Children Have to Listen to Fake News, Too, and It's Not Good for Them
Last month at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, association president Olivier Knox was brooding over the future of the free press after Donald Trump called some of the media "enemies of the people." Knox said that, a few days after Trump's remark, "I was driving my then-11-year-old son somewhere, probably soccer practice, when he burst into tears and asked me, 'Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?'" Knox had a follow-up story about a family trip to Mexico and how his son "mused [that] if the president tried to keep me out of the country, at 'least Uncle Josh is a good lawyer and will get you home.'"
As someone who's never been a parent, I've kept the rule to never offer opinions on how to raise children. But lately there are more and more examples of children in the grip of bizarre beliefs about reality that cause them real anxiety — perhaps even terror. Am I out of line for thinking their parents may have something to do with this?
Take Olivier Knox's son. According to his father, the boy's had two disturbing takes on things. The first is that America's president is going to put his father in prison, and the second is that while the family's abroad, the president might order that his father not be allowed back into the U.S. The thing is, even if Knox's son were a precocious consumer of the New York Times, CNN, and NPR, he still wouldn't have come across any stories about the president putting reporters in prison or banning them from re-entering the country, or even threatening to do so. Yet Knox's son was so overwrought about it that he burst into tears.
I'm told that the usual parental thing with such outbursts is to comfort a distraught child with reassurances that what he fears is never going to happen. I don't think Knox mentioned how he responded. But since the cause of this boy's insecurities is almost certainly Knox's own wild exaggerations about being Trump's personal target, he was hardly in a position to contradict it. Instead, Knox filed the scene away for use in a speech about how Donald Trump's existence traumatizes children.
But don't blame Trump for Master Knox's trauma. That was caused by whoever crammed his head full of such stupid ideas in the first place. The sick irony of Knox's anecdotes is the way he helped prove Trump's theory of the media. His son's tears were brought on by fake news.
Last fall, after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, protester Alethea Torrellas Shapiro, with her two small daughters in tow, blindsided Kavanaugh supporter Sen. Bill Cassidy in the corridor. "Senator Cassidy," she demanded, "can you please apologize to my children for ruining their futures?" Cassidy replied to this quite skillfully but didn't say what she wanted to hear, so Shapiro called after him, "Shame on you for not believing women and for ruining my daughters' lives." Regardless of what message Shapiro was trying to send Cassidy, the message she gave her daughters that day was, "Because Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, your lives and your futures are ruined."
Then there are the children who live each day in the certain knowledge that climate change means they'll never live through their twenties. The youth-based Sunrise Movement describes its adherents as "ordinary young people who are scared about what the climate crisis means for the people and places we love." Can you name any other organization that identifies it members as "people who are scared"? When a group of Sunrise kids showed up outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office demanding she vote for the Green New Deal, they were pleading, "We have come to a point where our Earth is dying, literally," and "[s]cientists have said that we have 12 years to turn this around."
Thirteen-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor skips school every Friday to conduct her own "climate strike" across the street from the U.N. Given what she believes about the situation, and despairing that it will be "too late" by the time her wiser generation takes over, she draws the only logical conclusion: "Why go to school if we won't have a future? Why go to school if we're going to be too busy running from the next hurricane or fire? We'll be migrating to places where we can actually live."
Natalie Rotstein, a Sunrise volunteer and junior at UCLA, also subsists in a state of incessant angst. "It's such an everyday, grinding kind of acceptance that there's probably going to be an apocalypse within our lifetime," she told the New Yorker. She says the certainty of this "imminent apocalypse" is why many of Rotstein's friends can't justify having children. We heard the same thinking shared recently on Instagram by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the giver of the Green New Deal. She says that because the "scientific consensus" is that children's lives "are going to be very difficult," young people should be asking themselves, "Is it OK to still have children?"
On the other hand, if you already have children, is it OK to teach them that their future will be one long, bitter struggle to find food and the last high ground? Not that this kind of despair, and kids being terrified about climate change, is all parents' fault. Kids are being propagandized about the ticking climate clock in school, on TV, and everywhere on social media. It just doesn't help when the parents are scared, too. A 40-year-old Salt Lake City mother said the release of the U.N.'s latest climate report caused her three teenage daughters a severe emotional crisis. "There was a lot of crying. They told me, 'We know what's coming, and it's going to be really rough.'" Because mom believes it, too, there's not much help she can offer. "I want to have hope," she said, "but the reports are showing that this isn't going to stop, so all we can do is cope."
I don't believe that these children are really studying climate reports; it's the media's hysterical coverage that's upsetting them. Take this headline in New York magazine: "UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It's Actually Worse Than That." Worse than genocide? The New York Post found that the reporting on a similar U.S. climate assessment was also "all wrong," but only because "accurate science doesn't make for good television; predicting the end of times does."
If Olivier Knox's hyperbole about being personally targeted for Trump's dungeon makes him a hero to his peers, that's fine, but unlike his peers, his son actually believes this tripe. Mothers are teaching small daughters that their futures are wrecked because someone Mommy didn't vote for got elected, or because wicked society won't unanimously "believe all women." For decades now millions of children – and now their children — have been weaned on the fake news about science's infallible conclusion that the Earth is "dying, literally." Like the three Salt Lake teenagers, what's left for these young people to do but burst into tears?
Never mind for now all the political chicanery these fables have been used to unleash. Is this any way to treat children? And are the media that traffic in this nonsense their friends?