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July 29 2015

Getting mobbed on the Web: Parents’ newest fear

New York Post
Naomi Schaefer Riley

Sometime around the end of nine days on the road with my three children I lost track of who was the adult in the family. Like a toddler, I’d come to believe that if I yelled and whined enough, someone would listen.

Fat chance. Standing on a busy corner on the other side of the continent, past everyone’s bedtime, I announced, to my mother and whatever passersby were listening: “My obnoxious children do not deserve ice cream!”

I’m aware more offensive things have been said to children — even to my children — but it wasn’t one of my better moments.

Things could’ve been much worse, though. My parenting could’ve gone viral. In a piece on Slate.com, Rebecca Schumann writes about how she’s concerned about taking her 6-month-old out in public for fear that some parenting misstep “would have been live-tweeted, Facebooked, Instagrammed, Vined, and Snapchatted.”

Citing a recent incident in which a 2-year-old was acting up in a diner in Portland, Maine, and the manager told the family (in some rather colorful language) to leave, Schumann notes that “utterly mundane child-related shenanigans now become national news on a regular basis.” In addition to the boatloads of Facebook comments, more than 8,000 people weighed in on the mother’s defense of her family in The Washington Post.

With this kind of mob ready to descend on unsuspecting parents, how, Schumann wonders, can anyone go about their normal day with a child?

Despite the facile comments of so many onlookers, there’s not always a clear answer to these parenting nightmares. How to deal with a misbehaving child is a decision that was once made by individual parents — with the help of dirty looks by those in the area — but there was no need for a national conversation. Technology has completely transformed these everyday interactions.

As Jon Ronson wrote in The New York Times Magazine last year, “in those early days [of Twitter], the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized.”

But Ronson, author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” writes, “As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive.”

Those guilty of bad parenting are not generally public figures. And the circumstances of these incidents matter significantly, and what is acceptable behavior for a child (and a parent) in public varies significantly by time and place.

But none of this is an argument for being “nonjudgmental” about parenting, particularly when mothers and fathers are making terrible premeditated choices, not just bad decisions in the moment.

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article explained how some academic researchers are using their children as “guinea pigs” for dumb sociological theories. NYU professor Dalton Conley believed that “having a weird name makes you more likely to have impulse control . . . since you get lots of practice biting your tongue when bigger, stronger, older kids make fun of you in the schoolyard.” So he named his kids E. and Yo Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Xing Heyno Knuckles.

Another professor, determined to capture his child’s first words, “outfitted his apartment with cameras and microphones . . . [logging] 230,000 hours of audio and visual recordings” in three years. Nothing like instilling paranoia from a young age.

But the award for this month’s bad parenting decisions goes to Lea Grover, whose recent article “Marijuana Makes Me a Better Mom” in Cosmopolitan has been shared 12,000 times on Facebook. Grover’s 1-year-old twins were driving her crazy. So she decided to start lighting up.

When she’s high, she doesn’t care if the babies pee on the floor. “With marijuana, I have more patience. I’m slower to get angry or frustrated, because I understand their frustrations. I am able to see the world through their eyes, to remember how hard it is to be a preschooler or toddler, how things that seem obvious to me aren’t yet known to them. We all have a better day.”

Maybe we can crowd-fund a campaign to get that woman a babysitter. In the meantime, though, a little public shaming couldn’t hurt.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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