Like everyone else in the nation, I've fallen in love with the little tackers on Junior MasterChef. How would you not. All that innocence and joy and unbridled enthusiasm is just what we need to brighten up this otherwise terrible year. And those little chubby cheeks on 10-year-old Ben make me just want to eat him up.
But when I decided to stir the pot, so to speak, on Twitter the other night, things got pretty hot in the kitchen.
"Maybe I am a cranky old Gen X Karen," I wrote, not that there's anything wrong with being a Karen, "but we need to keep it real for the kids. I've coached so many kids expecting to play first grade at 15 or get As with minimal effort. Life is hard and we need to teach them that."
Let the haters hate. "Who hurt you Karen?" "I wonder if your parents knew and that's why they called you Karen ... or the name made you that way." "Not one of these kids is going to turn out to be middle-aged and bitter and complaining about children on the internet."
One of the first things you learn in journalism is to never engage with the trolls. Back in the day you knew things were going to go bad when an envelope arrived on your desk with a handwritten address on the front. There was one fan who used to clip my stories out of the actual paper and circle all the - what he saw as - errors, and point out what a stupid girl I was. But sometimes you can't help yourself and the night got rather spicy. In the end, I turned to Facebook, looking for some love from my friends, because I knew some of them were cranky Gen Xers as well. "I'm copping a hiding on Twitter because I dare suggest that we spend too much time blowing smoke up the arse of mediocre kids. Discuss."
Now, a lot of my friends are teachers so it's always interesting to hear from people who are dealing with our kids every day. They spoke of how we need to teach kids resilience, how criticism can be good for children, how they need to feel failure, how we need to stop telling them they can be anything they want to be, how we need to teach them they won't win every time.
I know Junior MasterChef is a glorious little show. And all the kids do seem to be well adjusted little cherubs, even if some of them seem to be a little earnest. But it's hard not to be somewhat cynical when kids are talking about how a dish represents them (I didn't know who I was at 13, did you?). One kid was even rambling on about how he loved cooking with exoskeletons and I'm thinking that kid needs to watch Aliens straight away. It's not that I was trying to bring these little moppets down, it's just that I do worry about how modern parenting might affect future generations.
The World Health Organisation says depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. There are many factors in play, from socio-economic problems to a desire for greater autonomy. In a recent statement, WHO also had this to say: "Media influence ... can exacerbate the disparity between an adolescent's lived reality and their perceptions or aspirations for the future." And that's what concerns me, if those who love them the most, their parents, are also contributing to the disparity. We need to do all we can to keep the balance between reality and dreams.
If they've been told since their formative years that life is rainbows and lollipops, or made-from-scratch tasty bao buns, then how will they cope in their adult years when they'll finally come to face some harsh realities?
In a nice segue, one friend posted about the recent final of The Bachelor where Locky Gilbert fell to pieces having to choose between two women, both of whom he had told he loved. "He burst into tears because he had to make a decision," my friend wrote. "My first thought was what the hell sort of resilience, decision-making and emotional maturity has he been exposed to? It is so alarming seeing young adults who have never been told no, never learned to wait their turn, be gracious, lose, suffer disappointment." This friend works in the tertiary sector.
I get that Junior MasterChef is nothing more than a cooking show. I get it's entertainment. But we need to make sure our kids know that sometimes the recipe for life does not go as planned.