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Seinfeld’s Bubble Boy. Blame the parent?

Remember the Bubble Boy in the famous Seinfeld episode?

The Bubble Boy is the nickname of Donald Sanger, one of the characters in the episode. Typically Seinfeld, it is a dark and satirical portrayal of “bubble kids,” a phrase used to describe children who reportedly live in quarantine due to an immune deficiency. One is meant to feel sorry for such children.

But, Seinfeld’s Bubble Boy is rude, selfish and obnoxious. Far from generating sympathy from the show’s audience, we happily side with George when he is attacked by Donald and laugh out loud when, in his defence, George’s girlfriend Susan accidentally bursts the quasi-protective bubble.

Are some of us unnecessarily “bubble wrapping” our kids? Okay, bubble wrapping from physical danger is a rational choice most of us make when deciding whether we allow our kids to take certain risks or not. Wearing seatbelts in cars, for example, is not negotiable for most parents.

Fear of failure, or perhaps fear of competition, is not so easily explained.

I recently read a confronting blog post by a fellow Twitter friend, Matt Mitchell about kids’ birthday parties with a socially awkward title: “Your child is a loser, so is mine.” The author attributes the habit of giving every child a prize when playing pass-the-parcel to “political correctness gone horribly wrong.”

I totally empathised with the author. It’s a disconcerting trend for those of us who witness the party games. Every child gets a pass-the-parcel prize. And yes, every child gets an “achievement” certificate at kindergarten. Oh and we give every child a mention in the (usually) public school newsletter, due to winning an obscure “student award.”

Hey, I love this one. My daughter attends a private junior school where some parents had requested an absurd communication rule. I smirked when I read this note in a recent newsletter to parents:

Communication Pigeon Holes

Please be aware that the pigeon holes in the foyer are for adult use only. It is preferable that these pigeon holes are not used for the purpose of distributing birthday invitations; it is not always possible to invite all of the children in the class to a party, and sometimes this means disappointment for the child who doesn’t have a letter to open when others are opening theirs. Please be sensitive to this issue and, if possible, put party invitations in the mail.

Have we forgotten that not every applicant gets the job? Not all employees are promoted. Not every public servant is elected President. And hey, *light bulb moment* not every ticket holder wins a million dollars playing the lottery!

The irony of bubble-wrapping kids from competition today is the reality that tomorrow’s adults will be products of the online generation. The kids who grew up with popularity statistics:  the number of Facebook likes, YouTube fans and Twitter followers.  Oh, of course, let’s chat about the blatant and subtle forms of cyber bullying. Friendships can be deleted just by removing a name from your list. Interactions can be “blocked.”  Nasty comments can go viral. Photos can be uploaded with a cruelly implied “LOL” or a “WTF.”  Sad or melancholic Facebook updates are often met with a “toughen up princess” reply.

Perhaps we bubble wrap our kids simply because we are aware of today’s psychological jungle that is thriving online and offline. The modern playground is now a 24/7 emotional battleground where kids are not necessarily the strongest and weakest physically, but where mean mind games are played. Who can post or comment on Facebook that will hurt the most? Sticks and stones do cause physical pain, but unlike the ancient school yard rhyme, words on the public and global Internet will remain in cyberspace forever. Words can hurt and destroy. Bullies are now flippantly referred to as “Trolls.”

Most parents with kids and teenagers today are part of the generation who attended schools where students were openly hand-picked by two sports captains as to who should compete in their respective teams.  If you were unpopular or weak at sport, it was a torturous selection process. Anyone who was ever the last kid chosen was potentially scarred for life. Or it made the kid tougher and more determined to succeed.  Let’s remember that “last kid” whenever we try and bubble wrap our children from failure or competition. Your child will “finish last” at least ONCE, in their grown up world.

Toughen up indeed, bubble boy.

(Bubble Kid image courtesy of Hugh Kretschmer)

2 Responses to “Seinfeld’s Bubble Boy. Blame the parent?”

  1. Michael July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Hi Patricia

    An excellent post.


    • Patricia Dodd July 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

      Thank you Michael! Cheers, PD 🙂

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