In the late 1950s, television censors deemed that cameras should cut
off Elvis Presley at the waist, leaving viewers to wonder just how
wildly those hips were gyrating.
These days, considerably less imagination is needed. Consider the
images of Madonna kissing Britney Spears then Christina Aguilera,
during the MTV Awards broadcast Aug. 28. The singers’ provocative
actions are part of an ongoing pattern of testing censors’ limits —
one that has seen such entertainers as Eminem, 50 Cent and Ozzy
Osbourne become big hits among teenagers.
According to teen expert Walt Mueller, the onslaught of sex,
violence and foul language may be why the recent display by Madonna,
Britney and Christina — though widely reported — fell short of
creating a major furor.
“I don’t think today the outcry was as great as it would have been
for Elvis. You look back and say, what were people so concerned about
back then? You can see how far we’ve come,” remarked Mueller, founder
and president of the nonprofit Center for Parent/Youth Understanding in
Elizabethtown, Pa. “The envelope keeps getting stretched further and
Mueller’s nonprofit organization tracks societal trends and their
long-term effects on teen behavior in such areas as video-game
violence, smoking, sexual activity, substance abuse, music, advertising
and religion. CPYU’s findings are published in newsletters as well as
an e-update on its Web site, www.cpyu.org. The e-update, begun
in November 2001 and published every two weeks, is a free service
reaching approximately 7,000 subscribers. It’s full of verifiable
statistics and news items, with numerous links to additional articles
Mueller said CPYU seeks to get to the root of what appeals to teens.
For instance, with hip-hop music, “what you have to do is ask the
question, ‘Why?’ Why are (teens) listening to it, why are they
connecting with it?”
Although Mueller is concerned about the course entertainment is
taking, he said his top goal is to promote awareness, not to condemn.
“You’re not going to hear a pronouncement from us. We want you to take
the information and make your own pronouncement,” he said.
He emphasized that parents need to study negative influences rather
than ignore them. “Even if our kids are not watching or listening to
that stuff, they are immersed in this culture out there,” said Mueller,
who has four children ages 11 to 19. “I’ve wanted my kids to be
street-wise. As Christians are we called to be separate from the world?
Yes. But what does that mean? Does that mean we live in a tent out in
the woods somewhere? No.”
Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry, frequently
quotes CPYU in his own e-updates to diocesan youth ministers. Theisen
said the CPYU information “connects the idea of faith and morality
without negating the culture. It didn’t come out right and say, ‘This
is evil and this is bad.’ It said be aware of how it’s forming young
people’s minds and values. It’s really an approach I appreciate.”
Mueller, who is Presbyterian, began CPYU in 1990 after conducting a
series of well-received seminars for parents on teen behavior. He is
also a lecturer and author of the 1994 book Understanding Today’s
Today’s teens have many societal obstacles to overcome, Mueller
said, but he remains hopeful.
“We’re in difficult times. Attitudes certainly have changed, but
this is not the first time, nor will be the last, that society has
gotten to this point,” he said. “What a wonderful opportunity to
practice our faith.”