David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

Janet of the Apes

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 But it's pretty bad, isn't it? I know it's pretty bad. Ever since I can remember...ever since I was a little girl...people have turned away from me. The very first thing I can remember is a little child screaming when she looked at me.

I never wanted to be beautiful. I never wanted to look like a painting. I never even wanted to be loved. (a pause) I just wanted. . . I just wanted people not to scream when they looked at me.

Hard to imagine when this episode of The Twilight Zone aired 60 years ago that it would sum up so exactly the mistake parents repeatedly make in a subsequent century. Rod Sterling didn’t know about Apollo 11; Monica Lewinsky hadn’t been born; my graduate degree in developmental psychology was decades in the future, but Sterling got this right: Parents who can’t see the beauty in their own children are opening up a world of hurt.

This isn’t about permissive versus controlling parenting. It’s not about right and wrong. It’s not ever about who is considered physically attractive in our culture. We’re just examining the way we look at our beloved children. Do you see a young person who is doing the best she can? Or do you see only imperfection and the relentless need to correct, deride, punish? Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Can’t we agree that our children are lovely if not perfect?

Do our kids need the occasional gentle correction? Sure. A cat on the ceiling fan is a bad plan. But the underlying reason for the unfortunate behavior should always be the primary query. And for goodness sake, stop forcing your kids to do things. Help them figure out why they are behaving like feral idiots. A child who is fed, content, and satisfied is more likely to read a book or play with Legos. Flying felines are less probable when a child’s needs are met.

The faces of the doctors and the nurses are never shown. The drama focuses on the bandages being removed after Janet’s 11th failed operation. After the second commercial break, it is determined that Janet is indeed lovely. It is the doctors and nurses who are porcine, outrageously unattractive. At the risk of “explaining the joke,” Janet shouldn’t be the one being operated on. There was nothing wrong with her to begin with.

Haven’t we made enough mistakes with our kids? Haven’t we tried to change them enough? Haven’t we tried to make them into that which they are not, that which they shouldn’t be in the first place? Don’t we deride the “spare the rod and spoil the child” parenting of previous generations similar to our current understanding that sacrificing virgins to the volcano might not be the best way to ensure a prosperous harvest? Haven’t we learned that forcing kids to take a “no thank you bite” is a euphemism for guaranteeing that they will have issues with body image and weight? Haven’t we learned that punishing kids just teaches them to be punishers themselves, that being nice to kids helps them internalize being nice?

Don’t we know that telling our kids that they are ugly leads to misery, broken families, and enough sadness to fill any number of 30-minute episodes?



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