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A toddler, a cupcake, and a mob of critics

By Ruben Navarrette
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A video of a 3-year-old boy asking his mom for a cupcake went viral
  • Ruben Navarrette: Viewers chimed in to criticize the boy and his parents
  • What happened to propriety? People need to have manners and respect boundaries
  • Navarrette: Onlookers should mind their own business and show more empathy

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- An amusing video is posted showing an adorable 3-year-old boy asking his mom for a cupcake with the determination of a first-year law student.

The next thing you know, the toddler is being criticized by complete strangers. Even worse, his mother and his father are being labeled bad parents.

What kind of world do we live in? Answer: A bizarre one where -- in the era of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter -- everyone thinks your business is their business.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

This isn't about privacy; when you post content online, you give up the right to privacy. This is about propriety; it's about having manners, knowing your place, and respecting boundaries. Just because someone posts wedding pictures doesn't mean you criticize the bride's dress.

Do you see the trouble you've caused, little Mateo? The rambunctious toddler from San Jose, California, wanted a cupcake, but his mother, Linda Beltran, said no. So Mateo took his case to his grandmother and asked her, in Spanish. His mother busted him, and -- in a video that has now been viewed more than 3 million times -- explained to the little guy why he couldn't have a cupcake. Unfazed, Mateo continued to argue with his mother for several minutes, all the while keeping up his plea.

"Listen Linda, listen," the boy says, occasionally also referring to his mother as "honey" and "babe."

I thought the video was priceless. My first thought was that this kid is a future politician. A perusal of Facebook and Twitter told me that many people felt the same way. You just don't often see 3-year-olds who can communicate this well.

I also thought the video was harmless. But on that point, not everyone agreed. There have been thousands of postings, hundreds of tweets, and more than a dozen articles about the exchange between this boy and his mother.

One round of criticism was aimed at the boy's father, Kenneth. While he's not on camera, many onlookers commented that Mateo obviously learned to argue with his mother by watching his father. Linda Beltran has since admitted that, yes, Mateo picked up "honey" and "babe" from watching dad interact with mom. Completely unacceptable, some people said. The father must be verbally abusive when speaking to his wife, they insisted with no proof to back up the claim.

Another round of criticism targeted the mother, Linda, for being both too lenient and too strict. Those who thought she was too lenient thought that she should never have tolerated back-talk from a toddler, and those who considered her too strict were concerned that at one point she threatens to give her son "pow pow" (which we understand to mean a spanking). Totally unacceptable, said the critics.

Up to this point, I'm not surprised. It's part of a larger trend. The last generation told itself, "I just want to be the best parent I can be." Today, the new mantra in child-rearing is cheekier: "I'm a better parent than you."

Critics also took issue with Mateo himself, calling him defiant and disrespectful. How dare a boy talk to his mother that way? They frowned on how Mateo refers to his mom by her first name -- something the mother says the boy seems to reserve for special occasions like long and drawn-out pleadings where he really wants to make what he considers a very serious point.

Leafing through all the criticisms, I got depressed. I couldn't help but think that part of the reaction was a "Latino thing," where this noticeably Latino family (i.e., grandma speaks Spanish) was being criticized consistent with stereotypes.

The macho father. The permissive mother. The unruly kid. All making for a dysfunctional family.

A stretch? Not really. The onlookers were jumping to conclusions about a family they knew nothing about with nothing to go on except their prejudices. A story that had started out being about cupcakes had taken an ugly turn that wasn't at all appetizing.

One person even suggested that, instead of watching a future politician, we were really watching a future "criminal."

I've written about politics for a quarter-century. You don't have to choose. Trust me, we can have both.

Right about now, I needed a pick me up, and I got one thanks to Ellen Degeneres. The talk show host saw the video, fell in love, and invited Mateo and his mother onto her TV show.

Degeneres gave Mateo -- who loves superheroes almost as much as cupcakes -- a giant mountain of superhero-themed cupcakes. She gave mom a $10,000 check from Shutterfly, one of the show's sponsors, to help out with household expenses. At this point, people are laughing, and people are crying. And it all drowned out the petty naysayers and meddling onlookers who really should watch their manners and mind their own business.

This story reminds us what the world needs. More empathy. More respect. More compassion. And more Ellens.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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