I spent $100 on Halloween candy this year. That’s six, enormous, fun-sized bags from Costco. Our neighborhood loves Halloween. The big street adjacent to ours closes to traffic, the police come to supervise, and kids come from all over town. It’s mostly pleasant (except for the adults looking for a sugar high), but there are always some hiccups in the night. This year, there was indigestion. I was sitting on the front porch with a girlfriend handing out candy from two big bowls spilling onto the steps beside us. A trio of middle school girls came prancing up dressed like identical hookers and clearly feeling that they were in charge of the world. One girl leaned over and peered into my candy bowl and huffed, “What? You don’t have the FULL-sized candy bars? Really?” Really. She really said this. After recovering from the shock, I looked at her hard and said, “If you don’t like the merchandise, you can shop elsewhere.” What was truly remarkable is that she plowed ahead, completely unconscious of the spoiled rudeness of her remark. She went on: “Why don’t you have the big bars? They’re only 99 cents at the dollar store.” And yes, she really said that too.
Now, I don’t want to make myself sound old by engaging in a diatribe about manners, so instead I’ll make myself sound old by making the following observation: For a generation that grew up hearing the mantra “You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” it strikes me that they are singularly unable to handle the defeat of their expectations. Who do we blame for this? Steve Jobs? Larry Page? Walt Disney? How about ourselves? It is interesting that in the three years between the births of my daughter (2000) and my son (2003), technology had changed so drastically that we had replaced CDs of Baby Einstein with DVDs of Little Einsteins. Who supplied my son with the DVDs? I did, of course. Not that he had unlimited access to entertainment or even watched these shows often, but even a glancing familiarity with The Disney Channel seems to create an insatiable demand impulse in the most mellow of children. It seems impossible to be a parent today and not notice that our consumption of television and movies about bratty, spoiled teens has spilled over into our families, that our corporate fascination with our devices has created a culture of instant gratification. I was a strict monitor of television, and yet friends arrived wanting to play Hannah Montana (definitely on the “no-watch” list at my house). Then iPhones and iPads arrived with the capacity for unlimited entertainment. Now it’s SnapChat and Instagram, and I see Twitter rising across the horizon. I feel like I’m standing with my finger in a dam trying to hold back a tsunami.
Obviously, no woman can stop the tide, so I’m having to learn to go with the flow. I do see that these new technologies have enhanced our lives and our children’s learning in many ways. But since the consumption of media is a two-way street – we are influenced as we influence – our presence in the virtual world becomes a reflection of our real world mind and vice versa. We have to learn to be mindful about what we allow in, understanding that humans are natural imitators. Our mirror neurons have been developing for tens of thousands of years. I could have made a list of the top 10 media consumed by my prissy Halloween guest based solely on her behavior and the two sentences she gifted me with. Next month, I begin teaching a mindfulness class for middle schoolers. It is my great hope that by teaching these kids how to direct their attention, they will become better able to moderate both their behavior and the ways in which they allow themselves to be influenced by culture and media. That’s a big dream, I know, but one that I think is achievable in the long run if we parents become mindful too. In the short run, it’s my much more modest hope that Miss Halloween is in my class.