Netflix is the Samizdat

As I sit down to type this week’s post, I feel somewhat compelled to write about addiction from a personal standpoint, i.e. my own struggles with Substances at a young age that led me early to choose abstinence from said Substances, and about parenting teenagers with that experience as my own personal backdrop and seeing myself in their addictive tendencies. Thankfully, my kids’ addictive tendencies are not in relation to Substances (yet) unless by “Substances,” we’re talking about sugar, in all its variant forms, which yeah, everyone in my household can raise a hand and Identify on that particular merry-go-round, but Entertainment – specifically, television. Even more specifically, Netflix.

My children are all prone to binge-watching Netflix. They consume whole seasons of Malcolm in the Middle, Arrow, Grey’s Anatomy, and Psych, and I suppose the question would be why, as parents, do we allow this to happen? Well, it’s not the whole picture. None of them (there are three) are evidently getting into the sort of trouble that I (or their mother) got into when we were their age; all of them are active in various extracurricular activities, mostly performing arts-related; and all of them seem to be well-adjusted vis-a-vis school and, moreover, life. But there is definitely an addictive element in their Netflix viewing that is becoming hyper-crystalized for me in the presence of Infinite Jest. In short, I have come to realize that Netflix is the samizdat.

Last night, our son came home late from seeing a local a capella group. It was around 11 p.m., and I had changed the Netflix password as a means by which to institute a little Netflix-free time. In this case, it was because he needed a little more structure around reading time. Five minutes of his begging for the password yielded nothing but advice on which books he might pick up and unwind with before he left, and my wife and I closed the night out with our noses buried in our books (mine coming in at roughly 2.5 pounds). So at least he acquiesced, right? Wrong.

Upon checking this morning’s email, I was smacked with a note from Apple thanking my son for signing up for a free iTunes Netflix subscription trial (to be auto-renewed at the regular monthly price on my credit card). The email was timestamped at 11:27 last night, indicating that he had left our bedroom and pretty quickly hustled a way around the controls that I was putting on his viewing time. Which, you got to hand it to him, is resourceful.

Now I’m not actually labeling my son a Netflix addict, though resourcefulness when it comes to one’s addiction is something of a hallmark. I’m just throwing it out there, because this particular challenge is what’s up for me today – the Netflix thing, but also just parenting in general. It’s hard. And more specifically, it’s difficult to know whether I’m making the right choices as a parent. This idea is fresh in my mind at the same time as Marlon Bain’s chilling invective (EN269) around “upscale and educated and talented and functional and white, patient and loving and supportive and concerned and involved in their children’s lives” kind of parents raising emotionally retarded, lethally self-indulgent, chronically depressed, borderline psychotic… and so on and so forth… kind of kids.

Obviously, we’re all trying to do the right thing when it comes to raising children – because we love our kids but also as sort of a biological imperative. We are biologically wired to give our kids the best shot at the best life possible in our attempt to ensure their success at, evolutionarily-speaking, finding a mate and making more kids who look a lot like us. Not to be overly clincial about it, but that’s pretty much the deal. So that every day, in addition to trying to be a good husband, son, friend, employee, there is perhaps a larger imperative in my mind to try to be a good dad, and there is a whole part of my brain that is daily self-assessing on that imperative. But the complexities of what that means as I muddle through the whole thing without any sort of manual whatsoever are hard to navigate given that it comes from my human fallibility and what’s certainly some amount of hardwired baggage from my own muddled-through upbringing, which incidentally, I believe, is some of what Infinite Jest is about.

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