Sink or swim.
When my children were younger, I was very careful about preventing them from seeing the nightly (or morning) news broadcasts. As they grew into readers, I had to be careful about newspapers and magazines also (damn literacy). My feeling was, and remains, that childhood is often confusing and scary enough without having them subjected to the “if it bleeds it leads” newscasts, or the alarmist headlines above the folds or on the covers. (I was a master of this in the post-9/11 world. September 11th threw me for such a loop personally that I worked really hard to keep my oldest, then in Kindergarten, sheltered from the news.)
But the fact is, as much of a superhero as I am, I couldn’t hold back the tide and they’d see stories (or read things) and be upset by what they saw (or read). By way of reassuring them that all was okay in their world, I trotted out an old chestnut that I had heard somewhere along the line years ago: that the fact that something is labeled as “news” means that, by definition, it’s out of the ordinary or exceptional in some way. You’re not going to read, “School bus drove 42 kids to school safely,” because it’s not news, it’s the norm. “Mother of 4 makes dinner and puts kids to bed,” is a not a headline because there’s nothing exceptional about that. It’s the school bus accidents, or adults killing children in their care, that makes news: it’s the horrifying exceptions to the normal day to day of life in America.
But lately what’s in the news is forcing me to revisit the old chestnut. There are so many stories about hate, intolerance, violence against women, against children, against men, about homophobia, about prejudice in a multitude of forms, about depravity, about bullying…Never mind holding back a tide. I’d have to hold back a tsunami to try to avoid exposing my children to it all.
Then I think, I have no business holding it *all* back. I do my now-tweenie and teen children no service by keeping this kind of news from them. In fact, if I don’t allow them to be exposed to it in my own manner, with my own mediation, I as a parent am failing. I’m failing to provide them with the tools to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and how they want to operate in this world where roommates violate privacy and humiliate each other, where politicians discuss their opponents supposed “prowess” or extra-marital affairs instead of issues, where teens in a well-to-do NYC suburb had an unauthorized house party where two students ended up in the hospital after a brawl — and the community response is silence about who was involved because, apparently, parents are concerned that their wonderful children won’t get into a good college with this kind of reprimand on their transcripts. (I may have to use that term, “parents,” loosely.)
On the same page today in the New York Times, there is an article about the teen party mentioned above, about the NY Republican gubernatorial candidate’s statements on the validity of a homosexuality, and — and this is the one that has me despairing at the moment — “Bronx Attack Ultimatum: Be Hit with a Bat, or a Pipe.” After being assaulted by a gang of 9 thugs on the suspicion that he was gay, a 17 year old boy was given a choice: be beaten with a metal pipe or a bat. He chose a bat, which was the only “good” thing about the incident because the bat turned out to be plastic. One of the accused assailants’ mothers says her son, who is 17 also, “goes to school and is doing everything good. He has a baby on the way. I raised a good boy.”
Isn’t that what you or I would say about our children, and our role in their upbringing? “I raised a good girl,” “I raised a good boy.” But clearly, some parents fail. Their good kids are not. They live-stream intimate moments that are not their own in an attempt to humiliate. They break rules about partying in a house where there are no adults, and then don’t take responsibility for their actions (and are not held responsible). They lure other kids to isolated locations to beat them and torture them because the other kids have been branded as different.
This is what I hope my children learn, no matter what they read or hear: that there is more good than bad in this country, that more people live here than not, that peace in our country is the more prevalent state than unrest. Is this true the world over? I don’t know. You can debate that — I don’t want to. But what I the attitude that I hope my kids embrace is this: the world is good, people are good, I (meaning they) are good. (You know, “God don’t make no junk.”)
So I’m realizing I can’t hold back the tide. I also realize it would be irresponsible to, because if or when the tide reaches our doorstep or my children’s ankles, I want to make sure they have the survival skills to keep their heads above water.
And if I can teach them how to pull others into their life raft to survive the tide, *then* I think I will talk about success or failure as a parent.