Centrifugal Bumblepuppies and Other Parenting Hacks

About a generation ago, an author named Neil Postman did a comparative analysis of the predictions made in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984.  According to Postman, Huxley was right, and Orwell was wrong.  I agree with him. Orwell warned that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression but as Huxley saw it, people will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

Here’s what he said…see if this doesn’t sound eerily familiar-

Orwell feared those who would ban books.
Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Orwell posited a world where people are controlled by inflicting pain.
Huxley posited a world where they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

I found Huxley’s future much more realistic in my parenting years, mostly because of my kids’ apparent addiction to stimulation.  If there wasn’t an electronic device in their hands every minute they were awake, they felt out of place.  This was scary until I start thinking about my own activities as a child and teen. We didn’t have iPods and tablets and laptops and such. But I always had some form of distraction in my own hands.  My favorite was the several sets of ‘army men’ (little green toy soldiers) that I’d set up and play with in my room.  But I also had a metal pipe that was Daniel Boone’s rifle, a couple of phasers made from blocks of wood, and a schematic of the helm of the USS Enterprise drawn on poster board and hung over my head on the bottom of the top bunk above me.  And I had a library.  I was the only kid I knew that owned a thousand books by the time I started high school.  (Yes, I read them all.)

So I then wonder if distraction is all that dangerous to our mental and emotional development, or if it is just part of being human. Certainly, the type of distraction is a factor.  After all, books are not nearly as much a waste of time as TV, and so on.  But there are good books and bad books, right?  And I learned a lot of useful stuff from TV as a kid- like the fact that professors are smart, Ginger isn’t, and Skipper will use corporal punishment (hit you with his hat) if you mess up.  That was a valuable lesson.

Everyone should read Neil Postman’s book, but in the process, don’t lose sight of the fact that simple distractions aren’t the deepest issue. As we parent, the deeper issue becomes a real threat, which is a subtle form of abandonment which is a result of our own distractions.

Chap Clark, in his book Hurt, affirms this trend but chooses to use the term the abandoned child. He writes, “We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture … Even with the best of intentions, the way we raise, train, and even parent our children today exhibits attitudes and behaviors that are simply subtle forms of parental abandonment.[1]

From a theological position, this parenting style reflects the natural result of life lived intensely under the law. When I mention law in this context, I do not refer to the moral code but to a pattern of life focused on living up to standards through personal performance and effort. A standard of false righteousness- child competence – exists in the culture, and adults employ whatever necessary means (math tutors, batting coaches, personal trainers, academic camps, intense schedules, etc.) to maximize their child’s performance that they may satisfy the expectations.

Not that this doesn’t come from a worthwhile desire. Parents want successful children, and parents want moral children.

The fact that parents want this kind of child isn’t surprising, nor (do I think) is it a bad thing to want.  Being believers, the moral side of the question usually is the harder one to deal with. After all, we can make them do their homework easier than we can make them want to be holy. I struggled with this in my own parenting.  I tended to treat the symptoms instead of the disease.  One of the things my wife and I remind ourselves and our Sunday School class of on a regular basis is that we need to be more concerned about the long-term status of our children’s faith than the short-term status of their behavior, without neglecting their behavior.

Here’s how we put it: “Would you rather have a seemingly perfectly-behaved teenager who doesn’t understand the gospel, or would you rather have a teenager who messes up on a regular basis, but has a great understanding of the gospel?”  The question may seem rhetorical, but it isn’t.  We need to ask ourselves, and answer to ourselves, that question on a daily basis.  In our daily discipline and instruction of our kids and how they should behave, we must be consciously focused on the long-term, big-picture aspects of making sure they have heard the gospel in all that we do toward them.

The problem is we want what we need (good behavior from our kids) and, like the JG Wentworth people, we want it now.  Our own pride rears up when they misbehave.  We worry what others might think of us in the community, and this worry can easily outweigh our (well-placed) concern for the true state of their hearts in spiritual terms.  When that happens, we become a spiritualized version of helicopter parents with just as much risk and potential for even more damage than a secularized version of the same. We begin to view patience and grace as bad things when we have directly benefited from these things in our own lives (from both our earthly parents and our heavenly father!). On top of that, the abandonment thing rears up as we begin to pressure our youth ministers to moralize our children instead of doing that primary task ourselves; the gospel gets lost in the mix.

The only solution I see is to make sure our imperatives to our kids are given in the light of the gospel’s indicatives.  We need to make sure we daily plan to purposely steer our kids toward the gospel whenever we also steer them towards the law.  We won’t get it right as much as we’d like, but the good news (pun intended) is, the power unto salvation is found in the gospel, not our ability as parents. In short, we don’t need our kids to conform to a standard, but rather *love* the standard. Having a kid that loves God’s law is a much better place to be than any amount of coercion, control, or influence one can imagine.

There are many right ways to go about achieving this worthwhile end, but the most egregious wrong way would be to subtly abandon the raising of our children to the people we put around them by way of improving their performance.

See the terrible irony in that?

 

[1] Chap Clark, Hurt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 46-47.


JB Boren

JB Boren

J B Boren has been married to Jennifer (recently named CHS principal) for 28 years and has four kids, Will (23, who work in inside sales for the San Antonio Spurs), Brice (23, a mechanical engineer at Lockheed-Martin in Orlando), Callie (19, a rising sophomore University Scholar at Baylor), and Ryan (18, a 2018 graduate of CHS and rising freshman at Baylor). The family moved to Canyon in 2007 when JB was appointed Dean of the Wayland Baptist campus in Amarillo. Prior to that, the family was in Albuquerque for four years, and spent the previous ten years in St. Louis where JB was Director of Sports Medicine and Chair of Natural and Health Sciences at Missouri Baptist University. JB grew up in Kerrick, went to high school in Stratford (senior of ’82!), and has a BS from Texas Tech (’87), an MS from Baylor (’88), and a PhD from Texas A&M (’93). For fun, JB enjoys CHS sports, shooting and hunting, reading, and probably most of all, handloading.

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