Your Child's Mind Is Not Their Turf

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An editorial in the New York Post warns of the "tyranny of the organic mommy mafia", and introduces a book by one Julie Gunlock titled, From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back. That author calls this new "mafia", "an outgrowth of helicopter parenting" [link added], although I'm inclined to say that it's just a variant. And that cultural phenomenon is just a manifestation of the precautionary thinking that permeates modern culture.

Fortunately, since my wife and I haven't been in any one location for more than a year and a half with our kids, and they're too young to attend school or interact deeply with other kids, I haven't encountered more than a whiff of this so far. But I have whiffed, thanks to an old friend of ours who was also in Boston while we were there, and has a school-aged kid.
She once told us about the meddlesome parent of one of her daughter's classmates coming over and basically telling her that her daughter had to be friends with hers, as if the kids' actual wishes were irrelevant. Our friend politely, but firmly, told the other parent that her daughter was going to get to pick her own friends and she would be behind her choice. Upon telling us about this, she also was clear that this kind of behavior was not unusual coming from the other parents in her affluent suburb. Oh, boy!

I'm tempted to buy the book, but it is new enough to have only a handful of customer reviews on Amazon so far. (Both the highest-rated positive and negative reviews were rated helpful by only twelve readers -- and the negative review was both brain-dead and down-rated by five times as many people.) I react to meddling pretty much the way my friend does, and I am not easy prey for alarmist fads: My interest in the book is more in the vein of cultural activism. Now that there seems to be a backlash forming to precautionary thinking, how effective might it be? Does Julie Gunlock indeed know how to fight back -- or is she like too many other conservatives, with her heart in the right place and her wit quick in ludicrous situations, but unaware of the deeper problems that make such silliness even possible?

One thing is clear to me: Part of fighting back is making sure both that one's kids learn how to think for themselves and that they know not to confuse conformity -- neither with the passive herd nor those focused on riding that herd -- with objectivity.

-- CAV

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