I said it.
I’m sure I’ll catch flak for this post. Fine. I can take it. I put on my big girl panties this morning.
For those who missed it, late-night
guru… couch jockey… whatever Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to tell their children, post Halloween, that they, the parents, had eaten their child’s entire Halloween candy stash. The resultant video, featuring much weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of the kids, has been making the rounds on YouTube since it aired.
I watched it. Meh.
Was it funny? Not particularly. Kimmel admits at the beginning of the video he expected rather more outrage and rather less crying (for which he apologized). Since neither crying nor outrage are exactly novel at my house, I didn’t find the video all that entertaining and dismissed it as misfire late-night schtick: a bit mean-spirited but mostly harmless.
I guess that “apology” was all TV posturing because Kimmel decided to up the ante for Yuletide. This time, he challenged parents to wrap up some useless crap and tell their kids it was a Christmas present.
Few people who really know me would accuse me of being overly sensitive or deficient in — admittedly dark — humor. But.
This crosses the line.
From Balloon Boy to
Jon and Kate Plus Eight, we know some parents will do eh-nee-thing to get themselves or their kids a television show. Evidently, now it doesn’t even take a whole show. Even a twenty-second blip on a second-tier late night program will motivate parents to parade their children’s emotional trauma for the “pleasure” of the viewing audience.
Sick, depraved and illuminating.
If there is one thing that should motivate our compassion as a people, shouldn’t it be the tears of children?
In case you’re thinking that’s a rhetorical question, the answer is yes.
In fact, I’m going out a limb here and suggest the treatment of children is society’s barometer. The pathos of a crying child should be universal in this day and age. But all you have to do is skim the headlines or browse a few books of recent history to know it is otherwise. Between abusers, molesters, traffickers, genocide, abortion, famine, and people who blow themselves up in public places, I’d say our world is pretty nonchalant about the sufferings of children. Maybe that’s why I don’t find this stunt amusing.
Kids cry. And sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes I even laugh when mine are crying. Occasionally, I laugh because it’s the only way I can keep from falling on the floor beside them and crying my own eyes out. But I don’t coax my kids into crying so I can have a few yuks. Here we have a manufactured scenario, created for the express purpose of provoking a gut-wrenching emotional response in a child. For the amusement of strangers. On TV. And now YouTube. At the behest of a guy who gets paid for a ratings spike.
Why not just jab the kid with a sharp stick and film him while he bleeds? Hilarious, no?
Let’s say you call up a bride-to-be the week before her wedding and pretend you’re from the bridal salon. Tell her you knocked over a unity candle. Her dress burned to a crisp but, not to worry, you’re sending over a replacement picked out by her mother-in-law. Hang up the phone. And hide. Actually, change your name, dye your hair, ditch your cell phone and then hide. In a tiny motel that only takes cash on the outskirts of Temecula.
I give you about twelve hours before an angry bride is at your door with pliers and a blowtorch.
Adults don’t appreciate having their emotions toyed with. Why is it okay to do it to a child? Oh, right, because they can’t fight back. Where I come from, we call that bullying, which Jimmy Kimmel is apparently against.
And while we’re at it, what about privacy? If you’re in Target and the two-year-old flashes her panties to the entire crowd at Register 9, don’t you yank down the hem and tell her some things are not for public display? Should we be less concerned about our kids’ emotional privacy?
But, alas. Now we have YouTube, enabling us to milk our kids’ peccadilloes for web traffic. Even better, let YouTube put up a few ads and you’ve got a whole new revenue stream. In other words, monetize while you traumatize. As parents, we’re supposed to protect our children from exposing themselves (physically and otherwise) until they are mature enough to self-censor. Instead, we’re getting our licks in early, encouraging our kids to expose their emotions to the scrutiny and perhaps ridicule of the world.
Notice Jimmy Kimmel did not film his own children. No, no — a celebrity’s children are entitled to privacy. Instead, like a phalanx of mindless drones, his viewers manipulate their offspring and made sure to get in on film.
I suppose I’m not really angry at Jimmy Kimmel. I can’t blame the sideshow clown who gets paid for making people, um, cry. I can, however, take serious umbrage with the complicit idiots who treat their kids’ emotions like a banjo to be played for popular amusement.
But forget society, forget bullying, forget privacy. Here is my real problem: this kind of machination compromises the integrity of the parent.
Being a parent is a sacred trust.
Trust doesn’t have to be earned from our children: we receive it, lock-stock-and-barrel, the first time our son or daughter is placed in our arms. Look into the eyes of your newborn baby, feel her little fingers clenched around your own, listen to her sigh as she sleeps against your heart and you will hear her say, without a single word, two things. First, “I am completely dependent on you.” And second, “I know you’ll take care of me.”
The tragedy is that in every moment to follow, we have the opportunity to chip away at that trust. Most of us don’t mean to. But it happens.
We promise a trip to the zoo and then the phone rings. We say shots don’t hurt. We exaggerate. We make empty threats. We generalize. We tell polite fibs. We get angry and say things we don’t mean. Sooner or later, kids start to realize their parents don’t always mean exactly what we say. A wise parent manages to teach good manners and flexibility without compromising our dedication to telling the truth. But it’s hard — one of the many highwire acts of parenting.
So why, by all that is holy, would anyone want to hasten their child’s discovery that mom and dad don’t always tell the truth? More importantly, that Mom and Dad will casually lie in order to trick them for a TV stunt? Because if Mom and Dad will lie, who won’t?
You are, in a way, everyone your child will ever meet. Your interactions with him tell him what to expect of other people. Should he expect truth and integrity or manipulation and trickery? Our living, daily example also trains our children what to expect from God. Will they see Him as a loving and sacrificial father or a heartless trickster ready to laugh at their misery?
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” — Matthew 7:11
Do you think those children will ever open a Christmas gift again without wondering if they will find another half-eaten sandwich inside? A pinprick in their innocence and sense of wonder may seem small now, but that hole doesn’t close: it only widens as they grow.
I am outraged by I pity the parents who casually undermine their child’s trust. Or innocence. Or sense of wonder. Or even the excitement of Christmas.
Someday my little ones will be mature, experienced adults who sleep soundly on Christmas Eve, don’t mind waiting to open presents if it means they can have a second cup of coffee, and appreciate the boring underwear and gift cards they find under the tree.
I know I will be proud of them. And I know I’ll find myself wishing they had stayed children just a little longer.
That’s the way it should be.