The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them.
Professor Noreena Hertz, University College London, reporting on her recent surveys, described today’s teenage girls as profoundly anxious. The news reports deplored the abundance of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films and TV shows that inundate us with peril and danger at every turn. Zombies, vampires and werewolves populate the media — lusting primarily after teenage girls. The point Hertz makes is that this focus on the “unreal evil” is unnecessarily stressing out a whole generation of kids. Katniss Everdeen, the teenage archer/heroine of The Hunger Games series of books and movies is the poster child of this type of anxiety.
I guess I’m sympathetic to protecting our children from the unreal evils of the world; however, we do need to teach them to understand and cope with real evils.
It Was Ever Thus
My grandparents lived through The Great War and The Great Depression, and my parents survived World War Two. We did duck-and-cover drills in my elementary school as training for tornadoes and a possible nuclear attack on the nearby SAC base. The Cold War spawned tales of spies, atom bombs and invasion. In the 1950s, popular science fiction gave us nuclear winters, and radiation-induced giant ants, giant city-destroying lizards and an angry 50-foot woman! Life and Look magazines featured photos of famine in Africa and Bangladesh (“Eat your carrots; there are kids starving in Africa”), and drought in Texas. TV and magazines covered the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, and savage revolutions in the Congo, Rhodesia, and a score of other African countries.
In my youth, we witnessed the advent of rock and roll (“corrupting the morals of America’s youth”), birth control pills (“corrupting the morals of America’s youth”), the Age of Aquarius (“corrupting the morals of America’s youth”) and AIDS (Free Love – was it worth the price?). TV screens in our living rooms highlighted the devastation of napalm attacks in the long-running war in Vietnam, resulting in widespread protests and the shooting of college students. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Chicago police brutally redefined what it meant to protect and serve, and found a new use for front end loaders. The Civil Rights movement changed the way we saw our nation and the assassination of our president shocked us all, creating myriad conspiracy theories. A Vice President was forced to resign due to criminal activities, and we discovered that his President was, indeed, a crook.
Why would any of this have caused anxiety in the teenage girls (and boys) of those times? Were the news reports less truthful about the state of the world? Did we just not know what was going on around us?
Of course not. We have always had bad times and what makes the difference is our ability to see past the bad things to the good that can be found in spite of them. That may be one definition of character. Ignoring the bad and scary things doesn’t make them go away, it just makes the surprise when they do show up all the more devastating.
Don’t Hide it. Prepare For It.
Our contemporary world is far from serene. Read about the continuing genocidal battles in Africa and the Mideast. Rogue nations brandish increasingly sophisticated weaponry (often provided by us). Russia is trying to reignite the Cold War. Terrorism abounds and seeks the innocent as its victims. Pirates roam the seven seas. Exotic diseases devastate entire countries, and climate change threatens our very existence.
It’s easy to blame Al Gore for making us confront the realities of climate change, or blame the deniers for making a realistic response more difficult. In an era of increasing skepticism about science, the supernatural, magic and some forms of religion offer attractive alternatives. The alternatives may help some people deal with the stress, but are unlikely to make the real dangers — the actual evil — go away.
If we want our girls (and the rest of us) to be able to face the future with all its good and bad surprises, we need to help them prepare for it. That means we need to be realistic about our world, our community and ourselves. And we need to give our children the tools they will need to cope with or change that future.
After all, Katniss was able to change her world with just a bow.