If you are among the many parents who were sent down a new luge of anxiety by this week’s New York Times story about precocious puberty, Lisa Belkin wants you to relax. This may be news, but it’s not new. We’ve been worrying about the creeping onset of adolescence for more than a decade. Case in point: This article, which Belkin herself wrote in 2000, and was quoted in Sunday’s piece.
Belkin’s point isn’t (necessarily) to draw attention to lack of originality. This is an example, she says, of what she calls the Groundhog Day effect of parenting media. Attention-grabbing, anxiety-producing headlines that seem to be about new discoveries or theories…and are really just the same old song over and over.
Some of parenting’s greatest recurring hits: Sleep deprivation (of parents, and children). Sex preference (of parents, in children). School stress, homework, testing pressure. Need I go on? Probably not. If you’re at all familiar with the world of writing about parenting, all of these topics will sound tediously familiar.
There are a limited number of subjects that parents will find important, or even relevant. And those subjects are limited to the kinds of questions that directly address our kids’ stages and situations. The universality of the parenting experience + the specificity of content that parents care about at any given time = a merry go round of subjects that blur into the background until the time of need. As Belkin puts it:
“we parents do not hear a question until it is OUR question — and then, it is brand spanking new… A study will come out, or an essay will be written, or a blogger will opine, and the crowd will chime in. Few will notice that the same was asked, and answered, days, or months,or years ago. Because for you, back then, it was just noise. You can’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it.”
Though it was interesting to see examples of the retreads, I was not all that surprised by the idea that parenting media tends to repurpose the same stories. Anyone who flips through a copy of a magazine at the pediatrician at more than one checkup knows this. I’d argue that the same is true for mainstream media that targets other populations, say, single ladies, or men. And these without the benefit of quick transitions, so you’d think people would pay more mind to the repetition. Perhaps people just have a higher tolerance for re-reading the same content if it’s about how to achieve mind-blowing orgasms?