Breaking the Bubble Wrap

“TAMARA” GREW UP in an affluent, middle-to-upper-class neighborhood. Her friends, including the ones she knew from church, were her cousins, neighbors, and other kids who were a lot like her. Her parents worked hard at building a “safe zone” to protect her from harm—but, as Tamara looks back on her childhood, she can see the lasting fear that it instilled in her.

After she got her driver’s license, she always double-checked that her car doors were locked as soon as she was in the vehicle, and she avoided her city’s small downtown area. To this day, she detests large cities and is constantly worried that someone will rob her. Tamara suffers from “mean world” syndrome: a hyper-vigilant state in which strangers are to be ignored and avoided, new experiences are to be feared, and other people’s problems are just that. It’s a survival mode based on scarcity, hoarding, looking out for number one. Too often, it involves shrinking back from active involvement in the biblical call to social justice.

Sadly, many parents put children in a kind of quarantine—not seeking justice, but fearing contamination. The view that children are pure and the world is corrupt has led well-intentioned adults to (over)protect children from poverty, disease, violence, and other “pollutants.” (Of course, this isn’t to say that all children grow up sheltered; many experience situations of poverty, violence, and oppression that sheltered families can’t even imagine.) Ironically, as children are quarantined from the harmful realities of the world, they’re often exposed to virtual violence through television, music, and video games. This is a recipe for creating kids who, like Tamara, are afraid of the unknown that exists beyond their bubble-wrapped microcosms.

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