Friday, March 19, 2021

The Entertainment Gap


Some of my expressions while I watch my kids' fave YouTubers

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"Oh wow, that's cool!" I force out.

My daughter is not convinced.

"Okay, I'll stop bugging you, Mom. I know you're not into it."

I look up from the green onions I'm cutting and watch her skip away. My heart sinks as I open my mouth to stop her, but she's halfway up the stairs before I decide not to lie to her. She wasn't wrong... I was 1000% not into it. I am trying. Wait, am I trying? Perhaps I'm trying harder at my act of looking interested rather than actually being interested. 

Sigh, this was going to happen eventually... don't be so hard on yourself.

Well sure, I mentally respond to my self-comforting thought, but shouldn't I fight against the stereotype I  see on lazily written sitcoms? The oft-distracted mother who cannot be bothered by her kids. Beyond that, wouldn't it be in my best interest to keep tabs on what my kids are into so that I'm not blindsided when I find something upsetting under their beds... otherwise known as the plot of a lazily written Lifetime movie?

No matter what gymnastics I put my thoughts through, the bottom line is that it is happening: I can no longer understand nor tolerate most of what my kids find entertaining.

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Many phases of parenting are universal. Now, the specific elements may change, but the overall experience of these transitions can be recognized by most parents, no matter when they raised their kids. Right now, the separation between what my kids enjoy and what I and my husband enjoy is widening rapidly... and even though I know it's a natural progression of their development, I must admit it is bumming me out. On the upside, I do appreciate the moments to myself after years of curating my days and hours around my kids' interests. I mean, I used to dream about these days a few years ago. But I also find myself reaching for a railing amongst the rumbling wake of my kids' slipping away. 

Not Your Mother's YouTube

My kids have favorite YouTubers. Some are gamers and some are reactors. Some have tons of super cars and others do challenges. Some clearly have sponsors and some just post from their basements. All of them are extremely unappealing to me.

Now, I've certainly considered the route of banning YouTube from the house, but I quickly dismissed the thought because I don't want my kids to be the odd ones who cannot relate to their peers. I realize that may sound trivial, but I was that kid and I know how isolating that can be. We didn't have cable in my house growing up and so the conversations about Nickelodeon or the videos on MTV were completely lost on me. My parents also didn't allow Nintendo, so any chance to bond over Super Mario Bros or Zelda wasn't possible. As hard as I tried, I couldn't really get a spirited conversation going about a riveting ABC mini-series starring Joanna Kerns.

In addition to how foreign this form of entertainment is to me, I also worry about the breadth of content out there for them to stumble onto. I take a little comfort that my kids use my account which is on restricted mode, so for the most part, the videos they watch aren't inappropriate. Annoying as f*ck and insulting to my comedic sensibilities? Hell yes. But not inappropriate. However, that doesn't mean something undesirable can't slip in during a video about achieving the perfect drift in a Lambo. YouTube even tells you that when you choose restricted mode.

Paul and I see the whole YouTuber thing differently. He's very quick to dismiss the whole phenomenon as 100% awful and as a sign that the world is on it's way to a poo-filled pit of dumbed down entertainment. I'm not quite so negative about it. I see it as the obvious evolution towards which this tech-heavy generation gravitates. These YouTubers are people who have grown up with the internet, so instead of chastising them as the antithesis of true art, I see them as a loud reminder that subjectivity is ever-present... especially as you get older and the art forms that you cherish are becoming all but extinct. 

I recently downgraded my YouTube subscription which means my kids are experiencing the interruptions of advertisements numerous times per video. It frustrates them to no end, but my Gen-X ass takes great pleasure in the slight overlap of experience. I resist a full on "back in my day we had to put up with 2 minutes of commercials and we couldn't SKIP any of them" diatribe, but I'll take what I can get. I'm certainly not entertained by the actual YouTuber, but the "UGHHHH" from my kid waiting for a 15-second ad to finish is pure gold.

Parental Amnesia

"Remember this feeling. Remember this feeling. Remember. This. Feeling."

As a kid, I'd repeat this to myself whenever I felt like talking to my parents was like talking to aliens. Sure there was the whole immigrant parent gap, but it was more than that. While I'm not as dramatic as Alison the Basketcase from The Breakfast Club when she declares that, "your heart dies" when you grow up, I do surmise that becoming a parent injects your heart and brain with a sort of protection serum. All messaging from those organs are filtered through a watchful lens when it comes to your kids. That good intention to protect your kids can blind you to memories of being their mental and emotional age. I have wanted to avoid that blindness for as long as I can remember.

Which is why this period of my parental journey isn't consuming me with despair. I have moments of acknowledging the rapid change in my kids and there are flashes of sadness, but because I really dig deep to fish out my own memories of when I was at their stage of discovery, I know that this is just a natural progression for all of us. There's really no point in resenting it. I cherish the memories with my family of sitting on the couch and everyone enjoying the same movie or television show - everyone laughing together. But, eventually there were large swaths of time where I'd be in my room doing what I wanted; listening to music, acting in the mirror, writing in my diary, etc. As I got older, the interactions with my family became less frequent even though we lived under the same roof, but it didn't mean there was any less love there. 

I'm well aware of the differences in the types of entertainment and the impact it may have on this generation versus my own. This isn't a post about screen time or the emotional affects of social media and curated influencers. Believe me, I do have my worries about all of that, but my approach isn't terribly different from what I described above. Every parent goes through their child dealing with circumstances that are foreign to what they themselves went through. New and unfamiliar shit has always been feared by the older generation. The New York Times reported that the telephone would invade everyone's privacy back in the late 1800s. The Beatles and Elvis were going to ruin our kids! Heavy metal was the devil's music! Back in 1989, I remember my parents watching a 60 Minutes segment about how damaging Bart Simpson could be to the youth of America. He's a cartoon who says, "Eat my shorts!" The horror!! 

Before you scream "it's not the same!!" I am well aware that those aren't analogous examples... I've watched (and acted in, and got cut from) The Social Dilemma. But the fear of the unknown is the same. Again, this isn't a post about the dangers of the internet on my kids, it's about how I plan to approach all the personal unfamiliarity with my kids. And in a nutshell, it's an approach of acceptance, reasonable protection and compassion for their emotional growth. 

Whenever my parents would freak out about something I was watching or hearing, I remember saying to them, repeatedly, that just because I watched or listened to something didn't mean I was going to emulate it. And that was coming from a young girl who was easily susceptible to influence! However, that susceptibility had a point and that point had been defined by my parents. I very clearly understood their rules and was scared to death of their wrath. So, I'm firmly planted in the reality that my kids will fall under the spell of influence, that's unavoidable, but I plan to instill in them the foundational values we as their parents expect of them... and hope they listen. That is parenting in a nutshell: guide and hope. 

Common Grind

I was once told in a corporate performance review that the problem with my work was an obvious "lack of effort." Ouch. Now, it didn't come as a surprise since my track record was littered with half-assery - especially with things for which I had zero passion. That moment, sitting across from a manager who was 2 years younger than me but acted 20 years older than me, rattles around in my mind quite a bit. My effort deficiency has always been a source of shame.

If I want to spend time with my kids as they get older, I'm going to have to put in the effort to make that happen. My heart aches at the increased time apart as a family. Sometimes I will look around and notice that everyone has been in separate rooms for hours doing their own thing... which on the surface doesn't seem that bad, but for a mother who is adjusting to her babies increased independence, it can be a melancholy realization. 

Whether it is dinner, a game or a movie we all agree on (after several trailers are reviewed), we spend time together because I make damn sure it happens. I find myself on high alert for any activity that we may all enjoy, which isn't easy since their likes and dislikes are ever-evolving. At present, we all love Conan O'Brien remotes on the Team Coco YouTube page. The kids are tickled that their parents are actually watching YouTube with them and Paul and I are able to enjoy one of our all-time favorite comedians. It's a win-win. Until one of them gets bored of it and then I'll have to figure out the next thing. 

It can be exhausting, but half-assing family time isn't in the cards for me. If effort is what it takes... then effort is what I'll bring.

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Ever since I started writing this post a few days ago, I've consciously changed my approach to the way I respond to my kids' new and emerging interests. Retelling the story from the introduction sort of woke me up to my, again, lack of effort issues I've struggled with in my life. 

Yesterday, I sat with my kids and watched a few videos with the intention to not say one negative thing or play Crosswords with Friends on my phone the whole time. I really watched and really listened to my kids as they explained what was going on. And you know, an amazing thing happened - I actually enjoyed myself. Instead of focusing on my distaste for the actual content, I focused on the joy it brought my kids and I enjoyed their joy. And what was even more fabulous was that most of that joy was coming from my engagement in their interests. When I asked if I could watch with them, their eyes LIT up. This pocket of time where my kids actually enjoy sharing their interests with us is temporary, I know that... so I need to savor it. After a few YouTube videos, I watched them play their favorite iPad video games while asking questions and making funny comments. We were laughing... we were together. 

And, I had to remind myself all over again... remember this feeling.
 





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