Twerking, tongues and teaching teens

So, have you heard any good Miley Cyrus jokes this week?

Although many found her pathetic, desperate-for-attention performance at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday to be funny, it was actually a sad moment for American youth.

Cyrus became hugely famous as a teenage pop singer and star of the squeaky clean Disney Channel show “Hannah Montana.” The daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, she sold more than 15 million albums between 2007 and 2010.

That wasn’t enough, apparently. Now 20 years old, Miley resurfaced this year with a buzzcut hairdo and a trashy new image, hellbent on leaving her Disney days behind. Her performance at the VMAs Sunday was a quantum leap forward in sleaziness, however: scantily clad, her tongue hanging out like a basset hound’s, she shook her scrawny body and grabbed herself in some very unladylike ways. MTV censored nothing, blurred out none of it.

Her performance was truly sad and deeply disturbing – and millions of kids watched it.

It was sad because it was such a transparently desperate stab at pop culture relevance by a celebrity whose music and movie career has been on the wane. Now, after one degrading television performance, seemingly everyone in America is talking about Miley Cyrus – even if many are making fun of her.

It was disturbing because she has been a role model for so many American children. How many times in recent years have you seen little girls wearing Hannah Montana T-shirts, jackets, purses or sunglasses? Although Miley is now a young woman, millions of her fans are still kids.

If a “Hannah Montana” fan was 5 years old when the show premiered in 2006, she is now only 12. Watching Miley on Sunday, that girl may have gotten some very twisted ideas about what it means to become a woman.

The national media was full of reports Monday about parents outraged by their daughters’ sudden interest in twerking, a vulgar form of dancing in which females bend forward and violently shake their nether regions. Why did twerking suddenly become so popular – and scandalous – Monday? Because of Miley’s shameless performance Sunday, of course.

Parents are rightfully angry with MTV. Unfortunately, twerking and even more salacious activities can easily be viewed online at websites as seemingly “kid friendly” as YouTube. Our popular culture has slid so far down that fabled “slippery slope” that it’s become seemingly impossible for parents to protect their children from unwanted influences.

What parents can do, however, is get their kids involved in positive local activities to balance out all the sleaziness in our culture. Taking part in fun, rewarding projects along with other children, supervised by caring adults, can have much more of an influence on kids than MTV, the Internet or any other form of entertainment.

We are fortunate to have a multitude of positive youth programs and organizations in our area. Below are just a handful of them, along with contact information:

– Randolph County 4-H, 304-636-2455

– Boy Scouts of America: Ben Propst, Highlands District coordinator, 304-457-4752

– Girl Scouts of the USA: Susan Rieser, Black Diamond Council coordinator, 304-745-3732

– Elkins/Randolph County YMCA, 304-636-4515

– YES (Youth Empowered Solutions), 304-636-6182

– West Virginia Wing Civil Air Patrol, 304-842-3606

– Old Brick Playhouse apprentice program, 304-637-9090

– Randolph County America’s Promise Coalition, 304-636-4454

– Young Life, 304-940-9090

Kids may also be interested in the area’s many excellent sports programs and church activities, too numerous to mention here. School bands and music programs are also very rewarding for children, and the Randolph County Community Arts Center offers a wide variety of arts, music and pottery classes, including an after-school art club. The RCCAC’s number is 637-2355.

Despite adults’ grumbling, kids really are interested in more than just cellphones, tablets and video games. Any one of the programs listed above could make a major difference in a child’s development.

And none of them involve twerking. Thank goodness.