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Your Child, Your Mouthpiece

She went off. And then she went viral.

Little Riley Maida of Newburgh, New York, made news recently with a video clip known as Riley’s Rant. In it, the precocious 4-year-old stands in a toy store railing against toy makers for assuming that girls only want to play with pink princesses and boys only want to play with superheroes.

“The companies try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of the stuff the boys want to buy,” she asserts, smacking a packaged doll for emphasis as her dad asks leading questions from behind the camera.

On YouTube, then Facebook, then in the news media (and, no joke, at the table next to me at a burger joint today) this four-foot feminist’s invective made hundreds of thousands pump their fists and chant “Riley for president!” Diane Sawyer all but declared Riley a sage of the age.

But I had a different reaction to the clip. I thought it was icky. Also icky: the viral video of 8-year-old Elijah Cromer confronting gay-marriage opponent Michele Bachmann last month in South Carolina. The boy waited in line to whisper, “My mommy’s gay, but she doesn’t need fixing,” while said mommy stood behind him, filming it all.

These gotcha moments are supposed to make liberals like me cheer. But honestly, I find them cheap and off-putting.

I happen to agree with both of the kids’ sentiments: I treasured my Star Wars action figures as a girl, my sons are crazy about hot pink, and what really needs “fixing” in this country is the hogwash notion that heterosexual marriages need “defending” from anyone, for any reason.

But I don’t like the way the points were made — by camera-ready kids parroting their parents’ personal propaganda.

Just … ick.

Even if these mouth-of-babes tongue-lashings were not as coached and/or staged as they really, really appear to be, it’s clear the kids were spewing the impassioned viewpoints of their parents. (Have you ever seen a child in a toy store? They tend toward giddy and agog rather than deeply disappointed in the gender bias inherent in juvenile product marketing.)

I don’t actually begrudge Riley’s dad or Elijah’s mom for teaching, or even preaching to, their kids about these issues. Good on them for arming the next generation with a healthy skepticism for the dogma of the day.

Forgive me, though: As long as we’re empowering our progeny to question mainstream ways of thinking … shouldn’t we be teaching them to question ours, too?

It’s not hard to indoctrinate our kids with our beliefs. It’s not hard to get them to echo our ideologies back to us or megaphone them out to the world. In fact, it’s very hard not to.

Here are these sponge-brained humans who take our every utterance for gospel. They’re a delightfully captive audience, sitting beside us year after year as we hone our arguments (“And that is why I believe the pinky toe has become an expendable appendage in the modern age”).

And that’s okay. One of the unspoken reasons people have children is so we can feel like we’re populating the planet with people who think as we do — who will vote as we do, and value what we do, and validate our convictions with their very existence.

But we ought to draw the line at sending our kids into battle for us, at turning them into mouthpieces or promoting them as puppets. It’s lazy. It’s cowardly. Worst of all, it smacks of a weak argument. Think of it this way: If you need an adorable disciple to convince society that you’re right … then you’re probably not.

Published inColumnsParenting

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