When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t excited about turning over my computer to my high school student son. I had made a rule that my boys would never have a TV or computer in their room. This is advice I’d heard many times directed at the conscientious parent. However, with virtual schooling being the only option in the spring of 2020, I gave up on the rule and gave in to pragmatism. My son got my iMac, and, for a while, I went without a computer apart from my work laptop and my iPad.
As the last couple of years have gone by, I’ve heard things coming out of my son’s room to which I would have rather not borne witness. Some of the coarse language and outrage-centered news that he has picked up on have left me wondering about that forced acquiescence back in 2020. We have so little control these days on the influences to which our kids are exposed. As parents, we are just single voices among many.
My oldest son has always been into politics. His first word was “hardball,” after the Chris Matthew political gabfest. He knew all the presidents, when they took office and when they left, as well as their dates of birth and death when he was about 7. People would test him with questions like, “Who was president during the Gold Rush?” His answers were always correct. He started contributing imagined political timelines to a wiki of alternate history when he was not yet a teen. When he became a teenager, he would play around with gerrymandering simulators, so he could try to get his preferred candidates elected.
Lately, I’ve witnessed the blatant bias in many news sources become more and more pronounced. We’ve entered a phase of post-journalism where sources of information actively agitate for a particular viewpoint, play to your emotions and hope you’ll hit the button to like and subscribe. Most often, the emotion they try to evoke is righteous indignation. My mom gave up cable because she was so angry all the time from watching MSNBC. It wasn’t good for her mental health. Now my son is getting into the same type of content, and I’m not sure what to do. It’s frustrating. Ultimately, you are responsible for the shape of your child. John Oliver isn’t.1
I try to keep in mind what Alan Jacobs has to say about all of this.
Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.
That applies to TV journalists as well. I’m concerned that my son will carry biases against whole groups of people because the media he is consuming. It’s not a comfortable place to be. Now, if only my son could become one of those Luddite teens.
Heavy are the shoulders that wear John Oliver’s head. ↩︎