By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I listened to an interesting podcast the other day wherein NYU professor Jonathan Haidt was interviewed about his book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  The book takes a deep dive into the culture of “safetyism” that has developed on college campuses and how it interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development and has contributed to the divisions we see in our culture.  It’s more complicated than that, and certainly more nuanced that I can do justice to here.  He’s an interesting guy and has a number of videos on YouTube if you want to learn more about him and his research.

What caught my attention, and led me to this post, was his discussion about the effect of social media on young people.  (I actually started this post a couple of weeks ago after I watched Haidt, and coincidentally blends right into what my brother posted about last week).  Haidt cited a statistic that was startling: between 2010 and 2015 the suicide rate of teenage girls almost tripled.  Haidt concluded the advent of social media, with its constant bombardment of “influencers” who appear to have a perfect face and body, combined with negative, sometimes cruel, comments young girls receive about their own posts, is a primary cause of depression and feelings of worthlessness.  This struck a chord with me, as I had just remarked to a friend that I couldn’t imagine being a teenager today, having to be constantly “photo worthy”.  Heck, my heart skips a beat now when someone accidently FaceTime’s me.  If I don’t have my hair done and makeup on, I pretend I was in the shower when they called.

It seems every young woman I see lately is clutching her phone like a lifeline. I think about how far we have come from the more reticent generations before us.  It was pretty common growing up that our mothers – and certainly our grandmothers – were known to say, “Oh, don’t put me in the picture!”  Now we have social media platforms that contain nothing but people taking pictures of themselves.  I keep an Instagram account to post photos of Dash the Wonder Dog, and a lot of the photos that come across my feed are of women with their phone to their face, trying to pose in just the right way, with their lips in the perfect pout or their hair tousled to project something between “I just got up” and “I’m the sexiest person alive”.  I’d like to blame the Kardashians for starting this trend, but that’s too easy a target.  There are plenty of people, and companies, to blame for this fascination with how we look and the compulsion to let others know how we look.

Aside from the damage all this does to self-esteem, the bigger concern for me is the inward focus of this trend.  The “influencers” give the impression that if you just have the right clothes, purse, makeup, yada yada, life will be good.  But those of us of a certain age know that no amount of beautiful outward trappings will bring you happiness. Which is why Heidt is so concerned about the mental health of young people, who strive so hard to replicate an airbrushed version of someone and are then bitterly disappointed when they fall short.  I think this is an urgent problem that needs a drastic solution.  Removing phones is impractical and unrealistic – we can’t put that genie back in the bottle.  Maybe we need to have a draft for young people where they are required to do community service.  It would not only get them out of the house and into broader society, but it would also expose them to people less fortunate, who have bigger problems than not having the right brand of sneakers or a statement handbag.  It would be a start.

I promise – next week we will be back to talking about football or cake or something a bit lighter!





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

autismYou know that it’s an odd news week when the death of 14 people in an industrial explosion is relegated to page eight.  Or when a ricin-laced letter to the President generates all the excitement of an AARP renewal notice.  The story about catching the person who killed the district attorney down in Texas was a footnote.  But the real indicator that we were in a serious news cycle was the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries divorce was only of interest to the supermarket tabs.

No, last week we were all focused on the horrible terrorist act in Boston – the deaths, the injuries, the perpetrators and the heroes.  The story was all-encompassing and riveting.  For much of the week it was sad and worrisome.  I heard more than one person lament that our world just isn’t the same.  Friends of a “certain age” talked about how their grandchildren would never know a life where they didn’t have to worry about terrorists, bombs and taking their shoes off before a flight.

I, too, was in this frame of mind last week as I set off on my daily walk with Dash.  Since he’s still a puppy we usually just go around the corner and back.  And frankly, I’m being generous when I use the term “walk” – it’s more that he stops and sniffs everything while I check emails on the phone.  But on this particular walk we saw a car parked at the end of a driveway with a mom and her son. We had seen them before on our walks and always gave them a little wave.  But last week as we passed, the mom rolled down the passenger side window and the little boy stuck his head out to greet us.

Dash and I walked over to their car.  It turns out that the boy (who for purposes of this essay we’ll call “Sam”), is severely autistic.  He had a tussle of curly hair and a big smile.  I spoke with his mom a bit – she was cheerful and patient with Sam as he wiggled in his seat.  I was reminded of the saying that God only gives us what we can handle.  This woman has been given a lot to handle and seemingly does so with an abundance of grace.

I picked Dash up so that Sam could see and pet him.  Dash, as is his wont, stuck his tongue out in an effort to barrage Sam with kisses.  Sam, not able to communicate well, did what seemed logical – he stuck his tongue out at Dash.  The two of them nuzzled in a frenzy of excitement – Dash frantically wagging his tail and Sam giggling at Dash’s kisses. At that moment I realized I was witnessing  joy in its purest sense.  Neither of them could talk; neither of them had to.

A few moments later the school bus pulled up and out stepped the driver, Jim, and his wife/assistant, Janetta.  They were straight out of Central Casting.  He was tall and lanky with an easy smile.  She was caring and sweet.  They greeted us and then went about the business of getting Sam onto the bus.  Janetta told Sam how nice his hair looked while Jim tenderly helped him up the steps.  Once Sam was settled in his seat, Janetta nestled in right next to him.  As they pulled away Jim gave us a big wave out the window.  It felt like something I would have witnessed as a kid in my small town.

So as Dash and I turned for home I felt more content than I had all week.   I knew that when I got home the news on TV might still be stressful but I had just been reminded that there are far more good people than bad in this world.  There are people who are heroic every day.  There is joy to be found every day. And sometimes it’s just around the corner.


Headlines:  Is that a bulge in your purse or are you happy to see me?

The latest trend, it seems, is women owning guns,

They’re buying up firearms and ammo by the tons.

Some are shooting for the pleasure and some for their protection,

And some want to meet a man and find their “firing” connection.

 Money:  How do you say “strike” in Mandarin?

Wal-Mart is acquiring a Chinese shopping giant,

Hoping that their shoppers will become low-price reliant.

Meanwhile Apple has its hand full with its Foxconn dive,

No doubt that these two firms will spawn a Chinese union drive.

Sports:  Be afraid, be very afraid.

Jeremy Lin is denouncing the latest rumor hype,

Says he’s not dating Kim Kardashian, that she’s just not his type.

He may just be a bit naïve, laying his emotions out so bare,

‘Cause he’s a sports star in the spotlight – and she is so there.

Life:  A cautionary tale.

Whitney Houston “went home” in an elaborate celebration,

With singing and testimonies that were three hours in duration.

At the same time SNL announced Lindsay Lohan soon will host,

We’re hoping she’ll sober up and take advice from Whitney’s ghost.

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Headlines:  Maybe the Alzheimer’s test is in order.

Rick Perry had a stumble at the debate the other night,

His fumbling and his stalling suggest his brain has taken flight.

If you have three things to remember and you can only recall two,

Then perhaps the job of President is not the one for you.

Money:  If it’s Thursday the market must be up.

Who the heck can plan their budget in this age of market swings,

Never knowing from week to week what stock prices will bring.

If it isn’t Greece, it’s Italy or some company’s fallen flat,

We need to have a Ouija board – is there an app for that?

Sports:     No, football is not the most important thing…even in Happy Valley.

JoePa’s out at Penn State after sixty-one years,

Resulting in reactions from rioting to tears.

He was a  great coach in his prime but this should be understood,

He didn’t have the courage to stand up when he should.

Life:  We hear Kim Kardashian is available.

Piers Morgan has decided that he will quit his job,

On the “America’s Got Talent” judging panel mob.

His replacement will no doubt need to agree to certain terms:

Humor Sharon’s ramblings and don’t give Howie any germs.

The holidays are approaching…why not give someone a redposey?


Headlines:  Hmmmm, what’s the old saying?  Deny, deny, deny. 

It’s been discovered Herman Cain had a sexual harassment charge,

A case that he now claims was settled and discharged.

All we know is when the press rakes a contender over the coals,

It must surely mean that candidate is leading in the polls.

Money:  Want to place money on how many fights there will be? 

Macy’s and Target have announced Black Friday plans,

They’ll be opening up at midnight for all their shopping fans.

We’re not sure that after a meal and drinking, most likely to excess,

Is the time to gather shoppers who are tipsy, crazed and stressed.

Sports:  He did not go to the Bobby Knight school of coaching.

Sadly, the coaching ranks are losing one of  baseball’s best,

Tony LaRussa has decided to fly the Cardinal’s nest.

He’s been a gentleman and classy, a mentor and a sage,

And he’s one of the rare guys that know when to leave the stage.


Life:  Who had the over/under at 72 days?

Well,  we’re SHOCKED that Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce,

From her husband of two months who rode in on a white horse.

We think he may have figured out that his quickie vows and mating,

Were done to ensure the season finale would have the highest rating.

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