I won't bubble wrap my children by keeping them from the news
Our local morning show woke us around six in the morning.
We’d punch the snooze button and wait for the familiar voices to wake us again, before dragging our lazy behinds from the bed. Radio news and current affairs would play, in some part of the house, from then until we each left for work.
During breakfast, I would read the newspaper and both my wife and I would listen to the radio preparing dinner. We might even tune in for television news as well, depending on the news of the day.
That was us, in the years before we had kids: moderate to heavy news consumers and appointment viewers.
We still wake up to the radio, but we don’t even try to listen over the din of kids at the breakfast table. We’re lucky if we can squeeze in a news update without one of our three kids interrupting. Our local paper is a shadow of its former self and I wouldn’t want the kids asking too many pesky questions about right-wing terrorists or obstruction of justice. No heavy discussions while I sop up spilled Cheerios, please.
These days, clandestine peeks at the headlines on my phone are how I tend to satisfy my news fix.
But news shouldn't be a secret. It doesn't need to be hidden.
Eli Pariser garnered some attention a few years back by pointing out the dangers of online filter bubbles. In a nutshell, he argues that the algorithms that tailor and personalize our online experience to our tastes are distorting our view of the world. The internet, which once promised to deliver us from mass-media gatekeepers, has replaced those gatekeepers with gatekeeping bots, that are all the more sinister for being less visible or lacking human judgment. He makes a compelling case.
I worry that something equally sinister is happening with parents. It is more visible but, for a variety of reasons, we seem unable to bring our own human judgment to the table — at least I do. I call it the parent bubble and it happens when we fail to engage with news, current affairs or that world in front of our proverbial nose out of a misguided effort to protect our children.
It happens when we shape their experience of the world by showing them only what they, but mostly we, wish them to see. I think it happens because protecting kids is generally a good impulse. But we are parents. Protecting children is only half the job.
Now, I don’t have a bubble bursting manifesto. Like you, I am muddling through this parenting thing with a mild preference for pathways of the well-worn and little resistance variety. But if I tried to put my ideas to a napkin, it would probably look something like this:
- I need to consume quality news media — the way I tried before I was a parent. And I need to model this behaviour for my kids.
- I can’t be afraid of tough questions. I need to expect them, allow time for them and do my best to prepare for them.
- I must resist the urge to protect my kids from new experiences and information.
It will not be pretty. I will make mistakes, mess things up and probably feel inadequate and/or uncomfortable explaining violence, intolerance and inequality to kids.
It won’t be easy. My kids will require plenty of context and I will require plenty of patience. But the goal — raising kids equipped to handle complexity — is a worthy one.
I may never burst the bubble completely, but I can certainly try to reduce its sphere of influence and soften its edges. And, one hopes, prepare them for the other bubbles that may distort their view of the world.