"Tween" Cynicism Coming?

Posted: Feb 11, 2009 11:30 AM
"Tween" Cynicism Coming?

I walk into the kitchen just in time to hear my 11-year-old daughter summarize for her father the destiny of anyone cast as a celebrity apprentice for Donald Trump: "It's the sign that you're just another clump of dried seaweed washed up on the beach of pop culture."

There's no time for a lecture on cynicism before school, and besides, she has a point.

The cast of NBC's upcoming "The Celebrity Apprentice" series has somehow managed to offer gainful - if short-term - employment to country singer Clint Black, former NBA star (and tattoo canvas) Dennis Rodman and the perennially Botoxed Joan Rivers.

Times are tough. People need work, and as gigs go, even a short-lived career with "The Donald" can be lucrative. Remember Omarosa? And besides, these celebrities work for charity.

But I digress.

The point is not that former Olympic skater Scott Hamilton and former World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke will next month be fodder for water cooler (and recess) chats because of their stints on Mr. Trump's show.

The point is that my middle schooler may be moving past preteen cynicism and headed straight for "jaded."

Amy is an idealist, but even for one generally optimistic about people's "better angels," it's been a tough week. Consider these stories from her most recent events video:

• Michael Phelps is caught on camera using marijuana.

• Alex Rodriguez (one of the few Major League Baseball players Amy actually recognizes) is implicated in the MLB steroid scandal.

• Former Sen. Tom Daschle withdraws from consideration for a Cabinet post because of tax problems, while Timothy F. Geithner is confirmed as secretary of the Treasury despite his.

If this child is more cynical than her siblings were at her age, I mostly chalk it up to birth order. In a house full of teenagers, it's easy for the youngest child to adopt an eye for irony and a quick, if not sarcastic, wit. She's learned to be skeptical, and even to use the word "sketchy" like the older kids do.

But naive cynicism isn't healthy. Naive cynicism - the assumption that everyone is up to no good - robs us of optimism and faith in others and in their good intentions. And while I'm sure human nature isn't much changed since the dawn of time, our ability to document the misdeeds of others and then feed an endless stream of bad behavior into our collective consciousness through the media strikes me as the source of a dangerous assumption about people generally.

Unfortunately, this generation of children, and especially those we identify as "tweens," is at risk of developing a cynicism so entrenched they will doubtless become jaded. After jaded, there is apathy, and after apathy, an immature conscience that dismisses "good" and "bad" as simply definitions of relative self-interest.

Make no mistake; I liked my daughter's metaphor about seaweed and celebrities. In fact, the cynic in me wonders if she got it from one of those witty sitcoms she watches on Disney.

But just to show good faith, I'm not going to ask her if she heard that expression on TV, but instead I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and applaud her pithy turn of a phrase.

While I'm at it, I think I'll have a talk with her about healthy cynicism, with emphasis on the word "healthy."