On Being Cool

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults, too. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. It’s why we buy iPhones…

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Had a meltdown on my tween son when he asked, yet again, for an iPad at breakfast this morning.

Before the iPad he wanted a laptop. He insisted he needed my old HP the moment I purchased my Toshiba, though could give no reason why he had to have it since he had a powerful PC with an enhanced graphics card for gaming in his room. After weeks of needling me I finally gave him my old laptop to share after backing up [mostly] everything. He loaded the same games he had on his PC and played them in bed on the laptop for about a week, until he inadvertently downloaded a virus which destroyed every program, every file including seven years of my labor. Between ‘mostly’ and ‘everything’ backed up turned out to be the Grand F**king Canyon.

Prior to the laptop he needed an iPhone. He’s had a cellphone since the 5th grade, when he started walking the quarter mile home from school. In the two years he’s had it, he forgets it at home most of the time unless I remind him to bring it with him. More often than not the phone has no charge because he doesn’t remember to charge it. Though all his friends have cellphones, he’s exchanged numbers with no one, and this seems fairly typical among his contemporaries upon inquiry.

Before the iPhone he had to have a video camera, which he got for his birthday. He used it a few times to tape episodes of Sponge Bob off the TV so he could view them later through the camera’s viewfinder. That lasted about a month until he tired of it and he hasn’t touched the camera since.

An iPod was before the video camera. I use his iPod when I’m recharging mine since in the four years he’s owned it he’s used it maybe 10 times collectively.

He sat at the kitchen table this morning eating his cereal telling me how badly he needed an iPad. They are so cool, he insisted, giving me his puppy face, and good for school, he assured me, though was unable to define how since a home PC with internet access was all his middle school required. He kept at it throughout breakfast, bargaining away all other gifts for his upcoming birthday in exchange for just one iPad2.

And I blew a gasket.

He wanted too damn much! He asked for too much with no purpose. What the hell was the point of all these things when he didn’t even use them?

To be cool, mom, he said through tears.

His palpable shame was a knife through my heart. At 11 years old, crying had ceased to be acceptable except in tragic situation, and me yelling at him wasn’t one. I sat down at the table adjacent to him and stared at my son, fighting tears from overwhelming me as well.

Being cool isn’t about what you have, I reminded him gently. Cool is about what you are, who you are, what you do that makes you special, separates you from the crowd. He was a straight A student, in advanced at math, played electric guitar, but every accomplishment I pointed out just made him cry harder.

None of that matters, he insisted. No one cares about that stuff. And being a nerd might pay off later but right now no one his age knew or cared who Bill Gates was, he said, throwing my refrain back at me.

Your dad would ask why cool matters, was the lame response I came up with. I knew cool mattered, even to me, but especially for a kid becoming a teen.

It just does, my son assured me. And I’m not, he added shakily, unable to stop the new round of tears.

My heart in my throat and struggling to swallow back my own tears stopped me from lecturing, but I again reminded my son that iPads and iPhones and video cameras are tools, nothing more, and possessing them doesn’t make one cool.

Yes, mom, he patronized me. But an iPhone is still cool, and so are iPads. I felt him lighten before I saw him grinning to himself.

They are cool, undeniably, which makes the engineers who invent Apple’s products cool, but not so much the people who use them. I needed to be sure he understood what cool really is, and perhaps remind myself as well.

Michael has an iPhone and an iPad and he’s totally popular, my son insisted. Everyone likes him. He has tons of friends and no one picks on him, ever.

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. But I knew Michael wasn’t popular because of his iPad and went about trying to enlighten my son without losing his attention. I spoke of Michael’s extensive involvement with his church, attended by many in our area. I pointed out Michael’s rather jovial demeanor, and reminded my son that his friend was also an avid sportsman, into soccer, basketball, baseball…etc, the ultimate key to cool for boys in school.

Perhaps Michael’s popularity had nothing to do with his iPad, I suggested. And to further my reasoning I asked, If Evan had an iPhone or iPad do you think he’d be more popular?

Evan is a jerk, my son proclaimed. He’s mean and rowdy, and he has an iPhone, mom. His eyes seem to sparkle with awareness of his own words. Then he smiled. He got it, and I smiled, too, for about a second, until his expression darkened again. But I’ll never be like Micheal, do what he does. I’m not discovering religion any time soon, and I suck at sports and don’t really care about ’em, and I’m not exactly what you’d call upbeat.

And I’ll never write like Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury, or John Fowles—

Who are they?

Famous authors you’ve obviously never heard of. Forget it. Tell me, who else is cool, dude? Name five, other than your friend Michael. Anyone, doesn’t have to be one of your contemporaries…

Greenday, he looked to me for approval.

Okay. Who else?

Death Cab [for Cutie] (another rock band). Thomas Edison. Einstein. And Jason, at school. All the girls really like him.

I laughed. Why?

I don’t know. He’s short but kind of buff already, I guess. He’s on the track team and the basketball team and he tells everyone he lifts his dad’s weights. He’s really into working out.

And what do all five you just named have in common?

He fiddled with the remainder of the Crispex in his bowl as he pondered my question.

They’re all good at something.

And how do you get good at anything? yet another of my canonical refrains.

Practice.

You bet. Find something you love, that turns you on, and work at it, my beautiful son. Practice your guitar more and become a great musician. Invent a new video game instead of playing someone else’s creation. Learn how to program and develop apps, show us you need an iPad as a tool to create with.

He brightened, smiled at me. I had his full attention again, my reason for slipping in the iPad comment.

Owning an iPad is easy, my baby, and meaningless, just one of many who do and more who will. Creating with one is cool. Cool is as cool does, kid. Pursue a passion and you’ll be engaged, entertained, and so enraptured in the process you won’t notice or care if you’re popular. And how cool is that! ; – )

Selling Our Children

Corporate partnerships with public education are poisoning our kids for $$$. And educators and parents are letting them!

My 10 year old son came home yesterday and told me he had learned something new at school. At his [advanced] age, he told me confidently, kids start to smell bad because they get grown-up hormones, and therefore they need deodorant. He shared with me the packet he got from school, a plastic bag filled with a small, bright red deodorant stick of Old Spice, Red Zone, and a booklet titled, “About You. Puberty and stuff,” all compliments of Procter & Gamble, Inc.

My son uncapped the stick and extolled the translucent ‘aqua gel’s’ great smell, then sniffed under his arm to convince me he should start using it. He reiterated his teachers warning about becoming known as ‘that kid that smells bad.’ Then he retrieved the little booklet and read to me the “No sweat!” page that tells about glandular development through puberty and why it’s important to use “deodorants or anti-perspirants to control the [unpleasant] smell.”

Unfortunately, the school failed to teach my son, and every other kid in his class, the risks of using deodorant and related products like make-up and perfumes. One quick search on the net reveals several types of cancer and other progressive, debilitating illnesses that are now being correlated with using many of the popular body products.

Breast cancer, Alzheimers, and a slew of neurological disorders, study after study points to the potential for long term damage when people rub artificial compounds into their skin, especially young skin of developing bodies. While we can all argue the validity of these studies, and Procter & Gamble and their like do, loudly, there are simply too many clinical trials showing a link between using body products and cancer to ignore.

I have instructed my kids not to use these types of products, unless they are organic and have nothing artificial, and even then I don’t recommend it. Clogging your pours with outside chemistry, natural or not, probably isn’t a good idea. Washing with natural soap daily, or more if necessary, will battle odor as effectively as deodorant, and has not shown, in any controlled study, to be harmful.

Marketing to children is effective. Get kids while they’re young and you have them for life. Corporations have been targeting kids for a long time. The Ronald McDonald clown isn’t aimed at exciting adults. But only recently have public school districts begun accepting ‘donations’ from corporate ‘sponsors,’ and actively promoting products directly to students.

Apple supplies computers to our school district starting at the 1st Grade level. My son’s 4th Grade class has a hub they affectionately call ‘The Cow,’ a big white steel case bolted to the wall with 30 laptops in it for student use. Apple isn’t being benevolent distributing computers to schools. They know if kids get use to working with their interface, they’re more likely to buy Apple down the line.

Proctor & Gamble knows this too. Except what they are selling is potentially toxic.

Million dollar incentive deals that put Coke machines in the hallways of our high schools, and junk food machines in the cafeterias [regardless of our national obesity epidemic] are now restricted in most states. Corporations go around this ban by ‘sponsoring/donating/contributing’ everything from product samples to full-blown ‘educational’ programs to our schools. Puberty education is now being funded by Proctor & Gamble. The glossary of their colorful little booklet covered everything from circumcision to ejaculation, all while promoting Old Spice and Red Zone. The booklet was even fragranced and smelled exactly like the sample deodorant stick the teacher distributed to the students.

Public education must serve our children before serving themselves with corporate money. Funding for education must not be the sole consideration of every corporate partnership with our K-12 schools. To serve our students effectively, now and forward, it would behoove our school district administrators to thoroughly investigate what they’re getting before agreeing to promote crap, and poison to our kids. Since it’s unlikely to get any education admin to thoroughly do anything, it’s best to make it a law to eliminate corporate ‘partnerships’ in public education.