How We Use Children
Back in August of 2020, in a statement on her website, J.K. Rowling explained why she was returning her ludicrously monikered ‘Ripple of Hope’ award.
It was following the President of ‘Robert F Kennedy Human Rights’ claims, that Rowling’s views, “diminishes the identity” of transgender people.
Hot on the heels of this, the charity Mermaids, which claims to support ‘trans and gender-diverse children’, published a response to Rowling, where they delivered what felt to many, like a veiled attempt at indefensible emotional blackmail.
In it they said, “there have been cases of self-harm and even attempted suicide following J.K. Rowling’s statements.”
One wonders, even if this were true, what would possess someone to consider using the mental health struggles of children to win an online argument?
But there we have it, in print. Madam, your words will literally kill children. Shut. Your. Mouth.
Should we be surprised by this kind behaviour, from a society that churns out constant examples of parents using their kids as social media currency to win an argument? Kids can be an asset to ‘grow your base’, or enhance your online id, or perhaps just another string to your identity bow.
If people can return animals to shelters because they don’t go with their décor, or ‘look good enough on Insta’, why would it be a stretch to imagine others seeing their kids as a digital asset?
Not satisfied with infantilising adults by peppering emojis in all communication, or letting them ‘play’ at protesting, society now flings children front and centre in much of our lives.
From the wise little kids in adverts telling their (clueless) dad how to drive or cook or be a human, to the obligatory social media profiles with ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ in the bio and an image of their kids rather than one of themselves, there’s no escaping it.
Children have been commoditised for some time, with imbecilic mums and dads using them as online filmed prank fodder, like the recent spate of smearing chocolate spread on them while they’re in the toilet, and then laughing as the horrified infant cries thinking it to be excrement.
They can also be used as stage hands to hold up one of those ‘hilarious’ placards at the latest protest so they can post pictures on Facestagram.
Then they can gather all those yellow faces and love hearts and ‘Awwwws’ in their sad little sack of online self-esteem that is worth literally nothing in reality because it’s all just a game anyway.
In the 2016 leadership contest for the UK Conservative Party, candidate Andrea Leadsom, a mother of three, said of then-rival Theresa May, who has no children: ‘I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children. But genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country.’
Apparently, we live in a world where a magical kindness is bestowed on every parent, a transformation occurs that well, makes you basically a little better than those without kids.
It’s not unusual to hear some thousand-yard-stare parent assert that they are ‘more environmental now’ since they had kids, or attempt to convince us that they have taken much more interest in the future as they throw another disposable nappy into the bin, or fill their Chelsea tractor with gallons of petrol.
If you start a sentence about anything other than child-rearing with the words, ‘Speaking as a parent’, you might want to consider the possibility that you’re being a conceited fool.
When I started writing Your Children Are Boring (out now on Audible!), it was largely driven by mild annoyance, and what I would say was a relatively harmless bewilderment via my observations of many modern parents.
The obsessional behaviour I observed as they scurried around micromanaging their infants, preparing them for a world that doesn’t exist, where they can expect everything to fall into place for them, for people and structures to mould around them, and to expect to achieve even their wildest dreams for as long as they wanted.
It also seems like there’s a theocratic, cult-like belief that having kids is less a massive responsibility, and more a ‘right’ for the parent, like a sex life, or chips, and it can lead to the moral quicksand of things like surrogacy.
Or the ‘born again’ sense that becoming a parent flicks some imaginary switch inside you, that makes you less selfish and an all round better person, despite there being endless examples that suggest the opposite is just as likely to be true.
This mania reaches new horrific heights in the gamified online world. Say what you like about us humans, but we’re competitive rascals.
‘My kid is X, so therefore more special than yours, and therefore, I am more special by proxy’.
Hey presto, a desire to be atop a league table of ailments appears for parents. An incentive to not merely indulge the ‘conditions’ or idiosyncrasies of your kids, but to protect them from a reality with a wall of coddling you’ve painstakingly built.
Perhaps it’s all to right the wrongs from one’s own childhood, or to avoid appearing the bad guy to the child you’ve worked so hard to see you as a friend, rather than the parent he or she needs.
And social media acts as an accelerant for the worst possible behaviour.
We don’t seem bothered by pensioner poverty, and discard or revile our history, yet instead we obsess and wring our collective hands about ‘the next generation’, not contemplating that we might be raising a waddling, selfish, entitled, mouth-breathing assemblage that’s been told over and over again its special.
It’s been argued that, without God, conquest, adventure and honour, we find our greatest fulfilment in our descendants. And so our investment is immense, and ultimately a vicious circle.
They MUST be special, or there’ll be hell to pay.
But to paraphrase George Carlin, if they’re all special, that means we’re all special, and so the whole idea loses its meaning.
Buy Tom James’ new book Your Children Are Boring here on paperback and kindle in the UK, US and worldwide.
And now on audiobook at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.