Another Week Ends

1. I had every intention of giving the subject of parenting a rest. Really, I […]

David Zahl / 3.21.14

1. I had every intention of giving the subject of parenting a rest. Really, I did. But then The Atlantic put Hanna Rosin’s “The Overprotected Kid” on their cover this month and what can you do. Rosin touches on many of the same points that Heather Havrilesky raised in her polemic on ‘scripted play’, tracing the adverse effect that the decrease in unsupervised, unstructured time is having on our nation’s children, and the mounting tyranny of control (some would say paranoia) among parents. As Rosin notes, “failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent”. And yet, it turns out that a childhood without any risk or danger isn’t much of a childhood at all, and may even make for a phobia-filled adulthood. It’s a long read, but a fascinating one. I was particularly struck by the playgrounds she describes in the UK (yes please!), as well as the link between rising levels of parental anxiety and rates of divorce. One suspects that decreased belief in anything larger than ourselves (to say nothing of a loving deity that actively protects his children), hasn’t helped matters much either. The primary takeaway won’t come as a surprise, but it bears repeating:

tumblr_n2qmtpnXOh1qcokc4o1_1280There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises.

2. Of course, while circumstances have exaggerated the situation, we all buy into the delusion Rosin mentions to some degree or another, the compulsion to play God. The shoe has never fit, will never fit, we may do all sorts of damage to our feet trying to make them fit, yet that doesn’t seem to stop us from trying to stuff them in there. As if we needed another case in point, Quartz published something about the remarkable reversal of Lego’s corporate fortunes that detailed the toymaker’s findings about the state of modern kids, ht TB:

“These kids were bubble-wrapped,” one team member recalled. “Every physical space in their life was curated, managed, or staged by an adult. Whereas children in the past used to find freedom and an appropriate level of danger on the streets, playing on sidewalks throughout the neighborhood or roaming free in the country, these children needed to find their freedom in virtual spaces through online gaming or in imaginary zones (like the box of magic mushrooms).”

An important insight came to the group through the discussion of all of these observations. One role of play for these children was to find pockets of oxygen, away from adult supervision. The group realized that kids were desperate to sneak some element of danger into their lives.

Obviously every parent wants to keep their child safe, and every child wants to know that the ground beneath their feet is sturdy. The issue here isn’t so much supervision as it is scrutiny, what happens when concern morphs into control, as it is wont to do from Eden onward. What results is children (and parents!) who ironically feel anything but secure or protected. Suddenly everything is scary–and that’s paralyzing. Space, liberty, legos–kids need these to flourish, and so do parents. I suppose the hope is that, even if we never find any breathing room in our horizontal relationships, even if nervous kids grow up to be anxious parents, the grace they find in their vertical relationship is still 100%.


As a separate aside, with Grand Budapest Hotel finally hitting more screens today, no one understands the relationship between danger, imagination, and childhood better than Wes Anderson. If more parents watched more of his films…

3. After all the disheartening commentary on modern parenting, I was in need of a little pick me-up, which I found in Ron Suskind’s tear-jerking testimonial in The NY Times Magazine, “Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney.” It’s grace in practice turned up to 11, an example of meeting someone where they are in an astounding fashion. Incarnational in the extreme and just so, so beautiful. I won’t do it the disservice of trying to summarize or excerpt. Just grab some kleenex and read it this weekend.

4. Suskind’s article is as good an opening as I’m going to get to talk about last night’s off-the-charts powerful episode of Parenthood, “The Offer”. After an admittedly shaky season, the show is ending strong (thank God), particularly in the parent-child dynamics at which it excels. But this one was remarkable even by Katims’ standards. The waterworks first started to well up during Joel’s speech to Victor about the assurance of his adoption (!), but the downpour truly began when Cristina stopped trying to deny the terrible reality her son was describing (visa vi his peers) and simply climbed into the backseat to comfort him, breaking all the rules. The look of parental pain and powerlessness on Adam’s face may be the most gut-wrenching moment of the season thus far. They really go there in a way that is both courageous and cathartic. Wish I could say the same for that other Katims creation now gracing our screens, About a Boy. I haven’t given up hope, but man, the first three episodes are pretty excruciating.


5. Writing for the Religious News Service, Jonathan Merritt did his best to set “‘the record straight on ‘Jesus, the Friend of Sinners'”, addressing the (always nearby, unconvinceable) voices that would seek to curb Christ’s affection and limit it to those who were repentant/sorry/actively interested/etc etc etc. An absolute must-read on this most important of subjects – just do yourself a favor and avoid the comments section like, you know, our Lord avoided tax collectors. Actually, scratch that. Merritt’s concluding paragraph is electric:

A Jesus who loves us even if we don’t love back? A Savior who pursues us even as we run away? A Christ who offers fellowship to all indiscriminately without condition, no strings attached? That would be a Jesus who is better than we’ve imagined, and that would be good news.

6. The Week ponders “What Our Obsessions with Malaysian Flight 370 Says About Us”. A clue: it is not unrelated to the smothering of children mentioned at the top, ht BJ:

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 taps into similar primal fears, exposing a shocking naïveté about the amount of control you and I really have over the world. …The disappearance of this plane also clearly taps into some innate suspicion many of us have that the world actually isn’t so safe after all, that the talisman of technology is not all-powerful. What else explains the abundance of films and TV shows about modern people whose planes crash, leaving them presumed dead and left to fend for themselves in a strange and scary place? These films haven’t disappeared in recent years the way that other plot devices of the pre-cell phone era have. If anything, they are more prevalent, perhaps because they tap into some deep-seated fear or suspicion we have about our inability to control a wild, wild world.

7. A panel of experts on The Diane Rehm Show this week suggested that ‘performance reviews’ may soon go the way of the dodo. On the constructiveness of criticism (and lack thereof), one commentator mentioned some interesting neuroscience:

When you look at the imaging of the brain here, during a typical performance review process, the backward looking evaluative part, the surface area of the brain can actually contract to absorb less information… you’re shutting down. And, you know, the typical performance review, when it’s done that way, can actually make people dumber by decreasing the size of the brain and the ability of it to absorb information. Cause it puts people in a fear state. They’re afraid for it, they dread the anticipation of it.

8. Onion Headline of the Week would have to be, at least for Reformation aficionados, “Bank of America Introduces New Existential Rewards Credit Card Program.” A bit more close to home, and by home I mean Charlottesville, and by Charlottesville I mean, Go Hoos!, there’s “Area Man’s Emotional State Completely Dependent On Outcome Of Professional Sporting Event


9. Finally, The NY Times gave us a rundown of “The Science of Older and Wiser”, and a number of the findings sound suspiciously–gasp!–religious:

Wisdom is characterized by a “reduction in self-centeredness,” Professor Ardelt said. Wise people try to understand situations from multiple perspectives, not just their own, and they show tolerance as a result.

“There’s evidence that people who rank high in neuroticism are unlikely to be wise,” said Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California. “They see things in a self-centered and negative way and so they fail to benefit emotionally from experience, even though they may be very intelligent.”…

Whatever the nature of one’s limitations, simplifying one’s life is also a sign of wisdom, Dr. Clayton said, for example, by giving your things away while you are still alive. Some people have trouble with the idea of settling for less — “they’ve gotten so used to the game of acquiring more,” she said.

Wes Anderson // Centered from kogonada on Vimeo.

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