Sense, Satire, and Support: Towards Helping Our Kids Overcome Information Overload
It was just a few days after the 2016 election that I last wrote here to offer my thoughts to the MomsRising community on how to explain that election to our children. I suggested telling our kids about the golden rule, and how Donald Trump’s victory should not mean that his numerous displays of unacceptable behavior should be seen as justified or valid just because he had won the election. After four years of having our worst fears realized, and more, once again I find myself talking with my own kids about what we have experienced as Americans in a tumultuous election and transition. And I would like once again to share my thoughts with you.
I write now on a much happier occasion - Joe Biden’s victory and first few weeks as our nation’s 46th president. And yet, the rancor, stress and vitriol we braced ourselves for in 2016 is still here, and in many ways, it has gotten worse. So, let me offer my recipe for the moment: talking sense, sharing satire, and finding creative ways of supporting worthy causes like MomsRising.
Sense for Young People
Like many of you reading this, I closely followed the recent chaotic presidential election and transition with hope, fear, anxiety and disbelief, to name just a few of my printable reactions. January 6th and the shocking storming of the Capitol is certainly another moment in history when we will remember precisely where we were – what psychologists call a “flashbulb memory.” Back in 1787, in the final days of the Constitutional Convention, when asked by Elizabeth Willing Powel, a Philadelphia socialite, what form of government the US would have, Ben Franklin cautioned, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” Well, it seems like we came pretty close to losing it, doesn’t it?
During these recent events, I stayed in regular touch with my three daughters, now all in university, through daily message updates in our WhatsApp group. My goal in writing them was to share the facts and to provide them with a frame of reference so that they could make sense of what was happening. While I knew that my daughters were receiving voluminous information on developments, particularly on social media, I worried that they might not have the context necessary to make sense of it all. At a certain point, I learned that they were sharing my texts with groups of their friends, who were quite curious and who asked my daughters for me to continue the updates. This made me happy, and honestly surprised me a little as well.
I think that one of our greatest responsibilities now in 2021 with regard to our children, and young people in general, is to speak the truth, to showcase facts, and to help them wade through the ocean of false and often misleading information that they encounter online. Most young people are now sadly accustomed to the rancor of the country’s identity politics, which is fueled by our polarized media environment. I believe that one way to provide them with a calm refuge from this storm and to help them to find their way is to inform them and to offer perspective on what is true, what is false, and what is opinion.
The country at large is intensely polarized, in part due to the silos of information and misinformation in which we find ourselves navigating online. This reality might represent the most vexing obstacle in protecting and buttressing our democracy. While this is a challenge of monumental proportions, and one that will take a lot of time to address, the more immediate task of helping our children and the younger generations to consume and process information intelligently and constructively, is an imperative for all of us. As parents, mentors and teachers, we owe young people our considered efforts to be honest information brokers and ombudsmen of narratives. This can allow young people to decide for themselves on the validity and impact of the narratives they encounter.
Satire for Adults
As I was texting my contextualized news updates to my daughters, I realized that I also felt a need to express my indignation, observations and insights to the public at large. The approach that I chose to take was very similar, as I decided to focus on facts and on how to make sense of the chaos we witnessed daily. I chose to use the platform of social media, but rather than writing prose, or songs, as I have done in the past, I penned a limerick - what I called an ‘ode to Joe.’ As a singer-songwriter, I was no stranger to rhyming in verse, though I had never before tried my hand at limericks. I quickly discovered that, apart from being highly addictive(!), limericks could be used to highlight salient points, personalities, policies and more. The brevity of the form posed a challenge, but also offered me the possibility of creating tiny morsels of humor, within each of which is a pointed message.
I have decided to publish the full collection of the limericks that I composed during the transition in a book. My intention is to create a sort of children’s book for adults: one that is fun to read, easy to pick up any time, and one that entertains through words and pictures. Here I was fortunate to once again work with the talented and creative illustrator Charity Russell.
Support for A Good Cause
Beyond writing and publishing the limericks, I have also decided to use the income from the book to do good. To that end, I am donating the proceeds from the sale of the book to MomsRising, in recognition of the powerful voice of women in changing the US for the better, and of the important work the organization undertakes. As we attempt to break the cycle of misinformation and to empower our children, MomsRising can make a real difference through grassroots efforts to help children and families.
As I write, I honestly do not know whether there is a future campaign that MomsRising might be able to create to address the issue of misinformation of young people, or any kind of standard tools or techniques that can be employed by parents and others. But I do know that each of us can make a commitment now to talking with our children and other young people in our lives about what information they are receiving, whether it is factually based or not, and how to interpret its meaning and to place it in context. MomsRising has a “Healthy Kids,” campaign, and just as it is essential to ensure that kids consume healthy foods, it is becoming equally critical for them to consume information in a manner that nurtures their mental and emotional health and well-being.
Young people today are afloat in a virtual sea of information, and we adults have a profound role to play in helping them to successfully surf its waves, rather than be overwhelmed and overcome by it. Perhaps one place for us to start is to make a commitment to check in with our kids on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, to take stock of their understanding of what is happening in the country and the world and to answer any questions they may have.
Thanks for taking time to read my blog. I hope we can all embrace facts and talk sense to our children, young people, and fellow human beings. A little laughter never hurts, of course…
“A Patient Man Named Joe Watched Trump Refuse to Go” is now available on Amazon for pre-order on the kindle for a February 16th release. It will be available then in paperback on Amazon and in paperback and hardcover at bookstores near you.