My latest article for The Revealer | 27 March 2012
Ashley Baxstrom: It’s a curious culture we live in when a children’s event has to be cancelled because people are acting belligerently.
It’s troubling even – or maybe especially – when it’s a religious children’s event. A religious children’s event that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration. A religious children’s event that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration about a bunny (or, you know, Jesus).
Because when I say “people acting belligerently,” I mean, “parents acting in the standard way parents act now.” That’s right – Easter has become the new domain of over-aggressive parenting, and as always in this world, it is the innocent who suffer.
The annual Old Colorado City Easter Egg Hunt in Colorado Springs has been cancelled because of parents’ misbehavior last year, the AP reports. The event, which draws hundreds of families, takes place in an open-field section of Bancroft Park. The children-only hunt is roped off, and plastic eggs filled with candy and local business coupons are scattered across the grass. But last year, due to a PA system malfunction, a few parents jumped the ropes before they were supposed to, apparently unleashing a floodtide of grown-up egg-snatching, leaving empty-handed children and befuddled rule-abiding parents in its wake. The “hunt” was over in seconds.
“You better believe I’m going to help my kid get one of those eggs. I promised my kid an Easter egg hunt, and I’d want to give him an even edge,” one man told the reporter.
Ron Alsop, author of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” attributes this mindset to what he calls a phenomenon of the “millennial children” generation, where parents “can’t stay out of their children’s lives. They don’t give their children enough chances to learn from hard knocks, mistakes.”
But these “helicopter parents” – so-called because of their tendency to hover (get it!) – aren’t just heavily involved in their children’s lives. There is a multitude of healthy ways in which Moms and Dads can be very- or over-involved with their children: chores; monitoring Internet usage; vetting prom dates; encouraging or pushing extracurricular activities.
What’s bad about the kind of behavior on display in Old Colorado City last year is its extreme competitiveness. Egg-snatching parents weren’t offering encouragement or positive reinforcement, they were being pushy and aggressive. At least no fistfights broke out, but it’s not like we haven’t seen that at kids’ events before, particularly sports, between parents or even in some parent-on-ref action (just try Googling “dad attacks referee”).
The thing is, this isn’t just a phenomenon of parenting; it’s not like this just dropped on our folks out of the 80’s skies, along with neon, scrunchies and Tiffany. Parents are a part of families are a part of American culture and society, and America is competitive. Maybe this is a new playing field, but the game has been going on for a very long time. Look at our political system, how we’re constantly pitted against one another. Look at how we frame our national identity against other countries in a race to arms, a race to rule the global economy, a challenge to spread democracy (not, of course, that we’re the only nation to use such rhetoric. English football fans, I mean, yikes!).
Aggressive parenting is one of many symptoms of the overly-competitive system we live in, and seeing that spread to another area of culture – religion – shouldn’t be a surprise. The article actually comes off as kind of funny – look at these silly grownups going cuckoo for candy, it’s just an Easter egg hunt! – but then I had to remind myself that Easter for many is a serious, thoughtful, meaningful time of year. And about morethan the return of Jelly Bellies. It’s a celebration about the rebirth of Christ and the rebirth believers believe is possible for those who believe in it. Besides some people maybe being upset about the commodification of their holiday, now they have to deal with competition and aggressive, even violent, behavior?
But this wasn’t a church service – it was a fully culturally-co-opted bunny-centered time for tots. So it’s kind of like, ok, chill, don’t get too offended Christians. But at the same time, yea, stealing candy is messed up, and maybe we should be treating the whole Easter thing with a little more respect.
Ah, but our argument. Religion isn’t special – by which I mean that, like parenting, it is a product of culture, immersed in our society, influencing and being influenced by it. Can we really be surprised that it’s been affected (infected?) by our competitive streak? ARE we surprised? I’m not. Religion’s not immune to competition; I think it’s obviously a longstanding participant. Religious wars, religious conversions, theological debates, to cite the obvious. And the rhetoric of religion in politics these days – competition is everywhere, folks, and it’s in religion too.”
“I don’t see any sign of [the competitive dynamic] abating,” Alsop said. “It seems everything is more and more and more competitive, fast paced, and I think parents are going to see they need to do more to help their kids get an edge.”
So it’s ok to laugh at this story, and to be upset by this story. It’s pretty ridiculous that it happened. Don’t we all just want to roll our eyes and mutter “Come ON” under our breath? We should take concerns about this competitiveness in a religious context seriously. But we might also need to be seriously concerned about the competitiveness OF religion, and more than that, of our competitive culture as a whole.
Because this is the final result folks: little children who didn’t get any candy, and now you have to tell them the Easter Bunny isn’t real.
Ashley Baxstrom is a master’s student in Religious Studies at New York University and an assistant editor at The Revealer. Follow her on Twitter at @AshBaxNYC.