The other night, the wife and I happened to catch the tail end of a movie, Bully, about a group of teens who murder an abusive classmate. Released in 2001 and based on a real case from Florida in 1993, the movie is disturbingly spot on with its depiction of the amoral malaise of well-off suburban white kids who have everything and value nothing. That spiritual (notice I did not say "religious") disease of our current society--thoroughly chronicled in dozens of films, documentaries, and pop-journalistic "insta-books" that sprout up a few weeks after the latest atrocity is milked by the TV news for all its worth--is something that has become a vivid concern of mine as a parent.
Though my kids are still young (7.5 and nearly 5), I already have a sense of how the years move swiftly, so I'm trying to steel myself against being blindsided by their impending teenhood. My son, an emotionally sensitive and not-very-athletic kid (very much like me at his age), has already suffered the mildest of teasings from "bullies" (as he calls them) that quite upset him nonetheless. And I've recently seen my daughter, along with another girl in her pre-school, pulling a 5-year-old lad between them in a tug-o-war, screaming: "He's my boyfriend!"... "No, he's MY boyfriend!" --in an incident that struck me as simultaneously hilarious and portentous. In any case, I feel I've glimpsed things to come and taken it as fair warning to prepare.
So, as I'm watching this harrowing tale of a teenage sex, drugs, and violence train-wreck, my son gets up to go the bathroom. After about 10 minutes--it's past 11:00 at night, by the way--I realize he's still in there, so I go up to check on him. I open the door and he quickly scrunches himself into a corner, his back to me, and starts saying "Don't come in! Don't come in!" He seems to be hiding something with his body. I had this sudden flash of being a hapless father of a troubled 15-year-old on the cusp of a major "tough love" moment. I demand to see what he's hiding.
Sheepishly, he turns and takes from under his Incredibles pajamas the offending contraband: a copy of Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Mecha-Monkeys From Mars. I say he can't be reading books in the bathroom at 11:00 at night. I put it back on his bookshelf and send him to bed with a kiss on his forehead.
Yes, far worse will come someday, I have no doubt. For now, I just smile at the sweetness of my boy smuggling comics into the john, and enjoy the reprieve of lingering childhood innocence.