My four-year-old can often be found these days acting like some sort of cartoon character, stamping his foot because he can’t get his own way. As his parent it’s my job to hold the line and teach him that in life you don’t just get everything you want and you certainly don’t get it because you’re screaming the house down (as much as you sense that all your neighbours are begging you to give in as much as your decibel busting child) Sometimes you have to work for it, sometimes it’s just not yours to have. In the age of helicopter parenting, mindful parenting is a minefield. Are you being too harsh? Should you just give in as you don’t want to ‘damage them for life’? What about the fact that you don’t want spoilt children though? Shouldn’t we be teaching them to be resilient? The questions that you’re facing long outstay the incident that precipitated them.  

Since watching the Social Dilemma on Netflix I’ve become fixated on changing the narrative on my social media timelines (stick with it. . . I swear that it’s all related). Our self-serving echo chambers do nothing to make us aware of other people’s opinions, which in turn leaves us believing that ‘we’ (and that is very much a ‘we’ of the plural variety) must be right in our thinking as EVERYBODY agrees with us. In fact nowadays if you move outside of your social media safe lane, and dare to challenge somebody’s narrative, you are automatically lumped into the ‘other’ category with everybody assuming you to be a sharer of ‘fake news’, which is a fast track to ‘troll city’. 

Creating an echo chamber prevents personal growth. Whilst we all prefer an easier life, and let’s face it, we all hope that we’re speaking with authority, the reality of life is very different. Were I to employ a senior faculty that just went along with everything that I said, my little college would be all the duller for it. I’m not infallible, I need to be challenged, and sometimes, when trying to think outside of the box you can literally catapult yourself to a different planet. You need people around you that are challenging in order to progress and develop. Damn it, you need people around you that will say ‘no’. 

The world of social media needs to be the same fertile space in order for us to grow and develop as emotionally intelligent humans. However, have we stunted this growth due to years of privilege? A world where well-meaning parents overindulged and protected their children, meaning that as soon as they’re in an environment that challenges their narratives they hit a huge wall which results in people calling out injustice. Remember the fuss a few decades ago when it was suggested that at sports days we should stop having winner and losers? We were encouraged to tell our children that it wasn’t the winning that was important, it was the taking part? However couldn’t we have been sold the double narrative? It’s great to take part in something, and we should be really thrilled if we win, or conversely, the taking part is everything and let’s not worry too much about losing. If you want to do better next time, try training for the event? You might not ever win it, but you could see yourself improving? 

The obvious question now is – does it really matter as long as everybody’s happy? Shouldn’t I ‘give in’ to my son’s demands just to keep him happy, after all, in the big scheme of life, the thing that he’s crying for has now become a matter of principle? I’ve come to realise that I believe that it really does matter, as we’re nurturing a society of people that believe that they can’t be challenged, that losing isn’t what ‘they’ do, who deliberately shut down an alternative truth because they want to protect their echo chamber.

Let’s take an example . . . if his critics are to be believed this is the case with Donald Trump.  A privileged, spoilt man who always got his own way. Learned how to play the system and not get caught. Then suddenly in 2020 somebody (US democracy) told him ‘no’.  He lost the presidentship and seemingly copied my son. He stamped his foot, refused to believe that he could have possibly lost and the rest is history, fast forward a few months and we have the assault on Capitol Hill. Old Donald didn’t like the narrative, all the evidence supports the fact that he did in fact lose (albeit with a lot of support, which I believe supports my argument of teaching the taking part and losing/winning narrative as of equal importance). He protected his echo chamber by shouting down the other narratives as ‘fake news’, and his followers believed him . . . after all, why would anybody create such a monumental lie?

As part of my social dilemma experiment, I’ve been challenging narratives that I believe to be dangerous online. Always respectfully, never resorting to insults, yet interestingly the people consistently throwing out the most dangerous content also all seem to play the DT game. They protect their echo chamber at all costs. I’ve now lost count of the number of private messages I’ve received from people who are all pushing an alternative truth to the fact that we’ve been in a pandemic. So I’ve questioned the narratives around 5G, anti-lockdown, anti-mask, QAnon, the Great Reset, etc. They all see their ‘followers’ as their weapons, setting them onto people that don’t agree with them. Yet privately they all ask you to stop disagreeing with them? Their private messages are all the same, they literally name that they don’t like being challenged, they all ‘threaten’ you with being blocked unless you toe the line, then when you point out that their discourse is fighting to protect liberties and freedom of speech and therefore their private message is the antithesis of everything they claim to be fighting for . . . they block you. If they find you particularly challenging, they publicly block you so that their followers will give you a bit of grief for a few days. 

Are they trying to change the world, or simply get what they want? Are they well-meaning or just narcissists building up their empires? Where is their resilience to be challenged, or have they created an echo chamber so bubble-wrapped that they’ve started to believe their own narrative? Why do they cancel the opposing viewpoint as opposed to engaging in a healthy, respectful debate?

I don’t know what the answer is, and I think that this toxic narrative of entitlement reaches out into some pretty murky areas, however, I do believe that this is something that we all need to grapple with a bit more. As parents, we have to show our children that life isn’t always what ‘they’ want, we have to teach them to be resilient. We have to demonstrate curiosity for the other viewpoint to enable our children to grow both physically and emotionally. Most of all, when we’re teaching our children that they can be or do anything they want, we have to make them aware that their path isn’t some fairytale destiny, it’s a path of challenges that they need to work through. My biggest thought of all though is to get some noise-cancelling headphones/pods when you’re grappling with these concepts with your young children.