In the latest parenting post to go viral, Stephanie Metz reaches an important conclusion for all the wrong reasons.
“Why My Kids Are NOT The Center of My World,” is the title of her piece, and in it she worries that today’s parents have raised a generation that won’t be able to cope. How will our sheltered, coddled, indulged children -- raised to believe the world revolves around them -- handle their first critical professor or unhappy boss?
A question worth asking, to be sure. But Metz’ examples of our misguided parenting? Her definition of the kind of choices that are bubble-wrapping our children? Those are confusing at best and damaging at worst. She begins with the moment her son decided not to take his favorite action figure to show and tell because an accessory to that toy, which her son had always treated as “a drill”, she writes, might look like a gun to the teacher “and then I’ll get in trouble.”
Which led her to this:
My boys are typical little boys. They love to play guns. They love to play good guy versus bad guy. They love to wrestle and be rowdy. That's the nature of little boys, as it has been since the beginning of time.
How long will it be before their typical boy-ish behavior gets them suspended from school? How long before they get suspended from daycare??? How long will it be before one of them gets upset with a friend, tells that friend to go away and leave them alone, and subsequently gets labeled as a bully?
The mentality of our society in 2013 is nauseating to me, friends.
She goes on to lament that time was when bullying was “slamming someone up against a locker and stealing their lunch money,” not merely calling names, and she yearns for the good old days when “kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off.” Nowadays, she writes, “if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party. And Sally - phew! She should be jailed! She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like - gasp - a teenage girl acts.”
Have we gone overboard as a society in protecting our children? Yes. I think we all agree that we have. But Metz’ view that all these OTHER parents are crazy and if we could only go back to the good old days all would be dandy, is simplistic to the point of caricature.
First, she discusses these changes as if they occurred in a vacuum --as if one morning parents just woke up and decided to hover over their kids while, in that same moment, schools decided on a whim to enforce no tolerance policies against bullying and violence.
In reality, of course, this new paradigm is a reaction more than a cause. It’s a direct result of a long list of reasons, starting with the fact that the good old days Metz misses weren’t always that good at all and ending with the reality that the new days are more complicated.
Did kids used to “brush it off” when called names or threatened? Some did, but others carried scars for decades, which we failed to notice back then. Also, social media now acts as a magnifying lens for bullies, multiplying the damage and the danger.
Did parents used to insert themselves into their children’s schooling as much as they do now? No. But learning issues also went unrecognized, and expectations of what a child needed to achieve in order to successfully navigate the classroom were lower then, too. College admissions was not the arms race that it is today, and the job market was not an impenetrable fortress.
Could “boys be boys” and shoot ‘em up for fun on the playground? Yes. Did shooting up playgrounds carry the same history and baggage that it does right now? No. Did boys being boys in preschool lead to a culture of macho swagger and college campus violence? Not necessarily. But maybe. And that’s enough reason to question the way things used to be.
Metz is angry about the new ways. I am sad. Her anger is rooted in the fact that she sees these changes as frivolous political correctness. I am sad because I see them as heartfelt scrambling by concerned parents reacting to real dangers. And the answer is to fix rather than ignore those dangers. To figure out how to ward off bullying without shackling our kids, how to help those who learn differently without spoon feeding them, how to allow boys to be boys and girls to be girls -- heck, children to be children -- without fear that their pretend play will reflect an armed camp of a world.
Our first reactions have been over-reactions, but many first drafts of social change are. So Metz is right that we need to recalibrate -- not so we can go back to the way things were, but so we can finally get to wherever they are supposed to be.