Discovering Our Children


Discovering Our Children

The Connection Between Anonymity and Rage in Today's Kids

By Ron Taffel

September/October 1999


Jessica has just been told by her mother to stop watching TV and clean up the table. "Not now," Jessica says, without bothering to look up. "No, Jessica, I mean this minute," her mother says sharply.  "Later," Jessica responds, almost absentmindedly. Mom stiffens and threatens: "Stop it now or there won't be TV tonight." Finally, she's got her daughter's attention. Jessica looks her mother squarely in the face and says, "Fuck you, mommy!" Jessica is 8 years old.

Fuck you mommy. The exhilarating horror of this phrase! How many adults today can imagine the consequence had they thought, let alone said, such a thing when they were kids? Over the last 10 years, however, as these exchanges are becoming increasingly part of everyday family interaction, it has become apparent to me that a tectonic shift about acceptable behavior is taking place in parent-child relationships throughout the country. After all, Jessica is not a neglected or abused child in thrall to gang culture. Her parents are middle-class professionals living in a comfortable suburb. Nor is Jessica "maladjusted" psychologically; she knows her parents love her, she earns good marks in school and basically gets along well with other children. What is really shocking is that exchanges like this are so ordinary; they are a part of daily family discourse in America.

A father informs me that his 8-year-old son, when asked for the fourth time to turn off the computer game and straighten his room, snarls,…

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