Young People Know Best
In his important and widely praised 1992 book entitled, Hollywood Vs. America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers), Michael Medved includes a chapter entitled "Kids Know Best." After demonstrating in earlier chapters the relentless anti-marriage and pro-promiscuity messages of the film industry, Medved goes on in this chapter to show how popular culture also helps to poison the relationship between parents and children.
"No notion has been more aggressively and ubiquitously promoted in films, popular music, and television than the idea that children know best – that parents are corrupt, hypocritical clowns who must learn decency and integrity from their enlightened offspring" (p. 147).
He continues by stating that
"Teenagers in particular are portrayed as the ultimate source of all wisdom, sanity, and sensitivity and our one hope for redeeming the world from the terrible mistakes of the benighted generations that preceded them" (p. 147).
The basic idea of many contemporary productions is that while parents may be well-intentioned, their opinions and advice are usually useless and irrelevant. Parents come across as "bumblers and bozos" (p. 148).
In other productions, parents are portrayed in a far more sinister light. Nightmarishly dysfunctional families become the norm for the entertainment of the youth. Abusive fathers and disinterested mothers in film after film create the impression that nearly all children are saints martyred at the hands of evil adults (pg. 149). The persistent message that comes through is that Dad and Mom are at fault for the problems of the youth and the world.
Medved asserts that in
"film after film, children assume the task of improving the character and correcting the defects in their often pathetic progenitors" (parents).
It is the children and the young people who get the older generation back on the right track. About one film, Back to the Future, we read:
"In the peculiar universe of this motion picture, adults have everything to learn from childhood, but kids can gain nothing of value from their parents" (p. 151).
According to Medved, Hollywood's infatuation with super kids and superfluous adults shows up even in the best-crafted and most-loved “family films." (p. 153).
- "The top-grossing film in movie history offers a classic expression of the kids-know-best theme: in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982), adults are all insensitive or cruel to the visitor from outer space, and the children must band together to rescue the peaceful emissary from the Great Beyond…"
- The Little Mermaid (1990) won well-deserved praise for its glorious animation and irresistible music, but the story line effectively encouraged children to disregard the values and opinions of their parents" (p. 153).
Let me conclude this summary of "Kids Know Best" with the following quotation:
"The portrayal of parents as irrelevant – or outright evil – has become so pervasive in every corner of our popular culture that we have begun to take for granted as a harmless convention of mass entertainment. We blithely assume that our children can absorb innumerable images of inept and idiotic parents in movies, television, and popular songs, while remembering at all times that their own mother and father are completely different. We dangerously underestimate the impact of an omnipresent popular culture that repeatedly reassures our kids that they instinctively know better than the tired losers of the older generation" (p. 154-155).
My advice to the youth of today is: "Lighten up!" What a heavy burden popular culture lays upon you! Instead of being able to rely on the sound advice and counsel of your parents, you have to be the way-showers for the older generation. It's hard enough to grow up without the extra burden of having to correct and save wayward members of the older generation from their own folly. According to popular culture, there is no traditional truth and wisdom for you to consult. You are on your own. No signposts, no guidelines, but only your own instincts to guide you. The Church and society depend on the purity of your heart and your innate wisdom to overcome the follies of your parents.
Medved doesn't discuss the impact of the "kids know best" philosophy on observance of the fifth commandment. However, the overall drift of popular culture leads to the conclusion that it is best to dishonour and disrespect your parents instead of honouring them. Since parents are ignorant buffoons, why submit to their instruction and discipline, much less bear patiently with their weaknesses and shortcomings (Lord's Day 39)?
The truth of Scripture is that young people do not know best. While Hollywood tries to show that children are pure and naturally good (until corrupted by the adult world), the Bible teaches that children are born in sin; they enter the world with a bias against God and against His law; built right into young people's unsaved nature is a defiance toward divine wisdom. Instead of being sources of wisdom and purity and direction for society, the Bible says that folly is wrapped up in the heart of a youth (Proverbs 22:15). Rather than leading the church and society into paradise, the unchecked impulses of youth will lead to anarchy.
In Scripture, wisdom and knowledge is associated with the age. Normal and correct behaviour is for young people to show respect and mildness toward the older generation. When the prophets brought gloomy messages about the future, one of the indications of social and spiritual decay was that "the youth will be insolent to the elder" (Isaiah 3:5). Proverbs has an unsentimental view of youthful rebellion:
"The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures" (Proverbs 30:17). Similar is the ominous message of Proverbs 20:20, "If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness."
We should not forget the blessing associated with the fifth commandment:
"Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." This promise is repeated in NT terms in Ephesians 6, verse three: "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
These verses indicate that a key for success and happiness in life is submission to parental authority and instruction. Rebellion is always destructive; it never fails to rob young people of happiness.
Contrary to the message of Hollywood and much of popular culture, young people do not know best. God knows best and He has put parents in authority over young people. It is the task of parents to instruct and discipline. It is the task of young people to submit and show reverence. Only in this way are blessings in store for church and society.
Does this mean that young people can never criticize the ways of the older generation? Does the fifth commandment prohibit any constructive ideas about how church and society can do things better? Not at all. However, a prerequisite for a positive contribution is a willingness to first learn the wisdom of the past. He who wants to fix and improve a building has to know how the building was put together to begin with. To improve on the plan, you first need to know the original. When young people have not yet gained a wide knowledge of Scripture and of the Christian ethic and of history, they are in no position to attack and criticize or to reinvent church and society. Save yourself the burden! Lighten up!
Here's a challenge for youth: learn all you can from your parents and from all in authority over you. Earn your stripes in church and society by showing your respect for the ways of the older generation. After that, the older ones will be glad to hear your suggestions for improvement. In other words, keep your idealism, but let it be tempered by the wisdom of the past. The traditions need the close scrutiny of your youthful minds, but your youthful desires and ideals need the structure and restraint of the traditions. In this way, we in the Church can avoid the everywhere present "generation gap."