Opinion

Don't Feel Guilty About Letting Your Kids Rot in Front of the TV All Summer

A bitter fate awaits them back at school

Illustration: A boy watches TV, which smiles back at him
Eran Wolkowski

Why did the kid “rot” in front of the TV during summer vacation? Not because of what he was seeing, but because of what he wanted to avoid seeing: He was avoiding seeing other children whom he had never asked to see but whom, because he’s a “pupil,” he is compelled to see. He was avoiding being with children he doesn’t like, but whom, because of the Compulsory Education Law, he is compelled to get along with. “To get along with” – meaning, to put up with their character traits, their mannerisms, their caprices, their egoism, their condescension, their inferiority, their violence. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The kid “rotted” in front of the screen because the screen doesn’t threaten him. The screen can’t boycott him, the screen can’t laugh at him, the screen can’t look down on him, the screen can’t abuse him, the screen can’t organize a gathering of friends without inviting him. The screen is an island of security. You look at it, but it doesn’t look at you. The images change constantly, but always say the same thing: We have no problem with you. You’re okay. Everything is okay.

Parents don’t like it when the kid “rots” in front of the screen. Something deep inside them objects to it. What is the deep thing that they can’t shake off? Their own memories. They remember, perhaps without actually remembering, that they too were drawn to the rot: to the TV, to the staring, to being a couch potato. And they realize that they too escaped from the prison known as a “classroom”; they too escaped from the obligations of being one of 35; from the need to get along with 34 others; from the need to show consideration, to respond, to ignore, to compete, to overcome. Every day, every hour, every minute.

Parents look at the kid “rotting” in front of the TV and feel a powerful need to make disappear the truth that’s cropping up on the margins of consciousness. The bitter, forbidden truth, which society constantly wants to erase: that other people really are hell. And in the hell that occurs every day of the year, other people want to realize their personal desires at your expense. They try to trample you and your wishes, just so things will be more comfortable for them; to mark their territory by dubious means; and to forge alliances with the strong in order to savage the weak, the forlorn, the sensitive.

The parents look at the kid “rotting” in front of the TV and the objection that arises within them involves an attempt to deny that bitter truth, the pessimistic conception of “the other.” After all, they are already “adults.” The glue of childhood has dried up, hell has assumed a permanent existence, they have learned how to “get along in life,” and now they are sufficiently experienced to tell their kid: You’re not allowed to disconnect from hell for too long; to sink into an imagined world; to become addicted to life without “other people.” This is all too dangerous; in the end you won’t be able to get back to where you were.

The parents object to the kid “rotting” in front of the TV because deep down they actually agree with him, understand him, even identify with him. Deep down they too would like to “rot” like him in front of the TV, to abandon the daily struggles and to avoid the anguish, the need to compromise, the obligation to annul parts of oneself in order to survive.

If they could tell the kid the truth, they would say to him: Yes, it’s hell. We know it’s hell. We ourselves were in hell. And we know what hell looks like from the inside. We know that a free-flowing puddle of water is taken and forced into a mold, to become a cube of ice in the deep-freeze of life, in order to serve numberless national, social, economic missions.

But they can’t tell him the truth. Because the truth undermines all the structures of which they themselves are now a part. And to allow the continued building of these structures, their child, too, will have to morph from unformed puddle of water into well-synthesized cube of ice. They will have to sacrifice him, too. And that painful process includes exactly all the things the child has been escaping from when he’s positioned on the sofa and “rotting” in front of the TV: Being perched on a seat for six-seven hours every day, listening to endless streams of words as they penetrate his consciousness and turn him from liquid into solid, accepting the absolute authority of a more senior person (“the teacher,” “the principal”) – and above all, needing to get along as well with people who are narcissistic, megalomaniacal, brutal, petty and devoid of feeling.

So the kid was not “rotting” in front of the TV this summer. The kid was just escaping from the freezer of life, fleeing his fate as an ice cube. He was trying to take advantage of the years in which he is still subject to some mercy, when it’s still possible to accept “that kind of behavior.” He watches TV but is actually closing his eyes, making the everyday difficulty go away. The difficulty that he must now face again, after a period during which the animated images skittering across the screen whispered to him: You’re alright, we actually love you the way you are, just as you are.