Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Parents Just Don't Understand

Yesterday there was another school shooting. That makes 74 since Sandy Hook. There have also been a myriad of stabbings and other insanely violent encounters that just a few years ago, I don’t think would have entered our wildest nightmares as even a faint possibility of things that could happen in real life.
Truth? I’m pretty sick of the guns, but regretfully I don’t actually think that is the most common thread here. For me, it is violence. Violence inflicted on and by children.
Our children are literally killing each other.
Stop and take a moment. Just think about it. That baby that you are tucking in tonight, or rocking to sleep, that gentle toddler carefully stacking his blocks. Will it be him in 10 years squeezing the life out of another child? Or will he be the victim instead? It seems incomprehensible but this is real and happening to someone, many someone’s babies out there.
And I want to tell you that all of this is about the guns. In fact I even wrote a whole post about this very thing and then never published it. But then there was another shooting and it got me thinking that even though we obviously need to take semi-automatic weapons off the street (unclear why we are still debating this – military grade weapons were designed for use by, well, THE MILITARY) I’m not sure this would solve the problem.
Because the real truth of it is that we are the problem. You and me. All of us in our 30s and 40s doing all of the raising of children nowadays. We obsess over it really, we fill our days reading best practices and commentary on how we do it, why we do it, the best ways to do it. And the irony of it all is that we just suck at it. In the history of this nation, I think we may be the suckiest parents ever and I completely include myself in this indictment. We are like the greatest generation except the exact opposite. We are the laziest suckiest generation. And here’s why.
Children are like tiny little sponges or vacuums really. All day long they just suck up new information. But the number one thing children lack because they are children and this only comes with age and time and maturity, is context. Children have no context within which to place the information they’ve just learned. They have no concept of how big or small or likely they are to ever encounter what they’ve just learned. They struggle with the ability to apply relevance and give the same amount of weight to bullshit as they do to pertinent information.
As parents, this is our one big job. Give them context. Give them a framework within which to place the information they are regularly taking in every minute of every day. So that they know if they should disregard it, remember it, remember it as it applies to school, bedtime, relationships, tooth brushing. Whatever it is. The contextualization that the smart grown-ups around them are supposed to offer, helps kids to sort out all of this complex stuff. This matters because if kids don’t know what bucket to sort stuff into, or how to handle the emotions that come with what they are learning, this will lead to confusion. And confusion eventually turns to anger. And then you’ve got a lot of confused and angry kids on your hands.
This also matters more than ever because as a society and starting at ridiculously young age now, we take in an insane amount of information every day. When I take my 4 year old and 6 year old to Chuck E. Cheese and there is a video game where they can pretend to shoot and kill people and this is framed as fun, they might think this is actually as entertaining and harmless as the giant six foot talking mouse next to them. And they might think they are just as likely to encounter the giant talking mouse in their day to day life as they are to participate in some sort of play that is like this game. After all, it’s just play, right? I mean, if I don’t give them any context that tells them killing isn’t a game will they instinctually know what is real and what is not?
Well of course they won’t. How could they when most of the adults around them don’t know themselves. Dylan is in kindergarten. In kindergarten you learn that something is alive if it draws breath, takes in oxygen. And yet we stare all day at these tiny little pieces of plastic. They talk to us but they are not alive. But we give them equal or more attention than living things and so we teach our children that living and non-living things should be treated equally. That human beings do not require greater levels of depth, emotion, or attention. The implicit lesson we teach them is that our phone is their equal.
And so we look down all the time at our stupid little piece of plastic and because we look down so much, we don’t teach them anything about eye contact. They fail to pick up on and learn to read important social and emotional cues which is developed through practice. And as we fail them here, we erode the very foundation that might have ever enabled us to teach them empathy. They don’t look, they don’t see, they can’t relate and they don’t care.
And then to top it all off, we teach them that they should never be expected to wait for anything. That if they have any gap of time waiting for their meal, waiting for the performance, just waiting, they should fill it with some sort of garbage on the stupid little phone. WE teach them that they don’t have to learn to sit with themselves or with their feelings ever. They can just escape from all this the same way as their grown-ups all around them do: through an app.
And so we give them all this access to information with no idea what any of it means. We fundamentally inhibit their development of social cues, or their ability to manage their own complex feelings and emotions. We teach them that the line between what is real and not is blurred. And that if you are hurting or angry or bored you can escape into the not real side and never really deal with any of it, and that there will be no consequences for that even though we know that’s now true. Even though we know that dodging hurt feelings almost always comes back to haunt you and anyone else in your path.
And so the reality is that we are sucking at this and we are failing them. They are the building blocks of our society and when they crumble, we all fall. It isn’t the fault of the guns or the phones or any of it. It’s us. We should be TEACHERS, not babysitters. Our jobs are not to just sit back and hope that their little pea brains will instinctually know how to triangulate a fake world with pseudo real horror characters that are “telling” them to do bad shit, or hope that they will just get how to deal with rejection or fear or anger. You learn that stuff and not from Wikipedia either. You learn it by modeling the grown-ups around you who do this. You learn it from your parents. We have been outsourcing these lessons and the consequences of this lapse in our collective parenting judgment is coming back to bite us, now on a daily basis.
So look your kids in the eyes. Tell them what is real and what is not. Teach them pain and teach them how to live with their pain. Give love. Show them, teach them. It is our one stupid job. And if we don’t start doing it, they’ll keep descending into this meaningless little violent virtual vortex that lately I just feel like our society as a whole is spiraling down toward. And blood will continue to be spilled. And it will be all over our incompetent hands.


  1. Wow, Jenn. This is hard to hear because it's so spot on.

  2. very well written and touching. i can only agree with you!