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Raising Twilight Zone Kids

I've always loved watching the Twilight Zone, even during that obnoxious part of my youth where all movies, cartoons, shows, etc. needed to be in color in order to be worth my time. From what I remember, the only exception to this rule was the Twilight Zone. I would watch those marathons on SciFi (back when it was a good channel) for hours on end, glued to the TV. Eventually, I grew up to appreciate more black and white movies than I can count (like Hitchcock and old-school Sci Fi movies like The Bad Seed, Godzilla, the Blob, Mothra, etc) ...but Twilight Zone will always have a special little space in my heart. I've watched some of the more recent reincarnations of this awesome show...but the old-school black and white episodes were the best.

For any Twilight Zone nuts, here's a quick list of some of my favorite episodes:
1. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge...that seemingly never-ending chase scene followed by the last-second twist was something that has remained fresh in my mind for years
2. The Masks...you almost wish you could give a come-uppance to some people in the same manner as Jason Foster
3. It's a Good Life...not be confused with "It's a Wonderful Life"...at all. It's really an awful life actually.
4. One for the Angels... There's something about the "let's outsmart death" fables that I absolutely can't get enough of...
5. The Midnight Sun...this one also had a great twist ending, and who can forget the melting paintings...

There is something about the Twilight Zone that always resonated with me. Unlike all the "punch-you-in-the-face-obvious" social commentary you see these days in shows and rubbish movies such as Wall-E, the Twilight Zone tends to teach us about humanity's weaknesses and deep-seated darkness in very subtle ways that made an impression on me. As silly as the premise of "It's a Good Life" may sound to a culture of folk raised on the carnage of slasher movies, it is probably scarier (to me at least) than many of the movies that are released now...regardless of how much guts, chainsaws, etc. they may contain. Why? Let me put it this way, as much as I love kids, I am fully aware that they can be monsters. There's too many awful stories that show up in the news about children and teens committing suicide because they cannot deal with being teased anymore. I was teased as a kid, so I can tell you that it is awful. Even with a supportive and loving family, there were moments where I simply could not imagine ever being happy again. There were times when I really did consider myself to be as awful as the bullies made me out to be. This, in turn, turned me into a monster when someone else started getting picked on.

"It's a Good Life" is a story centers on a boy living in a town in Ohio. He is omnipotent and has essentially wiped all of civilization (and perhaps the world) except the people in his town. If you displease him in any way, he can make you disappear. He can control the weather and just about everything else. As a result of everything his making people disappear in the past, everyone in the town seems to be walking on eggshells. They do what they can to please this boy, hoping that they aren't the next ones to disappear. Even his own family fears him. At one point toward the end, the remaining members of the town throw a birthday party for one of the citizens who gets drunk and proceeds to mouth off toward the boy...I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, but he ends up upsetting the boy and getting a rather draconian punishment for it.
"Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone."

This story is an extreme example of just how cruel children can be, especially if they haven't learned lessons in patience, empathy, compassion, etc.

This Sunday, I sat one parent away from one of those kids. You know which kids I am talking about...the ones that scream and whine until they get what they want. She cried. She whined. She threw fits. She timed her whines to coincide with the songs that were sung and the scripture read. She was thirsty. She was tired. She was hungry. She was*insert complaint here.* I could not hear a thing over her constant whining and she even started throwing a fit...knocking herself into the pew and bothering her mom to no end. One could even think she was possessed because she kept at it for most of the service.

Her mom, God bless her, did not give in to her demands to go home/bathroom/water fountain/etc. She held strong for most of the service with the patience of a saint. Had that been my child, I would have smacked her and then given her a lecture that would have rivaled the smack and lectures I used to get as a kid. As much as I hated getting smacked, the lectures were always worse. I still thank God for the parents I had and the discipline they taught me...because I could have become one of those kids and grown up to be one of those adults. You know the adults I am talking about, the I-get-what-I-want-regardless-of-who-I-inconvenience-adults. They're often seen at places like Whole Foods, reaching over you as you are trying to get some overpriced tomatoes in your basket...or cutting you off in the aisles because they feel entitled to it. You can be as environmentally-friendly and organic as you want...but no amount of yoga, organic food, or hybrid cars will ever justify a nasty persona.

I prayed for that whining child and suppressed the urge to address her directly. I also ended up going through my purse before the collection to retrieve a St. Anne/Holy family medal for the mother because heaven knows how she could last that long with a kid acting like that. It looked like she may need all the help she can get and I felt bad for her.  I was very close to awarding her "Mother of the Year," when she did something that led to a Twilight Zone moment....something that got that little girl quiet. It wasn't a smacking. It wasn't a lecture. It was a phone. She gave her daughter one of those fancy phones and this girl was instantly cured of her thirst, hunger, weariness, etc. in an instant (because she had been faking it all along, I am sure). In an instant she was engrossed in a game without the whining, fake tears, screams, fits, etc. It was eerie how this phone was able to captivate her...forget about the miracle of transubstantiation or a much-needed lesson in patience. The little girl would get none of that. She was too busy playing a game in the middle of mass.

That moment broke my heart because it occurs all too often on the streets of NYC, on the subway, on the train, etc. Parents, rather than investing their time and effort in teaching their kids the value of patience, mass, kindness, charity, etc....are using phones to keep kids distracted. The kids, in turn, are missing out on the important lessons of life. They are playing games instead of working on the ability to sit still for an hour. They are playing games instead of learning how to handle the word "NO" when their demands are not met. They are playing games instead of dealing with the small disappointments in life that ultimately prepare us for bigger disappointments in life. They are playing games instead of learning coping skills. They are playing games instead of being children.

I have learned enough about the developing brain to know that things like environment and behavior have a big influence on the circuitry necessary for learning and basic functions. Mindless games are a poor substitute for the social cues they pick up from their parents and they are a poor substitute for the just love of a parent. I say "just love" instead of "love" because I feel that an overly indulgent love is also detrimental for children. When I say "just love" I am talking about the type of love that is willing to correct mistakes and teach lessons, the type of love that a parent has when the ground you for breaking a window after playing ball in the house...the type of love that leads a parent to force a kid to pay for this window out of their allowance. Phones cannot show children this type of love. Phones can show kids how to play a game or call someone...but they cannot teach children how to behave, how to love, how to be responsible, how to be respectful, and how to be patient.

I am afraid that this "just give the kid a phone to keep them quiet" attitude towards parenting is going to give us a generation of overindulged people who seek distractions instead of solutions when faced with problems. With that said, I am afraid that some parents may one day regret the shortcuts they seem to be taking whenever the give phones to kids to keep them quiet...instead of correcting the errors they see.

I hope that enough parents experience a wake-up call when it comes to parenting...before the next generation is raised to be like the kid from "It's a Good Life." We have already started seeing some awful news stories of kids killing parents for the sake of video games. I won't link them here because the stories are just plain awful... a simple online search will lead to plenty of gruesome results. I can only imagine how many more will pop up in the future if things keep going as they are now. May God help us all if it gets any worse.

Pax Vobiscum


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