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Parents Guide to Teens and Cults by Larry…
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Parents Guide to Teens and Cults (1989)

by Larry Dumont

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This isn't so much a book as it is an over-sized pamphlet put out by the Fair Oaks Hospital in Summit, New Jersey.

Prefaced with a hefty disclaimer that the book shouldn't be used in lieu of professional medical evaluation, A Parent's Guide to Teens and Cults is meant to help parents discern whether or not young Johnny or Sally has been brainwashed by local demon worshipers. Written by actual psychiatrists instead of civic-minded religious leaders, the book is actually full of decent advice and helpful explanations, and manages not to descend into paranoid lunacy.

For example, Heavy Metal music is mentioned, as you would expect from a book about teens and cults. While they show the expected lack of knowledge about the source material by listing bands like Black Sabbath and Megadeth with Queensryche and White Snake, they are at least rational enough to point out that listening to certain music might be a warning sign of troubled youth, it is unlikely that listening to these bands will drive a child to perform evil acts (well, maybe Queensryche).

Despite the serious nature of the topic at hand, it is hard to refrain from picking on books of this type, due mainly to vague descriptions and selective consideration of what cults are.

The list of warning signs of cult involvement, for example, while no doubt factual, could easily be applied to any teenager who suddenly joins up with a new clique or social trend. Kids who suddenly go Goth resemble every warning sign in the book, but are generally unlikely to take up the fight for Satan's Earthly reign. Millions of teenagers across the world exhibit the cult warning signs of sudden changes in appearance, attitude, lifestyle choices, and academic performance. It isn't a cult that has twisted their world view, but rather an ugly combination of puberty and high school. That alone is enough to make anyone act like a crazed sect member.

The examples and explanations of what cults are can be equally vague and misleading. When you break down the mechanisms that allow cults to recruit members and operate as their sole influence, almost any kind of organization can be seen as a cult. New age religious cults might control their devotees through repeated rituals, strict dogmatic rules, and instilling the member's dependency on the organization; so do Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous. Some people might argue that ritualistic uniforms and systematic brainwashing of young followers through repetition and corporal punishment are two major recruitment tools that Satanic cults and Catholic schools have in common. And let's not forget the Amish. Talk about secluding your devotees from outside influences.

The authors are well aware of this, however, and attempt to solve the problem by asking the reader to discern between Destructive Cults and Benign Cults. This is a good point, but it can also lead to double-standards. The authors prove this point well by using the Church of Scientology as an example of a cult in a later chapter. Granted, Scientology has become one of the sillier religious groups these days, and the focus of countless jokes, but you would be hard pressed to actually describe it as destructive, no matter how bad Battlefield Earth was. Exactly what is destructive can also become frustratingly debatable. A cult that convinces its followers to get rid of all material possessions might be seen as destructive by some, but not to those who believe that such attachments poison the soul. The Catholic Church has enriched the lives of billions of people, but one of the many children sexually assaulted by Catholic priests who saw their abusers protected by church officials might see it as a destructive institution. I'm not picking on any one religion here, but simply underlining the point that cults, to a certain extent, are in the eye of the beholder.

Ambiguity aside, this book should serve as a helpful tool for parents concerned about the influence of destructive cults on their young and easily influenced children, as long as they use the book as a loose guideline, and seek professional assistance and evaluation on an individual case-by-case basis. Especially if they catch young Johnny watching Battlefield Earth with Queensryche cranked up in the background. ( )
  smichaelwilson | Apr 29, 2015 |
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