their lives? How much is it consuming them? Monitor that. Protect them from that.
I know with boys we've seen a lot of research that says video games can be a real stumbling block. It seems more and more research is telling us that social networking, for girls, can have unique challenges associated with it, especially girls prone to play the comparison game. Have you been hearing anything along those lines?
Absolutely. I think social media is the ultimate acceptance or rejection platform, especially for preteen and teen girls. What if they don't have enough friends? What if somebody else has so many friends? What if their friends don't like what they say or post or whatever? It is an emotional minefield for girls who are already insecure from an acceptance level. It used to be, in middle school, just whether the middle school girls liked you or didn't like you. Now it's the whole electronic media world. It complicates that sense of acceptance. Somehow, parents need to get in and limit it enough that the exposure's not so great that a girl gets completely unnerved in her self-esteem.
There's a trend on YouTube now where some girls are posting videos with the question, "Am I pretty?" Of course, it's a brutal world out there, and many of these girls aren't prepared for the reaction they're likely to get from anonymous people on the Internet.
No, they're not. And the fact that they're actually allowed to put something like that up? Parents should be involved. Parents need to know what their child's posting. I'm a big believer in giving them enough privacy where they feel that their life is important enough that you're not invading every single moment, but you have to know what's going on. You have to know if your daughter's putting up something that's detrimental to her.
I would think, Darlene, that if a girl has to ask the world if she's pretty, she's not engaged enough with her parents and getting the kind of feedback she needs. Maybe that's why she's there in the first place.
It's true, and I think one of the missing factors in girls' lives are fathers. And the first premise of Am I pretty? Am I special? Am I worthy of someone else thinking that I'm their treasure? comes from a father. A lot of girls don't have that, and a lot of mothers don't recognize the fact that a little girl needs that. So I think it's important, if you're a single mother, to look for a gentleman, uncle or someone who can help your daughter from a male perspective gain some self-esteem, so she doesn't have to put herself in the marketplace looking for that. … And then once that's established, once she learns that she's worthy, then she doesn't tend to go toward the men who think she's not worth anything when she's 19, 20, 21. She says, "I know what I'm worth to a man. So if you're not going to treat me right, then you're not in my life."
As we wrap up, can you tell us a little about The Grit & Grace Project, and how people can keep up with your work?
The Grit & Grace Project is the company that my book, Help Wanted: Moms Raising Daughters, is launched under. And there are a couple other things coming. At a very young age I watched my great-grandmother exemplify two characteristics. One is grit. She was a tough woman. The other is grace. She was a compassionate woman even when people didn't deserve it. I've realized that we, as women, don't know what that is anymore—how to be strong and at the same time show grace and mercy. Many of us were brought up to think we either needed to be tough, on one hand, or so giving and nurturing that it was one extreme or the other. The truest sense of a female's nature that is successful and right is the combination of them: Know when to be strong and have the grit. Know when to offer the grace, including grace for yourself.
Published May 2013