These are the words of a mother of a child, David [name changed], with whom my son, now in second grade, went to nursery school. David’s mom said them to the teacher–and about 20 sets of parents in the room–at Back to School night at the nursery school, at the point at which the teacher asked, “Are there any questions?”
You may have noticed that David’s mom’s question wasn’t actually a question. It was more of a proclamation, made in response to the teacher’s having mentioned that the kids would celebrate Shabbat with pizza brought in for the class. It was a proclamation that David had very definite tastes–and that those tastes shouldn’t be challenged. It was a Marie Antoinette-like statement for our age: instead of “Let Them Eat Cake,” it was “Let Them Eat White Pizza (Because That’s What David Likes!).”
I left that night shaking my head. While of course, nursery schools should be vigilant about allergies–and my son’s school was a nut-free (we’re talking food here, not kids/parents!) environment–the entire class shouldn’t have to eat white pizza because that’s THE ONLY KIND OF PIZZA DAVID LIKES.
I’m going to make an argumentative leap here, and you may or may not want to join me–when parents try to tailor the world around them like this to accommodate the fleeting desires of their kids, they do other kids, and even their own kids, a profound disservice.
This past weekend, I read a New York Times article about how dating has degenerated among the 20-something set. People don’t go on dates anymore, the piece bemoaned–instead, they text each other and say “What’s up?” or “I’m with my friends at a bar – u can come hang if u wnt.” Even though there are so many ways to communicate with one another, the piece complained, people fail to truly connect: the sad thing is that 20-somethings seem to have lost their facility to create real, unironic connections and romance.
The flaw of the logic here is that romance doesn’t come from roses or dinner reservations–it comes from respect. Romance, and courtship, is actually just when people treat one another as the precious, amazing things that they truly are. When we fall in love with someone, we see what we like in them, and also what we imagine they might be. Love is seeing the past, present, and future in someone, and romance is when we treat all those beautiful potentials as something special, bewildering, and almost holy.
But when you view yourself as the center of the universe around whom all other things should revolve, you are not placing yourself in a position where you are even capable of seeing other people–their time and their feelings–as being worthy of your respect or regard. When everything revolves around you, you are incapable of seeing that beauty and holiness, no matter how many screens you have at your disposal. I don’t think technology is at fault–rather, I feel the problem stems from a much more insidious phenomenon of devaluing others and placing far too much value on yourself.
When you see yourself as paramount, then all other things–and people–become comparatively pointless.
Do people really become entitled and selfish because of Facebook and Twitter? Or are those just symptoms of a problem–devices through which we can exert our selfishness–and the real problem is a more fundamental one?
As a parent, of course, your child is the center of your universe. But sometimes it can be hard to recognize that you do him or her no favors if you teach them to grow up thinking they are the center of the universe. Teaching people to respect others starts not when they’re 20-somethings, but when they’re a lot smaller–when they’re the size of the little people who are now in your care.
Let your kid be in environments where everything is not perfectly tailored to their liking. Let them try new things. Let them be challenged, rather than constantly coddled and affirmed.
Look, I love white pizza. But the other “regular” kind is great, too. Give it a try.