Monday, June 17, 2024 -
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Coffee’s on me

Reading continues to be my mental escape five months into the war that began Oct. 7.
Amid a plethora of psychological thrillers, I’m re-reading many childhood favorites for the first time in 30-odd years. These aren’t series like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House that were both written before I was born and took place in the past. And as I delve into these stories that are contemporaneous to my childhood and adolescence, I feel like I’m undertaking a comparative study of child and family psychology.

Phones and social media mean that children today have a ton of freedom, yet they also seem less independent with parents more involved (or engaged) in their children’s lives.

This was perfectly exemplified in an Abbi Waxman novel I just finished, about a Gilmore Girls-inspired mother-daughter duo on a college tour. The 17-year-old is regularly texting friends about an impending scandal her mother knows nothing about. But when her mother doesn’t have snacks on hand to feed her, she exhibits a toddler-like crankiness.

What struck me as an inherent contradiction is totally unremarked upon by any of the books’ characters.

They may be suffering from cognitive dissonance; I, however, when re-reading old favorites, may be suffering from a late Gen X confirmation bias, put into stark relief by my new rose-colored prescription that came with middle age.

As I get into my re-reads, I notice the usual differences, such as young children biking and walking to friends’ homes without parental supervision; others, however, seemed more significant.

If you are parenting a middle schooler, I would love to hear your answers to these questions:

• Would you allow your 12-year-old to commute alone to a job in a woman’s home whom you’d never met?

• If you live in the suburbs, would you allow your 13-year-old to take public transportation into the city and attend a modeling class s/he found out about through a flier? If s/he made a friend there, would you allow your child to go to that friend’s home for dinner and get a ride home alone with that friend’s father, again, not having met any of these people?

• Your spouse isn’t the most reliable when it comes to childcare and comes home only at dinner time. Knowing that, would you go on a week-long business trip leaving your 12-year-old child as the after school carer for your two-year-old?

This kind of permissiveness — one could call it trust, another might call it negligence — seems largely absent today. Maybe with good reason. Some of this is downright dangerous . . . even if confirmation bias means I’m hardwired to think it was better in my day.

Bonus: If you can guess the series these questions are all based on, coffee’s on me.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected].

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