Nothing to Fear

The danger, the real danger, was never in food or movies or video games, and it was not in the people they would meet online.
10/23/2012 05:41 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

I recently read a great post on Mom 101 on how sometimes giving a kid a lollipop is just giving them a lollipop, not an exercise in regulating sugar or expressing our family's values. She mentioned that "no" was sometimes her reflex response and that really struck a chord with me. Sometimes we have nothing to fear. It took a while before I realized that my kids were people, not a medium for expressing my worldview.

I was a mom who said no -- it was my default position for all the junk my kids wanted to buy, eat and see. I came into motherhood with the view that we owned too much, our culture was slightly toxic and most of the things my kids were going to consume visually and intestinally were poisonous.

Luckily for my sons, they have two parents, and over the course of a couple of decades, with the with help of the four of them, I came to see the world as not hostile and noxious but as the place they were going to live and into which they would need to fit.

I banned violent games and violent movies, junk food and junk TV. I used to tell them that watching Spongebob Squarepants would lower their IQ by ten points per episode. No one ever did the math or pointed out that there would be legions of barely functioning kids if this were true.

It turns out that junk and violence, to a greater or lesser degree, are enjoyed by the four males in my house and over time, I reluctantly made some concessions. My husband and I came home the other night to find one teenage boy happily watching a romantic comedy, another making pizza from scratch and a third studying the computer code behind a video game. All is not lost.

I thought we owned too much stuff. I didn't believe that things would bring us happiness and did believe the pursuit of them would make us unhappy. When my kids were tiny, every phrase began with, "I need that," (do you remember, how cute that was) which was later modified to "I want that." Now that they have been out in the world for a bit I usually hear, "Do you have any idea how expensive..." all it took was a few years looking at price tags to change their worldview.

I banned studying with music on: "You cannot learn anything while listening to that loud crap you call music at the same time." This was my father speaking to me in 1977, and the exact same words slid right out of my mouth in 2007. I was forced to reexamine my position. I have a son who is a sophomore in college and has, to my knowledge, never studied without music.

I made them stop playing World of Warcraft on their computers because they could interact with strangers through the game. I feared this because I had never experienced it, and my default switch clicked over to "no." Every day I talk to folks on Twitter and Facebook who are truly wonderful souls, though in real life I don't know them. What was I thinking?

There were to be no R-rated movies until high school. Other parents were respectful of my wishes and the boys were even good about calling me from friends' houses and asking if they could watch something. Then my husband took them all to Austin Powers, my 11-year old thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen, and my policies got a little wobbly.

The danger, the real danger, was never in food or movies or video games, and it was not in the people they would meet online. The real danger was in the message that I gave them through all of my fears, that the world was threatening and poisonous, that they needed to be on guard all of the time from its insidious evils. Sometimes, just sometimes, I had nothing to fear, but I was too scared to realize it.