I keep seeing these videos pop up; advertisements for a parenting website aimed at dads. Some small child doing something incredible: shooting basketballs through a hoop, skateboarding, tae-kwon-do, playing the drums, and doing them better than most adults can do. The video ends with two words “Win Parenting.”
While it’s incredible to see what these young children are able to do, the message being conveyed by these videos is incredibly disturbing. The explicit message is you are a successful parent if your kid can do something you can turn into a viral video. That is winning. That is successful parenting.
The language of winning implicitly designates a loser as well as a winner. If your child does not have a “cool” talent (meaning internet marketable) you have failed as a parent. You lost. Game Over.
That’s a troubling message. The pressure is put on the parent to have the child perform, do something cool. If they don’t perform, your parenting is sub-par. Your children are sub-par. You are sub-par.
Two problems: A kid doing something cool is a pitifully low standard for determining success in parenting. And our saturation by media, the Instagram-filtered, best-foot-forward Facebook post, has created an artificially high threshold for what we consider cool.
Being cool as a kid used to mean being able to whistle really loud by sticking two fingers in your mouth. But that sort of thing just doesn’t make the cut these days. We’ve seen too many other kids whistle “The Flight of the Bumblebee” on Youtube. Media's greatest danger is how it conditions us. What it makes normal by dint of constant exposure. And, like a drug, how it builds up a tolerance in us so that ever increasingly we need more to feel stimulated.
In these videos, the standard for “winning” parenting has absolutely nothing to do with a child’s character. That's a dangerous place for parenting to go. Better to have a child with the moral courage to take a beating from a bully in order to spare another then to have a child with kung-fu strong enough to beat up the bully and no compassion.
As a culture we do not believe that humans have intrinsic value. We assign value to humans the same way we assign value to objects: "What can it doe for me?" and "How does it look?" For decades we have voted this way, as if the moral fiber of political candidates doesn't matter, only their policy platforms. "What can they do?" (More realistically, what are they promising to do to get votes?) Practicality over morality. Cool trumps character. Now, as a result we are reaping the proverbial whirlwind. Let's not make the same mistake with our children.