If a Martian were to come down to earth, he would wonder how America has so prospered when it is so consumed with who Jennifer is now dating, and whether she has finally gotten over Brad (that's Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, in case you live on Mars).
The United States is a living contradiction. On the one hand, education is so important to us that approximately 60 percent of the population has gone to college. On the other hand, we burn our brain cells on the sordid lives of our even more sordid celebrities. The greatest democracy in the world endlessly examines whether Britney is wearing underpants. That we have allowed ourselves to devolve into such inanity is a national tragedy.
But beyond the misfortune of wasted potential, there are our children to think about. The most serious repercussion of our obsession with Hollywood is that celebrities have become our children's heroes. And what indeed are the repercussions of damaged narcissists being the personalities that our children most worship?
The foremost human desire from our youth is to love and be loved. From a child's earliest age he subconsciously ponders how he can obtain affection. Perhaps if he brings home good grades and cleans his bedroom, he will be loved. The primary role of a parent is to convey to our children that love is won through goodness. Virtue brings recognition, and righteousness brings appreciation. If you're kind to your friends and compassionate to your acquaintances, you will build meaningful relationships and will never be alone.
BUT ALONG come empty Hollywood celebrities and subvert that wholesome message. Attention, rather than love, is what the child should seek. Whereas love is purchased through responsibility, attention is acquired through recklessness.
The child witnesses how behaving badly and having a broken life gets you into the tabloids. Even worse, the child seeks attention for attention's sake, and so feeds his own growing narcissism. Attention at any cost is what has, according to Time magazine, 40 percent of our 12-year-old girls wearing thongs to schools, often with the underwear strap showing above their jeans. Self-absorption and materialism have our kids finding fulfillment by going to shopping malls, where they can purchase the latest styles, rather than loving a library, where they can acquire ancient wisdom.
By allowing our children to adopt shallow stars as their objects of worship, we parents have abrogated our responsibility of being heroes to our kids. Mothers and fathers, rather than singers and dancers, are meant to model morality for their children. Our children are supposed to watch us working hard to put food on their plates, watch us getting up early so we can buy them warm clothes. And in the process they are meant to learn that life is about sacrifice rather than selfishness, about offering love rather than obsessing over attention.
ON ONE episode of Shalom in the Home I found myself sitting in the bedroom of a 12-year-old girl who is distant from her father. The walls were covered with pictures of movie stars and recording artists. There was Lindsey Lohan, who has since checked into rehab, and Eminem, who has a penchant for calling women "whores."
I asked the sweet little girl who all these people were. She started to name them. I interrupted, "Oh, I know their names. They're famous. I was asking who they are to you. After all, they're on your wall. No doubt they're related to you in some way. Your uncles, aunts."
She laughed and told me that surely I knew they weren't related to her. I then asked, "Is there a picture of your father on your wall?" He was nowhere to be found. It had never even occurred to her to have a picture of her own father in her room. And yet her father was a driver who got up every morning at 4 a.m. and left the house by 5 in order to put in a 12-hour day to feed and clothe her. After dragging his weary bones home, he took a hammer and nails and fixed things that were broken around their home so his family could live in dignity. All this went unnoticed by his 12-year-old daughter, whose heroes were celebrities who didn't know she was alive.
But the daughter was only the victim. Her father was the culprit. It was he who never believed he had earned a place on that wall. He too had bought the lie that he didn't matter because he wasn't rich or famous. He also worshipped at the broken altar of our Hollywood gods. He, like so many husbands, spent the one night a week he had for a date with his wife taking her to the movies. He thought that while his own marriage to his wife wasn't worth discussing, Brad's relationship with Angelina was.
CHILDREN NEED wholesome heroes. They need to get goosebumps at - for instance - hearing of Washington's daring crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776, in a desperate gambit to reverse the wretched course of the American Revolutionary War. They need to be awed by the iron resolve of Abraham Lincoln to hold together the Union and free the slaves. They need to be taken to the mountaintop with the soaring oratory of Martin Luther King. That's why we teach our children history.
And they need to hear of how a righteous man named Abraham so loved humanity that he sparred even with God to spare the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. They need to read of a humble shepherd named Moses who brought wicked Egypt to its knees. And they need to feel the rhythm of David's beautiful songs that he sang to God with harp and lyre. That's why we teach our children religion.
More than anything else, our children need to see daily examples of heroism in action. The kind of heroism that causes a mother to spend a night washing dishes rather than watching TV, and a father helping with homework rather than having a beer. And that's why our children have parents.
It's time we parents asserted our rightful place as our children's heroes.
The writer is host of TLC-The Learning Channel's Shalom in the Home, which airs in the US every Sunday night at 7p.m. His new book, Shalom in the Home, has just been published by Meredith.