The Guardian, that British bastion not merely of the bien pensants but of the très bien pensants, has exceeded even its own exacting standard for first-world problems this week. In an article that looks like a satire but is sadly in earnest, it outlines the fears keeping the children of the enlightened British bourgeoisie up at night.
One child lies awake, fretting about possible terrorist attacks—although, in good Guardian fashion, we are reassured that this is not because she is Islamophobic: “She is not at all frightened by any supposed Muslim threat—indeed, she is rather pro-Muslim.” Thank goodness for that. I was worried for a moment there.... Another girl is all twisted up over global warming. A couple of kids are scared that they are going to end up as homeless refugees. A different pair worries about animals dying and the end of the earth. They have both become vegetarians and have made a How to Save the Planet game together. I suppose it beats the catapult and the broken windows of my own youthful indiscretions. And one boy is scared about a Trump victory and found Brexit so distressing (“the worst news my son had ever heard”) that he had to be calmed down before he could go to school that day. Ironically in an article designed to highlight how children are aware of the dark side of existence, that statement indicates just how clueless and, well, childish they typically are. And that should not be a problem—they are children after all. It only becomes a problem when their parents take them far too seriously.
The article made me think of my own family background. My father’s earliest memories were of hiding in a bomb shelter during the Birmingham Blitz. One of my childhood recollections was accompanying Dad as he took food packages to relatives of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. The world was a bad place where bad things happened. But neither Dad nor I lay in our beds, unable to sleep because of it all. The aunt and uncle with whom he grew up did their best to keep everything—even the very real dangers of the Luftwaffe that impinged upon his young life—in perspective. And my parents made sure I was safe and refused to indulge in any catastrophizing of existence. After all, the I.R.A., dangerous as it was, was most unlikely to single out my parents’ suburban dwelling in Sutton Coldfield for a murderous outrage.
To use the old cliché, I blame the parents. If these kids have Guardian-reader hang-ups, they probably caught them from their Guardian-reader parents. The parents really need to take responsibility for this nonsense, start parenting like adults, and stand up to their children. If a child thinks Brexit is the worst news he’s ever heard and needs to be calmed down before going to school, you can be sure three conditions apply. First, his parents have catastrophized the issue in an absurd and irresponsible way. Second, they have introduced him to political questions but failed to teach him that many of life’s questions are not susceptible of easy, black-and-white answers. And if the child is not ready for the latter, he is certainly not ready for the former. Third, they have over-indulged him and taken his opinions far too seriously. Indeed, one might say that this Brexophobic boy is the quintessential hero of our time, for nothing characterizes our political culture more than making terrifying mountains out of molehills, responding to political positions using only the words “Hooray!” or “Boo!,” and having childish tantrums when we do not get our way.
Indeed, as Claire Fox has argued, this parental silliness is what has fostered the rise of Generation Snowflake, the current batch of effete campus clones who are incapable of reacting to any opinion with which they disagree without resorting to argument-ending rhetoric of the most extreme kind. Today’s toddler tantrum is tomorrow’s campus protest, and it is a sad day when parents are apparently as spineless and conniving as educational administrators. The good Tony Esolen is currently experiencing such nonsense first-hand.
But perhaps the most unpleasant part of this article is the moral dynamic at play. Parents really should not use the irrational fears and ill-informed beliefs of their children to grant their own political views some kind of automatic superior moral authority. Because that is what this piece of journalistic fluff is. Ignorance is ignorance and it does not become sanctified wisdom because it happens to be uttered by the neurotic child of inept parents.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.