"My Strict Parents"
Sasha has complained more than a few times of late about how strict her parents are. She’s nearly 12, and many of her friends have smart phones or at least a flip phone. They’re allowed to have sugary foods more often than she is. They’re also allowed to watch more shows, and they don’t have the deflating experience of her dad coming in and saying how absurd and terrible the Squid Game knock-off show on Netflix is as she’s trying to watch it. (I know, I should keep my mouth shut, but it’s beyond bad.)
I get it. I really do. Comparing us, apples to apples, to the parents of her peers, we do seem strict, and we say no a lot.
But I would argue it’s not really so, and from my perspective not only are we are not strict, but in fact the most permissive parents at the entire school.
You can’t simply compare what’s allowed by us vs what’s allowed by them straight up when measuring strictness. For example, let’s say one set of very religious parents didn’t allow their daughter to watch TV, didn’t even allow her to go outside without every body part covered head to toe. You would consider that strict. But if they married off that daughter at age 14 to a 40 year old man, something none of the parents at the school would ever do, that would be decidedly permissive!
(I realize even the marrying off might be subject to its own kind of strictness, but the apples to apples comparison would be Parents A marry their 14-year old to a 40 year old, where Parents B would say no way in hell.)
The point of this extreme example is you have to measure what parents permit and don’t permit in the context of their beliefs and culture. We don’t share the same beliefs as the parents of her peers, so the strictness comparison isn’t valid. If, for example, two sets of parents had roughly the same information and beliefs about diet, and one were more permissive anyway, you could say those parents were less strict.
But if I believe eating processed foods every day isn’t a trivial harm, and yet still allow what I consider plenty, I am more lenient than someone who simply hasn’t given it more than a moment’s thought before stocking their house with that stuff.
This isn’t to argue that I’m right about the underlying beliefs — it doesn’t matter for purposes of this post — only that I compromise a lot more than I want to already. Ideally, I wouldn’t want her to have access to Spotify or Netflix, but she does. I won’t yet get her a phone, but she has an internet-connected desktop computer in her room. (We had to block Youtube on the browser because we caught her sneaking out of bed to watch Youtube “shorts” at midnight on a school night.)
. . .
I remember reading a book by a Buddhist monk wherein he said something to the effect of “give your cows a wide pasture, let them roam freely, but have good fences.”
I don’t know why that stayed with me, but it has served as a model for how I see parenting: take care to create good conditions, firm rules, and within them allow as much freedom as you can stand. Be home from school by six. Take the credit card to the grocery store to buy ingredients for baking, but don’t exceed 20 euros. Go by yourself with your friend to the neighborhood cafe for lunch. Make rules, trust them, largely stay out of their way.
But just as parents of kids growing up in rough neighborhoods had to be more cautious, parents in 2024 have to contend with endless content served via algorithm, designed by clever people in large corporations handsomely paid to hook them. This is how I see it. I imagine some people don’t think about it much, or they think about it and don’t care. But I’m sure many are at least vaguely aware of the problem, but choose not to focus on it because any contemplated solution strikes them as intolerably inconvenient.
But the results of this experiment are no more all in than results of the mRNA injections — another thing to which many succumbed for convenience. We have no idea what a couple generations of kids, exposed to this technology, will be like in their 30s and 40s. We know overconsumption of processed foods is linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, we know the food scientists at the corporations making those foods constantly fine tune the level of sweet, salty, tanginess and crunch to hook your kids, without regard even to the known long-term effects.
I assume it’s no better in the digital realm, and perhaps worse, as weight can be lost, diet can be improved, but we don’t know how permanent the effects of re-wiring the brain, training it to expect endless stimulation, might be.
So if you believed as I do, and you still let your kid do many of these things, even if it were less than kids of those who don’t seem to care, you are not strict, you are lenient, perhaps to a fault.
And that’s how I feel about myself — given what I believe, we are incredibly lenient, bordering on derelict.