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How They Do It In...Lithuania. Babble.com.

How They Do It In… Lithuania

Kids are protected from alternative culture – by law.

by Kim Brooks

October 1, 2009

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When my husband and I bought our first home a year ago, a condo in a north side Chicago neighborhood, I found myself both trilled and terrified by the prospect of raising our family in the city. I worried about taxes and public schools. I worried about flooding and the fact that neither my husband nor I would know how to operate a wrench. But one thing I didn’t worry about was our new home’s location just across the street from the METRA, Chicago’s main commuter rail line. I love trains. My husband loves trains. And our son loves them even more. He loves to watch them come and go, to sing along with their chug-chug and their whistle, to watch and wave to the daily commuters walking past our front yard each morning and afternoon. And he also, I was to learn, loves greeting and waving to and chatting with the vagrant men who sleep alongside the rail and from time to time stagger down onto our sidewalk and occasionally pass out or urinate into the gutter.

Thus far, my son’s exchanges with these neighbors have remained brief. He smiles at them and greets them. They smile and greet him back. He waves at them and points at their heads or the bottle under their arms, as though imploring them to share. I smile and tell him not to bother the nice gentleman. They go on their way. I’ll admit that at times his friendliness and lack of fear of strangers makes me nervous, but for the most part the men seem harmless and thus far it hasn’t caused me much distress. His natural openness and curious nature does make me wonder, though, what I will tell him in a year or two when in addition to greeting our local homeless, he begins asking me questions: Why do those men drink out of paper bags? How come they get to go pee-pee on the street? Or other questions about city life: Why does the woman on the bus talk to herself? Why is there a billboard off Ashland Ave. of two women kissing on top of a sports car? Why do the waiters at our favorite hamburger place, a transvestite-themed joint in the nearby gay neighborhood, get to wear dresses even though they’re boys?

My son’s intense interest in the rail-riders only made me more attuned to the fact that like all modern parents, no matter which city, state or country one calls home, we, too, would have to deal with our kid’s baby eyes and ears absorbing all the wonders and pains and complexities of a grown-up world. It is a ubiquitous part-of parenting, universal and unavoidable – or so I thought, until I read about a new law adopted in Lithuania.

How They Do It In… Lithuania

Kids are protected from alternative culture – by law.

by Kim Brooks

October 1, 2009

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In July of this year, the Lithuanian Parliament overturned a presidential veto of the Child Protection Law, a piece of legislation that aims to ban the public dissemination of information considered harmful to minors, or more specifically, any material on the subjects of homosexuality, bisexuality, violence, death, or any other subject that can be clumped under what legislators view as an overall “rotten culture.” It’s unclear exactly how lawmakers plan on enforcing this policy, but they do make specific references to the censoring of television programs, films, computer games, advertising, and print media accessible by children. Perhaps because historically, many people in Lithuania where the majority of the population is Catholic have frowned upon homosexuality, those in favor of the bill believe increased discussion and tolerance of homosexuality must emanate from children’s exposure to pop-culture and not from the family itself. The line of thinking seems to be that if the stuff kids watch and listen to is more “wholesome,” the kids themselves will be more “wholesome,” too. The Lithuanian Gay League and Amnesty International, as well as numerous other free speech and human rights advocates around the world, have reacted with horror, charging that the law is nothing but an attempt to institutionalize homophobia.

But as disgusted as I was myself, I couldn’t help but think that the Lithunians aren’t the only ones who take reactionary measures in the name of “protecting children.” I remembered a news segment I had watched some months ago during the height of California’s Proposition 8 controversy. A young mother interviewed at an anti-gay rights’ rally explained her position quite calmly and clearly: she had three small children and she wanted to be able to tell them that marriage was between a man and a woman. End of story. Many of the individuals who make arguments in the name of protecting children aren’t really interested in protecting them at all. I remember being so stunned and saddened by her statement, by the way she was using her children as a prop for her intolerance, that I could barely reach for the remote. In retrospect, though, I’m not sure why I found it so shocking. Robert E. Emory, a professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, points out that many of the individuals who make arguments in the name of protecting children aren’t really interested in protecting them at all: “Protecting children,” he says, “is a slogan appropriated by some adults to promote their own moral, political, or emotional agenda.”

I went on to ask him if there weren’t other cases, though, where children really do need to be protected. I’m not about to rent my son the new Halloween movie, and though I may take him to our local gay hamburger joint, I’m certainly not going to stroll him into the sex-toy shop around the corner. Emery suggested two guidelines for knowing when to shield children from adult material: “The first is when a child is too immature, cognitively, to understand the topic, and their misunderstanding might lead them to do something embarrassing or wrong. The second is when the information will cause a child to experience strong, negative emotions . . . I have seen many parents tell their teenagers, and younger children details about affairs – usually the other parent’s affair – in the name of being ‘honest.’ With our children, we need to think about emotional understanding, not just intellectual understanding . . . Of course, learning about the woes of the world is part of growing up.” And whether one’s raising kids in Lithuania or Los Angeles or Louisiana, letting them grow up means allowing, even encouraging them to engage with the world as it is, not as we might want it to be. “The process,” he says, “can be both disillusioning – like learning that your parents are imperfect – and enriching, because the world is complicated, not black and white.”

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