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April 18, 2013 at 3:39 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Parenting by Proxy: An Unapologetically Insensitive Look at the Children Running the Show

By Kyle McCarthy from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Culturology Blog Series

“If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” - Bette Davis

I don't have any kids, and there's a good reason for this. It's not that I don't want to have a family eventually, but, at this point in my life, children terrify me. Well, maybe it's not so much that children are terrifying, but monsters are, and I'm terrified of raising a monster.

Scream, Fart, Bleed, Cry, Smile, Repeat

I have two adorable nieces (and zero non-adorable ones) whose birthdays are six days apart. Given this convenient coincidence, my siblings usually go in for a joint birthday extravaganza at whichever age-appropriate location they choose. Which is why, last Sunday, I spent three hours in the colorfully padded Petri dish more commonly known as Java Gym.

Ostensibly, Java Gym is a massive indoor play place designated for children ages 10 and under. The main attraction, a multilevel tunnel apparatus, provides an excellent staging ground for the kiddies to stretch their dormant imaginative muscles by interacting with their peers and practicing covert military tactics as they navigate the plastic fortress with all the subtlety of a herd of stampeding elephants. These activities comprise the great myth of Java Gym: That it is a healthy outlet designed for children.


In reality, Java Gym is a chaotic clustermuck, a free-for-all the likes of which is rarely seen outside the confines of a Ukrainian session of Congress. Children scream, they fart, they bleed, and they cry - at which point, they sprint to their parents' arms (screaming, bleeding, and farting along the way) for a hug and a band-aid, along with a few reassuring words tossed in for good measure. Once this conference concludes, said children wipe their eyes, feign blowing their noses, don their toothless grins, and, once more, they enter the fray.

The secret, which every Java Gym patron knows but no one dares mention, is that this establishment wasn't created for children; it was built for their parents. One cursory glance around the semi-comfortable seating area bordering the fun world tells the previously uninformed spectator all he or she needs to know about the true beneficiary of the inanimate babysitter that is Java Gym. Everywhere you look, adults are wearing smiles of delicate satisfaction. They're sipping their coffee; they're reading their Nooks; they're gazing suggestively at their significant others.

What they're not doing (95% of the time), however, is dealing with their kids' shenanigans! At last, a temporary reprieve - a few moments of peace, if not silence. Long-awaited, well-deserved, but oh, so fleeting.

Run for the Hills!

Call it soccer practice. Call it piano lessons. Call it dance class. Call it what you will, but these activities are nothing more than time-tested machinations of escape from our children. We've coddled them to the extent that the only escape from their tyranny is imposed exile under the veil of assimilation and socialization. And it's true, these sorts of activities build character and introduce our children to the mysterious and awkward ways of the world, but more importantly, they give parents a much-needed timeout. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that we don't love our kids. Quite the opposite, in fact: I'm actually proposing the probability that we love them a bit too much! And in loving them so much, we are confusing doting and acquiescence for parenting.


The party line of parental units across the country, from "purple mountain majesties" to "thine alabaster cities," is that they want to provide a better childhood for their offspring than they were afforded. For the sake of sentimentality, I suppose this makes sense, but for the sake of practicality, this line of thought feels antiquated. Didn't this apply more for people raised during the Great Depression or the Holocaust? What was the great injustice, the great struggle of our respective, decadent youths? I mean, if mine was the generation immediately following the Dark ages, I'd fall right in line with this parenting approach, but what was so rough about growing up 80s style (other than the whole hair metal thing)? What were we so deprived of (I mean society as a whole, I'm not talking about A Child Called It here) that we have to guard against in the present? What do we have to fear so greatly that we over-compensate by spoiling our youth past the point of no return?

  • Terrorism? Sure. Scabbed knees? No.
  • Pedophiles? Yes. Broken hearts? Of course not.
  • Nicki Minaj? Definitely! The Catcher in the Rye? Give me a break.

So what is it that propels us to ruin that which we should cherish? Is it the global socio-political landscape? That's all I can figure. The world can be a startlingly sick and violent place, there's no denying that, but it's not like this is a recent development. Crazy people do crazy things every single day, but irrational paranoia over senseless idiocy and false martyrdom shouldn't be the catalyst for letting our children rule the roost. We should take steps to protect our children, not invert the traditional child-parent dynamic. Parents would rather worship their kids than prepare them for the real world, which is giving them exactly what they deserve (and exactly what the rest of us should abhor), which is an entire generation of selfish, pouting goofballs (as if we needed anymore after my own generation!).

"I just love being the boss" -- 6-year-old girl

There are two types of bad parents:

  1. The type presented above - These people want to spoil their children.
  2. The type presented below - These people want to BE their children.

Take, for instance, the sad story of one Isabella Barrett.

Here's the first line from a column written yesterday by Yahoo! Shine staff writer, Elise Sole': "At age six, Isabella Barrett has launched a $1 million children’s makeup and jewelry line." Let that sink in for a moment. The words "age six," "$1 million," and "children's makeup and jewelry" were all used in the same non-fictional sentence.

This is not a test, do not adjust your TV set. This is what it is like to be alive in 2013. A little girl, likely incapable of writing in cursive, is peddling makeup and accessories to other little girls, and this little girl is a millionaire. Why? Well, because she was on TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras," of course - a television show dedicated to glorifying near-criminal parenting practices. (Note: This is the same cable program that provided us with Honey Boo Boo.)

Mom of the Year

This next statement (again, from the aforementioned article) is paraphrased, but the author actually presented this information in good faith: According to Sole', the then three-year-old "entrepreneur," Isabella, managed to hatch up the idea for her fashion and cosmetics line, along with her mother, in 2010. The trouble is that most people will probably merely scan that sentence, failing to glean the enormity of the idea that it presents - which is that Elise, Isabella, and Susanna (her mother) actually expect the public to believe that a three-year-old started a million-dollar business, with a little help from good ol' moms! Implicit in such nonsense is the idea that, since this cute little girl was basically taught the English language by being force fed one-liners from vulturous TV executives, she's obviously capable of building a retail empire.This is heartless exploitation of the worst kind because it stands in direct contradiction with Isabella's mother's duty to her daughter as a parent.

How about this precious little nugget between mother and daughter (and journalist, naturally)?

Susanna: "What’s your favorite item of clothing?”

Isabella: “Stretch pants!”

Susanna: “No, you love shoes, right?” responds Susanna, telling Shine, “She loves her Michael Kors high heels.”

So what's the deal here? The deal is that we can't just let kids be kids anymore; we have to exalt them to adult status as soon as possible, especially if it can somehow glorify the parents, or at least increase their bank account. In this case, mommy is selfishly indoctrinating her child to value materialism and wealth above humility and creativity. The kid likes wearing comfortable pants, but her vomit-inducing excuse for a mother insists on instilling a passion for designer shoes instead. I'm not a shrink, but it seems pretty obvious that Susanna has some twisted voyeuristic tendencies and is using her child as the vehicle to live the childhood that she somehow feels robbed of and entitled to. There's something very wrong about this, but I'm nevertheless excited for this woman to someday reap what she has sown. Is that speculative? 100%. Am I right? 100%.

You're probably wondering how I can be so arrogantly sure of this, especially since I'm not a parent. Well, in 2011, while stepping out of a spray tanning booth, Isabella (then five) referred to her likewise exploited rival on "Toddlers and Tiaras" as a "hooker." Susanna somewhat shamelessly admits to having said as much while previously in the company of her daughter. Yes, a 37-year-old woman referred to a three-year-old girl as a hooker, and her daughter followed suit - as daughters are wont to do.

'Nuff said, someone call CPS immediately. Nope, nevermind. It's already on cable. No one cares, but we all tune in. Who's up for a trip to Java Gym!?!?


Sole', Elise. The Pampered Life of a "Toddlers and Tiaras" Star. Yahoo. Shine. 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

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  • On the subject of both protecting our children and the sexualization of young girls, I'd like to point out the challenge of parenting with media's presence more constant (and arguably toxic) than ever. TV, music, movies, magazines, the internet - they're all filled with subtle messages stating a woman (or girl) is just as good as men assess their body to be. As the mother of a ten year old daughter who also happens to be the youngest in her grade (Nov 29 birthday) it's a subject that runs close to home!

    Even though we personally have no TV and our internet connection is minimal at home, my daughter's bus plays pop music on her way to and from school, and she is influenced by the sometimes questionable taste of her friends. It's something her father and I have struggled with how to handle. On the one hand, as a couple of teen parents especially, we don't want her growing up too soon or to feel growing up as though her looks or sexual appeal is all she is worth. On the other, I got in trouble for talking about sex growing up. It wasn't a subject I could discuss with my parents and I don't want her to be ashamed of sexuality, or feel she needs to hide it from us as she matures.

    While I'm not sure there's any one right way to deal with the balance, we've done our best by trying to talking openly and honestly about the things we are seeing. "What do you think that (song, show, image) is saying?" "Do you think it's right?" In my mind, the best thing a parent can do is to be an example, make sure their kids feel loved, and teach them to question.

  • Well, I've heard of her but I've never seen a show with Honey Boo Boo nor have I watched the Toddlers and Tiara show, reason being - I suppose it just wouldn't interest me (I would never consider this for my children) plus I don't have cable TV anymore.
    But I have been to Chucky Cheese a few times during my kids childhood. I remember Chucky Cheese had the stage where the figures would come out and play instruments and sing. I can remember how much my daughter liked watching them. As for the jumping balls, I made my kids wait until they were "old" enough to fend for themselves before I would let them go off and play on their own. Sometimes things would get a little ruff in there!

  • Couldn't agree more about the toxic media influence, Erin. I really wanted to include an entire section on TV as babysitter, but things were already getting a little lengthy (and starting to go off the rails a bit!).

    The bottom line (and it's a sick, deplorable line) is that sex sells, no matter what age you're marketing toward. Remember when Abercrombie & Fitch recalled their prepubescent thong line a few years ago amid massive public outcry? I feel like that was just an initial test to gauge the public's will. I imagine they'll attempt to sexualize children younger and younger in coming generations. Who knew profit and pedophilia were so inextricably linked?

    As stated above, I'm not a parent, but I applaud you for your honest approach with your daughter, and I like to think that's how I will be when I do have children. It's impossible to hide our kids from the world (nor, do I feel, we should want to), so opening up a dialogue about various sordid topics seems like an excellent way to guide your daughter through those awkward formative years. Cheers!

  • Ah, Chuck E. Cheese's. Lotta good memories at those cesspools. They're basically a less active, more expensive version of Java Gym, with the principle idea being letting your kids run amuck for a couple of quasi-supervised hours while their parents catch a much-deserved breather. These places are basically a win-win for everyone involved.

    Sadly, the pizza doesn't taste nearly good as an adult as it did when I was a kid.

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