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‘My Parents Are Stupid’

When Kids Refuse to Be Properly Indoctrinated

If I had any doubts that Gen Y and Gen Z possess the savvy and the huevos they’ll need to lead this country out of its current muddle, those doubts were squelched last week. First, 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger testified before the Senate about why he went and got himself vaccinated after growing up with a staunch anti-vaxxer mom.

“My parents are kind of stupid,” began Ethan’s Reddit post back in November asking for advice on where and how to get the shots as an adult. He told the Senate that as he “began to think critically for myself, I saw that the information in defense of vaccines outweighed the concerns heavily.” Can I get an “amen” for Ethan?

Then journalist Eli Saslow, author of Rising Out of Hatred, came to UCSB Arts & Lectures to talk about the miraculous transformation of Derek Black. The godson of KKK grand wizard David Duke and actual son of another grand wizard (how is that actually a grown man’s title?), Black was a prominent white supremacist in his own right until he went to college and met people who defied the stereotypes he’d been spoon-fed his whole life. They challenged him to learn more about other races and religions, which — as education is wont to do — convinced him that racism was a big steaming pile of hooey. Now, much to Daddy’s dismay, he’s an outspoken critic of the white nationalist movement.

Imagine the courage, conviction, and capability of these young men! There’s something about a kid rebelling against his lunatic parents that fills me with hope. But I was surprised to find that these stories also filled me with something else. Something less flattering: panic. If this dramatic rejection of family values can happen to deranged and misguided parents, what’s to stop it from happening to outrageously rational and astoundingly wise parents — you know, parents like me?

Consciously or unconsciously, we all steep our kids in our own particular flavor of wackadoodle. No matter what anyone says about first words or first steps, I’m going to level with you: The very best parenting moments, the ones that make the work and the worry all worth it, are when your kid asks you why something is the way it is. And you get to lay out your particular, maybe even peculiar, worldview to a rapt audience of one who thinks, for a brief but wondrous couple of years, that you are fricking Gandalf the White (#actualgrandwizard).

There are things that I value — and that I have made clear that our family values, dagnabbit — that I care far more about seeing carried on through by kids and potential grandkids than any lame-o physical trait that might accidentally get handed down. “Mom, meet your granddaughter — she has your chin!” “Sure, sure, that’s great. What’s her stance on speaking truth to power?”

We say we want our kids to think critically and to develop their own points of view. But do we? Do we really? If we’re being honest, what we really want is for them to think for themselves … and to arrive at the exact same conclusions we did.

They don’t, though. My oldest says things like “The Beatles are overrated” and “Socialism isn’t as great as you think,” while my youngest refuses to watch This Is Spinal Tap. And so I must ask you: What is the point of having children if you can’t make them spew your adamant prejudices?

I can’t say that I admire Ethan Lindenberger’s mom; it’s irresponsible to defy modern science and put your child at risk of contracting and spreading diseases because of nonsense you read on Facebook. But I feel for her as a parent watching her child grow up and disavow her deeply held beliefs, however cockamamie.

And you know what? I give her credit for raising a kid who questions authority — who speaks truth to power, you might even say. I wonder if either of them even realizes he learned it from her.

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