Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Cynicism (Or, When the learning curve doesn't exist)

Apparently, I should buy the Shark Navigator Vacuum and the NuWave Oven Pro because my house is filthy and my food isn't being prepared in a healthful manner. This from my 12-year-old addicted to infomercials. Normally, I would link here, but since I have no intention of promoting these products, there'll be no linkage today. Instead I give you the heartfelt plea of my son (and a glimpse into the mind of a child with Asperger's Disorder):

"But Mom, with the Shark you'll never lose suction and it's easy to maintain. With only four easy payments of $49.95, you can get the Shark AND the free Shark Steam Mop, which is  a $99 value!"
I don't know...never losing suction? He's got a point there, I guess.

The good news is I don't have to pay any attention to my son's hard sell because my 9-year-old daughter is doing my mommy job for me. She berates him for his naiveté as she tries to convince him that the advertisers want him to believe what they say, that the product just looks amazing, and that it's actually not a great deal.

The thing is just one year ago, my daughter was right there on that band wagon with her brother, trying to sell me on other house-improvement tools like Command hooks and picture frame hangers. But somewhere between eight and nine years old, the cynicism kicked in. Somewhere between crooked teeth and the first phase of braces, the skeptical side showed its face. Somewhere between Dora the Explorer and iCarly, the world taught my little girl to be a skeptic. I imagine it's developmentally appropriate, but it's all new to me given the path my son has taken.

I ask myself if cynicism is taught or caught, and in the case of my daughter, it has definitely been caught. But what about my son? Is it my job as his parent to teach him this characteristic? Or is it all right for me to let him live in gullible bliss, believing everything he hears (which he does) and also being incapable of telling a lie (even a white one)? Recognizing people's ulterior motives is an important skill, and my son needs to be taught this while my daughter has picked it up instinctually. Yet it pains me to have to consciously teach such an attitude of distrust.

I am reminded of the adage, "Ignorance is bliss." But I feel I would be remiss in letting my son walk through middle school with such ignorance since other kids will be quick to blow up his bliss given the first chance to mock him.

This is my task then...to teach my son to see the possible hidden lies, to understand there is bad to balance out the good, and to go through his days with the understanding that not all that glitters is gold - which is a whole other battle to fight since he takes everything literally. Euphemisms, adages, colloquial expressions...torture for a person with Asperger's.

I suppose I could sit back and let my daughter take care of things for me since she's usually eager to criticize her brother and teach him these lessons so painfully. Okay, there's my cynical side, which negates the above-asked question of whether my daughter's cynicism was caught or taught. At least I know I'm doing my job well with her.

What say you? Is cynicism a necessary survival trait?


  1. Oh Wendy, Cody was doing the exact same thing a couple months ago! He could quote them all, and he did it so seriously!

    In the mornings, I would turn on whatever channel had infomercials and wake him up with "Cody, the G2 Swivel Sweeper is on" and he would BOLT out of that bed.

    One time he spent an HOUR in the small appliance aisle at Sears doing impromptu infomercials for EVERY. SINGLE. PRODUCT.

    How funny they both loved the same things.

  2. I think it's really important for children to learn to deconstruct the adverts - otherwise what defences do they have when they're old enough to buy the products?

    It must be really hard for someone with Aspergers though. It sounds like it's going to be an uphill struggle.

  3. In our market-driven society, companies are vying for the same consumer dollars. There is a LOT of bull in advertising. I don't think parents need to teach cynicism -- that would imply everyone has a hidden agenda. Maybe I'm naive (probably!), but I don't think that's true. I do think the infomercial topic could lead to some wonderful discussions about what it means to be a wise consumer, how to investigate for yourself a product before buying it, and how advertisers use strategies to convince people to buy their products.

    All that said, my sister raves about her Shark and tells me to go buy one, like, yesterday. :P

    P.S. I forgot to email you I got the book back (...or did I email you...? Been pretty busy; my poor brain!) Anyhow, love your inscription -- and I'm so happy to have your daughter's message in there too! Hug her (and your son too) for me :))

  4. The world is way too gullible as it is and advertisers take advantage of it every minute of the day. We definitely need more cynicism.

  5. "Is cynicism a necessary survival trait?" Consider whom you're asking, sweetie.

    My answer is: Undeniably YES.

    My son has high-functioning autism and I worry about him being taken advantage of at every turn...he needs to know that the world has some pretty unsavory people, unfortunately. I'd rather he learn it from someone he trusts, like me...than from some horrible, never-forgotten experience.

    My 2 cents...