In the NY Times, Matt Gross writes a hymn to cool parenting and tough children. One the one hand, this is how I parented. On the other, is there a connection between this and soaring teenage anxiety? Let's start with this anecdote, which started when daughter asked if she could skip school:
You can’t skip school, my wife, Jean, and I told her. You just can’t. Not allowed. Nope!I get this; I think I may have written here before that after hearing my children discuss their sex lives in front of me I copied Xi Jinping and promulgated the "Seven Unmentionables," things that you were just not supposed to talk about with your parents. But is there something weird about forbidding your daughter to skip school and then telling her to do it in secret?
But I offered Sasha a bit of unsolicited advice, too: Next time you want to skip school, don’t tell your parents. Just go. Browse vintage stores, eat your favorite snack (onigiri), lie on your back in Prospect Park and stare at the clouds. Isn’t that the point of skipping school, after all? To sneak around, to steal time and space back from the arbitrary system that enfolds you? To hell with permission! That’s being a teenager — carving out a private life for yourself under the noses of the authority figures who surround you.
Sasha said no, she would not be doing that. Not because she’s a Goody Two-shoes but because she’s too lazy to plan the subterfuge — it sounds as exhausting as algebra.
But when I look at the broader cultural landscape, I feel isolated in my permissiveness. Parents — or at least the parents who seem to win media attention — are freaking out over everything their kids see, read and do.
Recently there were the parents who hated “Turning Red,” the Disney Pixar movie about a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl who transforms into a giant red panda at moments of intense emotion or embarrassment — and who rebels against her perfectionist mother, crushing on boys, lying about her extracurricular activities and (worst of all) listening to terrible pop music. Those parents complained that the film promoted bad values and that its portrayal of puberty and metaphorical menstruation was just too mature for an impressionable audience.
Then there are the parents across this country who continue to be up in arms about what’s taught in public schools. For some, the fact that this nation has historically failed to live up to some of its ideals is apparently so distressing that they are pushing for strict laws about what teachers can say about that in class. For others, any discussion of L.G.B.T.Q. issues is the boogeyman. . . .
Leaving aside the usual political battles between left and right, what’s at play here are two fundamentally different conceptions of parents’ responsibility to their children, with the same ultimate goal: Do you offer your kids broad exposure to the world, in all its beauty and foulness, and hope they make good decisions? Or do you try to protect them from ideas and activities that you see as dangerous or immoral — and also hope they make good decisions? Obviously, both approaches involve a leap of faith. And it’s impossible to adhere entirely to either philosophy. . . .
To me, the more hands-off approach is also the more realistic one. It acknowledges that our children are, in some basic sense, beyond our control: not precious innocents to be culturally cocooned, but thinking, feeling, increasingly independent human beings who are busy making up their own minds (and who are anyhow likely carrying around devices that give them unfettered access to billions of ideas and images, without any meaningful controls).
I want my kids to read, watch, and listen to what piques their interest, even if I don’t like it myself. Sasha loves “Attack on Titan,” a luridly violent anime series with fascist undertones, and I’m fine with that — but I worry about my kids watching “90-Day Fiancé” and becoming Kardashian-curious. They can tell fantasy from reality, but reality TV from reality? That’s trickier.
Still, I won’t dictate their preferences: I want them to navigate this huge, messy planet on their own, when they’re old enough to — and be ready for things not to go their way.