Really, Mr. French? I Think Not
I woke up this morning to David French’s New York Times Opinion article. To be honest, it left a bad after taste. It wasn’t that everything he said was either wrong or inflammatory, it wasn’t. In fact, there were some interesting comparisons. For example, French insightfully suggests that the old triumvirate of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll has been displaced by the new alliance of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among the young. Or the recognition among teens that: “something has happened to my parents.” All of which has led, says French, to the reciprocal concern between children and their parents.
But it was at this point that the article started to get a funny taste. French suggests that the problem among teens is their parents. Now, I am not saying that such a thing is impossible. Parents can be causally connected to their child’s experience of anxiety or depression. However, it may be that the parent has healthy expectations for the child, but the child is responding poorly. But French is clear in his line of reasoning, despite posing it as a question. Parents are “inadvertently contributing” to their own kids’ pain.
Again, no one should oppose such a sentiment blindly, we have already conceded that such a thing could be the case. However, French shows his hand when he says that when visiting college campuses, “I hear about parents consumed with politics” and “about the impact of conspiracy theories of all kinds.” French might argue that he is bipartisan in his comments but despite research to the contrary many still believe, tracing back to Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style (1964), that Republicans and conservatives are more likely to believe conspiracy theories than Democrats and liberals. And if, by “all kinds” of theories, he meant Republican and Democrat conspiracies, he should have said as much.
What is more, French would like us to see how parents have inflicted this pain and so he takes us to the year 2021. There he introduces us to 44 percent of teenage girls who have reported persistent sadness or hopelessness. And then, in a bit of a gotcha moment, French says that in this same year the CDC reported adult anxiety and depression were up from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent. The implication seems obvious for French. Girls are persistently sad because something political happened to their parents.
At this point, I have to chuckle. Not because girls are sad. No, not at all. My own daughter has experienced her own share of sadness in the last couple of years due to the non-sensical covid restrictions imposed by the current Administration. No, this sadness is serious business. But did something just happen to parents? In other words, as French suggests, did parents suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere begin exhibiting partisan animosity, anger, and pessimism? To put it another way, are typical parents acting irrationally? And why is there increased anxiety among parents? French seems unable to bridge that gap. So, let me posit an answer.
Could it be that the problem is not conspiracy theories but actual failure on the part of the current administration? For example, when President Biden took office the rate of inflation was 1.4 percent. The rate of inflation is currently 6.0 percent. Clearly, prices are affected by this downturn in our economy. School lunches are up 254.1 percent, fuel oil is up by 65.7 percent, eggs are up by 49.1 percent and rice and pasta are up by 16.8 percent. However, parents’ salaries did not go up. Is it any wonder parents are anxious?
French says he is willing to entertain that cell phones may contribute to sadness among teens. Well, that’s generous. It’s funny that while food prices have increased the price of cell phones has decreased by 23 percent. Factor in that every kid has a cell phone or thinks that they can’t live without one and you have a malaise of tension between every parent struggling to make ends meet and a child’s desire to be “connected.” And then, of course, you have the influencers. Yes, those people who goad your kids to buy the next model of the I-Phone or encourage them to “try trans” all in the same breath. This coupled with school boards, like the district where I live, that have lied to parents about their strategies to incorporate transgender students into bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite biological sex.
What is more, French claims that cable news is not the best place for grandma and grandpa to pick up the news. Now, he doesn’t single out Fox News, but since French quotes from NBC, the Atlantic and the New York Times it is safe to assume that he does not have legacy media in mind. But what about the mainline media? Are they trustworthy? Can parents depend on them for truth? Not on your life.
For example, one of my favorites, during the Kenosha, Wisconsin riots Wolf Blitzer was interviewing a reporter on the ground when this statement scrolled across the bottom of the screen, “8PM Curfew Ordered After Violent Protests Over Police Shooting Of Unarmed Black Man In Wisconsin.” Within five seconds the word “violent” was removed. Obviously “violent” didn’t fit the narrative of peaceful protests. Something similar happened when CNN reporter Omar Jimenez reported in front of a blazing background with the caption underneath that read, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting.”
Now, French wants us to get hold of ourselves. These are the very conspiracy theories that are hurting our children. Interestingly, in response to once being asked what our country’s biggest threat is, he said, polarization. In that same interview French said, “One thing we have to do is introduce a sense of proportion and perspective and dial back on the increasing hyperbole and hysterical and inflammatory language in American politics.” Mr. French, the problem rests with a parent’s real-life concerns, not hyperbole or hysteria. The reality is our nation is divided over real-life issues and not conspiracy theories, although those bipartisan theories are alive and well. But Mr. French, you have not helped. You have avoided the obvious and you have sought to increase a parent’s guilt. Hopefully, the next dish from your pen will have something a little better tasting and, dare I say, a lot more by way of nutritional value.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 (https://www.reformation21.org/) and Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.