RUSH: This is a fascinating, fascinating piece. It’s right up my alley here, and I’m surprised that this piece got published in Newsweek — and furthermore, that it was put on the PMSNBC website. The woman who wrote it is Paula Spencer who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I can’t believe she will last there very long after having written this. ‘We Protect Kids From Everything But Fear — With hand sanitizer and long-sleeved swimsuits, we’re teaching our children a dangerous lesson.’ This is in the April 2nd issue of Newsweek, by the way. ‘Four 11- and 12-year-old girls stood in front of my open pantry, mouths gaping wide. ‘Look! Fruit Roll-Ups!’ ‘Oh, my God! Chocolate-chip cookies!’ ‘You have regular potato chips? We only get the soy kind!’ After 14 years and four kids, I thought I’d feel comfortable as a mother. Instead, I’m increasingly aware of a prickly new sensation: that I’m some kind of renegade.
‘Who knew that buying potato chips would become a radical act? Or that letting my daughters walk home from school alone would require administration approval? How did I, a middle-of-the-road mom, become a social deviant? Fear is the new fuel of the American mom. If it’s not fear of her child becoming obese, it’s the fear of falling behind, missing out on a sports scholarship or winding up with a thin college-rejection envelope. Apparently I’m not nervous enough. Last summer while I was loafing in front of the TV with my kids, the most benign things morphed into menaces. For example, the sun: long-sleeved, UV-protective swimsuits were all the rage at my neighborhood pool, while I could barely remember to bring the year-old sunscreen. The water wasn’t safe either: at the beach I saw tots dressed in flotation belts and water wings — for shelling along the shore.’ They weren’t even in the water! ‘And goodbye, cotton candy and hot dogs! At a major-league game I saw moms and dads nix the stuff as if they’d never eaten the occasional ballpark treat.
‘As if their children would balloon into juvenile-diabetes statistics if a single swig of sugary soda passed their lips. Half my kids’ friends — who already make A’s and B’s — had summer tutors in order to ‘keep it fresh.’ I thought vacation was for relaxing and recharging. What would our pioneer foremoms think? (You want something to worry about, let me show you frostbite, typhoid and bears!) Heck, what must our own mothers think? (Snap out of it! Go worry about something truly scary, like how you’re going to pay for retirement!) I thought that once the kids were back in school, things would calm down. Instead, a fresh seasonal crop of anxiety sprouted, this time over corruptive candy fund-raisers and insufficient use of hand sanitizer. I know one mom who wants to change her son’s schedule because he doesn’t know anyone in his classes; she’s worried he’ll be ‘socially traumatized’ all year.
‘Another is afraid of a learning disability she just read about, though her child seems bright and charming to me. And then there’s playground panic. I had to laugh when an Australian study recently found that playground injuries continue to rise despite safety improvements. One of the suspected reasons: the safe new play structures are so boring that kids are taking more risks in order to have fun. The fears are as irrational as they are rampant. Recently my children’s elementary school failed to meet adequate yearly progress goals for a particular minority’s reading progress under the No Child Left Behind Act and was placed on a warning list. This meant parents might gain the right to transfer their children to another school in the district. Never mind that this very same school sent more kids to the district’s gifted program than any other, or that this entire district has the highest SAT scores in the state. The day the news broke, six different moms (none in the affected minority) asked me if I was planning to transfer my kids. From neighborhood pride and joy to threat to child’s future overnight.
‘It’s not that I think parents shouldn’t worry about anything. I’m personally petrified of SUV drivers on cell phones. I fret as much as the next mom about how to pay for college. I pray my kids won’t wander onto MySpace and post something dumb.’ Hey, that’s probably already happened. ‘But you can’t go around afraid of everything. It’s too exhausting! No matter how careful you are, bad stuff happens (diaper rash, stitches, all your friends assigned to another class). And it’s seldom the end of the world. Watching my daughter’s friends ogle my pantry, I realized there’s one big, legitimate fear that I haven’t heard anybody mention: what’s the effect of our collective paranoia on the kids? Yes, these very kids we want to be so self-sufficient, responsible, confident, happy and creative (not to mention not food-obsessed).
‘They’re growing up thinking these weirdly weenie views are healthy and normal. Walking out my front door that day, each girl happily clutched a plastic baggie stuffed with the exotic kid snacks that my daughter had doled out in pity. I may be a rebel mom, but at least I’m not afraid of a chocolate-chip cookie.’ This is right up my alley. I don’t know whether this woman, Paula Spencer, realizes just how squarely she has hit the nail on the head here. I’m sure you’ve seen this. (It’s been floating around the Internet for I don’t know how long.) I’m 56, and it lists the horrors that we survived growing up compared to the attempt to sanitize children’s lives today. Global warming and all of these other political fears get thrown into this mix, too, and it works. I mean, you have little children who can’t sleep at night now because they think that we’re killing polar bears when in fact polar bears are killing panda bears in the Berlin Zoo! (Well, they play a role in it, so it’s said. Details of that coming up.)
We have all of this paranoia: ‘This is going to cause this! This is going to get you sick! This is going to get you this! This is going to cause that,’ and every day there’s more of it released, and it’s just absurd. So she’s right. There is a climate out there that’s creating paranoia and fear of nature, human and otherwise, to the point that people are expecting that it’s entirely possible to have a flawless existence — one with little danger, one with hardly any disappointment, one with no failure — and we want to
This is something that… Now, I remember when it first hit me. We go back to the early nineties, and it’s one of these water volleyball games up on Croton-on-Hudson. I’ve told you about it. It was at Roger Ailes’ house. These were fun events, and we didn’t cut the women any slack. Women and men were on the same teams on opposite sides of the net. Nobody went easy on slamming the ball, dunking it, if a woman was in there. It was water volleyball, and everybody had a great time. There was no problem whatsoever. After one of these things we always had a barbecue, sat around and chewed the fat. Some 26-year-old school teacher, who was a babe, started talking about how we’re pushing kids too fast.
‘We’re just pushing them too hard. We’re demanding too much.’
I was appalled. I said, ‘What do you mean pushing them too hard?’
‘We’re trying to make them learn too much too soon. We’re trying to make them grow up. We need to relax and just let these kids find their own way.’
‘So what? You want the inmates to run the asylum?’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Well, you want the kids to tell you when they want to learn and what they want to learn and what they aren’t going to learn and when they are going to show up and when they’re not going to show up, and when they’re going to leave?’
‘Well, I just think we’re being too hard. We’re pushing them too hard. Our expectations are too high.’
I said, ‘Expectations are too high? That’s exactly how you get more out of them! It’s when they’re young. Why do you think most people are in school at that age? Because they don’t know diddly-squat and that’s when they have the energy to soak it all up and learn it! It’s when they have the energy to study and do all these things. They don’t have any other responsibilities. That’s
It became a knock-down, drag-out. ‘You’re the problem,’ she said. ‘People like you are the problem. You’re just a slave driver!’
I said, ‘I don’t drive any slaves. I don’t have any kids, but I’m damn glad that my kids aren’t being taught by
‘What are you saying?’
‘You say we’re not pushing them hard enough. I want my kid to
‘Well, that sets him up for disappointment. What if he fails?’
‘We all fail! Are you what you really wanted to be? Have you reached your life’s dream teaching school and telling us that it’s too much the way we’re doing it? Have you really reached your dream? You’re 26 years old. Is that it for you?’
‘I resent that question. I’m doing this because I love children.’
‘I’m sure you do love children, but you’re not doing anything if this is the way you’re teaching them. You’re not prepping them for anything other than to be a bunch of softies, and you’re nowhere near getting their full potential out of them.’
‘Well, how do you know what their full potential is?’
‘Well, see that’s the basic difference between you and me, because I think most people have far more potential than they realize themselves. Most people have a comfort level, and when they get there, they stop but most people have the ability to go far beyond their comfort level if they’re just inspired and motivated — and you don’t inspire people and you don’t motivate people by acquiescing to their cries and moans that it’s too tough.’ I asked her, ‘How are you at math?’
‘Well, I’m not the best at math, but I don’t teach math.’
I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. You know why you’re not very good at math? Because you’ve been told that math is tough for women, that women don’t do well in math. So you probably didn’t pursue it. Who says women aren’t any good at math? That may be statistically true, but you could learn math if you wanted to, if you had somebody make it interesting to you. But you fall for all this stuff, and now you have these kids falling for all these things, ‘We’re pushing them too hard,’ and so forth.’
This is a problem. It’s exacerbated now, and it’s been amplified I don’t know how many times, to where life is nothing but a constant
‘I get together with these kids after school. We have a conversation. I teach them arts and crafts and dancing and so forth.’
‘Well, that’s all well and good. It makes you feel good, but it’s worthless if that’s it, if that’s the full scope of what you think you’re doing for kids.’
‘Well, it’s keeping them off the streets! It’s keeping them away from drugs!’
‘I appreciate that, but it’s far beneath all that they’re
‘We have to build their self-esteem.’
‘The best way to build self-esteem is through achievement and accomplishment, not by taking the self-esteem of others and trying to whittle it down.’
We had a story not long ago. The promotion of all this self-esteem in school is causing all kinds of problems, because we have a bunch of ego freaks running around who don’t deserve to have the huge egos! ‘I have been taught to love myself and I love myself and I’m good,’ and they have no reason for it. They’ve just been told that that’s a justifiable way to behave and have an attitude. They get out there, and they get crushed by reality. The first time they go out for a job interview, and they’re treated like just one of a million of the ants that are showing up, and when they’re 24 and don’t have the 5,000-square-foot house that they grew up in, then all of a sudden it’s Bush’s fault and the country sucks or what have you.