Few of us today can fathom the entertainment value that ancient Romans got from sitting in arenas and watching slaves and Christians torn apart by lions.
Perhaps, future generations will wonder the same thing about our choice of amusements: How could Americans sit back with a bowl of cookie-dough ice cream or a bag of Cheetos and watch the emotional blood sport of reality TV?
And how could we expose our children to this steady diet of public humiliation as entertainment and not expect it to influence how they act toward one another?
For all the debates raging now about how to stop bullying in our schools, we haven’t yet acknowledged that abrasiveness and incivility describe much of our national discourse.
We applaud it in politicians, relish it in “American Idol” judges and indulge it in online blogs.
“Nice” has now become a synonym for pushover or patsy. Teachers who call parents about a child’s misbehavior find themselves under the hot lights for what they did to provoke the kid or for singling out the student for something that everybody does.
“There is a sense now that acting out is a form of standing up for yourself,” says Rachel Simmons, a well-regarded expert on girls, relationships and aggression. Author of “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” Simmons is leading a workshop in Decatur Monday night for mothers and daughters.
“Girl power has been manipulated, repackaged and sold to girls and families in the forms of sassiness and meanness. The message to girls is that you can be confident by being sassy. You can be confident by being rude,” says Simmons.
Although the 36-year-old Simmons is far younger than no-nonsense parenting expert John Rosemond and has no children of her own yet, she echoes one of his main themes when she talks about the transformation in how parents react to news of wrongdoing by their offspring.
The first question from her mother, a teacher, to such a report would have been, “What did you do?” says Simmons. “Now, we live in a culture where the first response is ‘What did the school do?’”
In her talks around the country, Simmons says at least one mother comes up afterward and identities herself as “the mean mom in the class … the one who says you can’t have a phone, you can’t be on Facebook.”
“When saying ‘no’ is pathologized as being mean, that to me is a sign of the times,” says Simmons. And it’s not a sign that points in a positive direction.
“Kids have bullied their parents into giving into privileges that the parents know are too early to give,” she says.
“Kids tell the parents that they will be a loser if they don’t get a phone, and the parents panic and give up, but the kids desperately need limits on their use of technology. They live in a society that is selling them a life of electronic addiction,” she says.
Sophisticated ad campaigns that turn even preschoolers into voracious consumers alarm Simmons. “This generation has been primed to be consumers before they were born.” Simmons notes that parents now buy classical music CDs to play for fetuses in the womb.
While she doesn’t advocate rigid authoritarian parenting, Simmons also doesn’t think that every discussion with a child should be a negotiation, especially with technology.
“If your child thinks your policy on technology is good, you are probably doing something wrong,” she says. “Because if most kids had it their own way, they would be online all the time.” As someone who studies adolescence, Simmons doesn’t envy today’s parents because of the cultural forces that disregard the moral health of children.
“It’s really hard to be a parent today. Everybody is pushing against you,” she says. “That is why you have to pick your battles.
“If your battle is no Facebook until high school or no texting until middle school, then do it. You have a right to draw your line in the sand.
The problem is when you don’t know where that line is,” Simmons says.
Simmons is hesitant to declare that children today are in crisis in America. “Children in Dafar are in crisis,” she says.
“Part of growing up is facing gut-wrenching challenges. It’s only a crisis when a family or school does not have the resources to support a child through the experience, whatever it is,” says Simmons.
While she agrees that teachers cannot be social workers, Simmons says, “On the other hand, you can’t teach if kids don’t feel safe enough to learn. Their social and emotional wellness are inextricably tied to their capacity to learn.”
To buy tickets for the Rachel Simmons mother and daughter workshop at 7 p.m. Monday at Decatur High School, 310 N. McDonough St., Decatur, go to www.acappellabooks.com or call 404-681-5128. Tickets cost $18 per adult/child.