My husband tells me I can’t order anything from the front door ever again.
This is really for my own good, after a rather regrettable purchase for cleaner. “But I swear,” I told him, “you should have seen what this cleaner could do! And all the things they promised!” Yes, well, people can make you believe just about anything, if you give them that window, and when it comes to miracle cleaners, that window is wide open around here.
Documentaries are often the same way. When I taught at SDSU, I did a whole class around documentarians and the way they manipulate information to make you believe their point. My husband–a statistician–is especially sensitive to these tricks, because he understands firsthand how data can be used and misused. That’s why he also advises me against watching Dateline and other shows, where the stories of one or two are made to sound like the stories of ten thousand. I’m a sucker for these kinds of ploys because I worry. A lot. And those ploys work especially well on people who worry, because they feed into my fear that things are as bad as I imagine.
A good friend of mine and Huffington Post blogger, Abi Cotler O’Roarty, recently wrote an interesting article about the new film, “Race to Nowhere.” I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t speak to it. I think the article–and obviously more so, the film–makes a great jumping off point for considering how each family wants to tackle the pressures on children, and the homework and activities that will inevitably appear in their lives. I do think it’s important to take a breath, though, whenever faced with issues that scare us. The window created by that fear is also a gaping hole in rational thinking. Whatever was said in the film, the bottom line is that a filmmaker had an experience that drove them to make a film. They will, of course, present a particular experience. The fact that the experience is presented as immediate and inevitable is part of a documentary’s point. So whatever it is–“Race to Nowhere” or Dateline or the door-to-door salesman–I think it’s critical to take a moment, put fear aside, and try to think rationally and logically about the presentation and facts both presented and omitted. After all, isn’t that something we also want from our children: logical and critical consideration not fueled by emotions?
Thinking logically, I come to something I tell my children all the time: you cannot control other people; you can control yourself. Yes, children are pressured to do a lot. But ultimately I am the grown up, and I make the decisions about what will and won’t happen. I can control the presentation, the timing, the activities. I can say no even when the kids disagree. I live in fear of consequences of overscheduling–as one commenter wrote on my friend’s article, the “too-much EVERYTHING”–but I often let that fear distort reality into making me see these consequences as inevitable. The truth is, there are much greater things to fear, such as falling in with the wrong friends, drinking and driving, drugs, etc–things over which I have no control. When there is so much out there that belongs to other hands, it’s comforting to own the choices which are mine. No, it certainly isn’t easy, and I’m not saying that the concerns presented in the film aren’t valid, but at the end of the day, they are my children and no one else’s. No amount of convincing should ever change that.