Another Week Ends: Helicopter Parents, Love (Not Actually), Llewyn Davis, Joe Jonas, the Inner-Hamlet, and Why?

1) A week past Black Friday, we’re well into the holiday shopping and the family […]

Ethan Richardson / 12.6.13

1) A week past Black Friday, we’re well into the holiday shopping and the family travel bargaining, and so it’s no surprise that this is also when we find a slew of family sociology on the internet. Exhibit A: Slate’s piece on the Millennial Anxiety and the Helicopter Parent. In it, therapist Brooke Donatone explains that soaring rates of college- and post-graduate-aged depression and suicide, as well as the more general epidemic of “adultescent” anxiety, has a lot to do with conflict-fear, and the 20-something’s unpreparedness for disappointment and failure. Over-parenting is the cause of these “crash landings” to the therapy couch, says Donatone, who describes numbers of adults who don’t believe they’re ready for adulthood.


The Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal have reported that millennials are now bringing their parents to job interviews, and companies such as LinkedIn and Google are hosting “take your parents to work day.” Parents went from strapping their kids into a Baby Björn carrier to tying their kids’ wing-tips.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that college students who experienced helicopter-parenting reported higher levels of depression and use of antidepressant medications. The researchers suggest that intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence. So helicopter parenting leads to increased dependence and decreased ability to complete tasks without parental supervision.

Amy, like many millennials, was groomed to be an academic overachiever, but she became, in reality, an emotional under-achiever. Amy did not have enough coping skills to navigate normal life stressors—how do I get my laundry and my homework done in the same day; how do I tell my roommate not to watch TV without headphones at 3 a.m.?—without her parents’ constant advice or help.

A generation ago, my college peers and I would buy a pint of ice cream and down a shot of peach schnapps (or two) to process a breakup. Now some college students feel suicidal after the breakup of a four-month relationship. Either ice cream no longer has the same magical healing properties, or the ability to address hardships is lacking in many members of this generation.

The era of instant gratification has led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance.” This is how we handle upsetting situations, allow for ambiguity, and learn to navigate the normal life circumstances of breakups, bad grades, and layoffs. When we lack frustration tolerance, moderate sadness may lead to suicidality in the self-soothingly challenged.


This could so easily sound like a parent and child reproof, that a child learning how to buck up and take one on the chin will, in fact, solve his or her problems down the road. It could also be read as a critique of her very own profession, that we 20-somethings have become fragile, enabled whiners, paralyzed do-nothings, who need to spend less time asking for help. Donatone is a therapist, and not knocking therapy–or downplaying these side effects–so much as she is talking about the counter-intuitive role of suffering in development. I wouldn’t know, ya know, but it must be important…

Also, I think the analysis here points to a difficult question in the realm of parenting in grace. What is parenting by way of grace? Where is the line there between “over-parenting” a child and graciously bearing his or her crises? When a 17-year-old blows his front tire in a pot hole, is it gracious or helicopter-y to put on the spare for him? Grace, by nature, keeps no record of these things, but grace and suffering are also, by nature, not mutually exclusive…

2) This week also means you’re supposed to start cuddling up by the fire and watching Love Actually again. Unless you are Christopher Orr, that is, who says it is “anti-love,” and for good reason:

il_570xN.351369006The fundamental problem with Love Actually is that it presents romance as either absurdly easy—something that strikes you like a thunderclap and requires only a single grand gesture in order to be fulfilled—or all but impossible. Notably absent is the idea that love might ever be worth a little sustained effort: some mutual exploration and discovery, a bit of care and nurture, maybe even the overcoming of an obstacle or two. Indeed, it’s hard to shake the sense that what is “classic” about Love Actually is not that it shows us anything about how people fall in love, but that it so conspicuously declines even to try.

Also in film, it seems like the Coen Brothers have created another redux of the Odyssey in Inside Llewyn Davis, this time in Greenwich Village in 1961. But they have T Bone again, as they did with O Brother, and all the Beat sirens and storms along the way. A.O. Scott writes that it is so powerful because it is, again, about a serious failure.

One of the insights of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is that hard work and talent do not always triumph in the end…Winners do not interest them. There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all. That observation was made by Bob Dylan, like Joel and Ethan Coen, a Jewish kid from Minnesota and, like them, possessed of a knack for conscripting the American popular art of the past for his own idiosyncratic genius. His art, like theirs, upends easy distinctions between sincerity and cynicism, between the authentic and the artificial, and both invites and resists interpretation.

So I won’t speculate further on what “Inside Llewyn Davis” might mean. But at least one of its lessons seems to me, after several viewings, as clear and bright as a G major chord. We are, as a species, ridiculous: vain, ugly, selfish and self-deluding. But somehow, some of our attempts to take stock of this condition — our songs and stories and moving pictures, old and new — manage to be beautiful, even sublime.

3) Super interesting article in the Telegraph about the inverse relationship between religious practice and judicial law. It turns out, as one top judge (Lord Sumption is his name, seriously!) reported, that contemporary decline in church attendance has meant that more moral laws have needed to be written into the government’s books. I do not believe that this was because churches were better at enforcing these laws, but instead, that the law never dies, as it were. What this means for Britain, though, is a more intrusive government system of tort law. His talk was entitled “The Limits of the Law”:

At its most fundamental level, the problem is that the technical and intellectual capacities of mankind have grown faster than its moral sensibilities or its co-operative instincts. At the same time other restraints on the autonomy and self-interest of men, such as religion and social convention, have lost much of their former force, at any rate in the west…The state has become the provider of basic standards of public amenity, the guarantor of minimum levels of security and, increasingly, the regulator of economic activity and the protector against misfortune of every kind… We design codes of safety regulation designed to eliminate risk in all of the infinite variety of human activities. New criminal offences appear like mushrooms after every rainstorm.

4) Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers Disney franchise tells Vulture what it’s been like being him, a Jonas Brother. And it’s not that pretty, or at least as pretty. He talks about Disney’s brand of stardom, the juju-killing bureaucracy of having your music given to you, the pressures of being wholesome, the pressures of not…and then people wonder why so many celebrities end up in rehab. It’s all very Romans 7.

camp_rock_soundtrackOne relationship that meant a lot to fans was the one I had with Demi Lovato, who I’ve known for years. We had been friends forever, we were both Disney kids, and because we played a couple in the Camp Rock Disney Channel specials—and fans liked seeing us together—we eventually dated for a month. I really got to know her and got to see the ins and outs of what she was struggling with, like drug abuse. I felt like I needed to take care of her, but at the same time I was living a lie, because I wasn’t happy but felt like I had to stay in it for her, because she needed help. I couldn’t express any of that, of course, because I had a brand to protect…That’s when her team and her family told her, “You need to go into rehab.” I remember being in South America, and fans immediately jumped to the conclusion that we kicked her off the 2010 tour, and they just hated on us for it.

Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever. Eventually, I hit a limit and thought, Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am. I think that happened to a lot of us. Disney kids are spunky in some way, and I think that’s why Disney hires them. “Look, he jumped up on the table!” Five, six, ten years later, they’re like, “Oh! What do we do?” Come on, guys. You did this to yourselves.

5) Alan Jacobs, over at the New Atlantis, talks about the current technology era we inhabit, and calls us what Auden did, “Reduplicated Hamlets.” Jacobs writes we are

confronted constantly by evidence of what we know, what we’re capable of, and at the same time faced with what we can’t master and can’t understand. We look into the ever-more-technologically-sophisticated future and we can’t tell whether it points to the apotheosis of humanity or its utter abrogation, and we’re not even sure we know how we might tell the difference. We may all be Hamlets — “reduplicated Hamlets,” in Auden’s phrase — after all. What do we know?

Similarly channeling the inner-Hamlet at his own blog Saved by Design, Duo Dickinson asks Why we ask Why?

Santa-Slap-Batman-memeAs many of us have learned, the “Perfect School” does not make our children happy, a job is seldom a career, our bodies are not machines, and our perceptions are anything but objective. For me, I rely on exhaustion for validation. Physical exertion to the point of incapacity has been how I have avoided the “Why” – until in bed, in a car, or otherwise trapped inanimate in my mind. But effort, however fruitful, makes more lactic acid and caffeine addiction than the clarity of purpose being a parent afforded. I thank God every day for a marriage and healthy sons, wife and body, but acknowledgement of blessings is not the answer for the Big Why. No matter how much I feel Grace every day, I find no rest in it. I find no soundbite cliche to staunch the gaping void of Why.

6) Finally, we couldn’t be more excited that we get to host her again in New York, but Sally Lloyd Jones got some much-deserved profiling from the Religion News Service as “The Most Successful Christian Author You’ve Never Heard of”. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but the ars poetica for Sally? Growing up in a Sunday School background with a lot of rules.

As a 6-year-old, I dreaded going to church…I made a little promise inside my head that when I grew up I was never going to church again…I didn’t get any sense of wonder, or adventure, or any story…That’s why whenever I was working on a story and there would be a temptation to do a moral lesson, I’d have such a huge reaction.

Finally, if you’re looking for Advent Devotions, Mockingbird’s dear friend Curt Benham of Village Church Vinings (Atlanta) has got you covered over at their site. Deck the halls with ’em.

P.S. One more quick reminder: We sent out our big year-end appeal and newsletter this week. If you’d like to find out more about what Mockingbird has planned for 2014, and how you can help, be sure to sign up for our mailing list by clicking here.