Infantilization by Regulation
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
In the 2001 cinema classic Bubble Boy, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Jimmy, is forced by his mother to live inside a system of plastic tubes and bubbles, ostensibly because he was born without immunities. After the woman he loves leaves town to marry another man, Jimmy builds a portable bubble, escapes from his parents’ home, and follows his love from California to Niagara Falls to declare his feelings at her wedding. In the film’s climax, Jimmy removes his bubble, indicating that he would rather embrace his love and die than stay locked in his protective dome. However, it turns out he didn’t need the bubble at all; it was just part of an elaborate effort by his mother to protect him from the ubiquitous dangers in the world outside the bubble. Stories of overprotective mothers and overbearing fathers are funny in the movies. In real life, paternalism rarely goes to such extremes. However, the protective impulse comes naturally to most parents. recognizing the potential to take this impulse too far, folk wisdom traditionally cautioned moms and dads against trying to live their children’s lives for them. According to this wisdom, making their own mistakes (and suffering through the consequences) is essential to children’s development.