a curmudgeon speaks


The street I have lived on for seventeen years is suddenly alive with children. It is quite a delightful place to be nowadays. When I moved here, I don’t believe there was a child on the block apart from my own, who were there only in the summers and on holidays. Now there must be dozens of them, most not yet of school age. Last Halloween, I noticed how many of my neighbors who are young parents accompanied their little ones on their trick-or-treating rounds while themselves dressed up as witches or pirates. I take it this is a manifestation of the “parenting” craze. A word that didn’t exist when I was a young parent—still less when I was the child of young parents—is now used to describe that mode of child-rearing that begins with the reform of the adult to be more child-like rather than, as in generations past, the child to be more adult-like. Mom and dad now involve themselves in their children’s pastimes out of a supposed duty of empathy that is somehow continuous with responsibility for their children’s safety and well-being. I’m sure that there is much that is good about the new parenting, and it must be rather thrilling for the children, at least in their early years. Yet I can’t but see a disquieting connection to the infantilization of the popular culture and the phenomenon of the “kidult” or “adultescent” who dresses in t-shirts and shorts, slurps up fast food, watches superhero movies, and plays video games well into his thirties or even forties. It’s true that there have been for more than a century certain protected areas of childish innocence where Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or whatnot have been suffered to remain undisturbed, for a time, by adult consciousness. But this demesne has expanded to include much new territory—like Harry Potter and Batman, who provided so many of the costume themes for Halloween last year—and to encroach on ever more of what once would be considered adulthood. Mom and dad must be intimately involved in their children’s fantasy world not only out of duty to the children but because it is, increasingly, their world too.

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