My interview with Nick Gillespie was such fun! We talk about Satanism, swaddling and why the phrase “protecting the children” is really code for the worst helicopter parent in America.
Category Archives: Nanny State
The very smart economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth has reviewed No Child Left Alone for MarketWatch. The whole review is here.
She opens with high praise:
As presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton grapple with the high cost of child care, there’s no better time to read Abby W. Schachter’s new book, “No Child Left Alone: Getting the Government Out of Parenting,” published by Encounter Books. Guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, it describes how federal and state regulations affect all aspects of child rearing, from birth to high school graduation.
Furchtgott-Roth focuses on the specific problem of childcare:
Day-care centers run by Head Start have to follow rules issued by the Department of Agriculture, including requirements to provide foods such as cow’s milk, even if parents prefer that children not drink cow’s milk.
Day-care providers in Pennsylvania, Schachter’s home state, are required to throw out uneaten food and wash out containers in case the child might consume hazardous material later on.
Just as Obamacare drove up the price of health care, government regulation is driving up the price of day care and school lunches.
It was a pleasure talking to Mary Kissel at Opinion Journal about No Child Left Alone: Getting the government out of parenting.
Let’s go to the video!
The responses to my recent Acculturated post about the spate of parental arrests is upsetting. Not because I’ve been criticized for my position that grown adults shouldn’t be calling the police when they see an unattended child, but because the criticism seems valid.
A plurality of commentators have said that if they were male, they would never approach an unattended child because of the fear of being accused of being a predator or pervert.
Joel quotes me and then responds:
“In just about all of these cases (and the many others over the past two decades), an adult who witnessed and worried about a child—a kid alone at the playground, walking by himself on the street or sitting alone in a car—didn’t actually take responsibility for making sure everything was alright. ”
That’s feasible for a woman (maybe), but a guaranteed trip to the police station for a man. If I stopped a strange child in the park to ask if they were all right, every bystander in sight would peg me as a pervert.
Several people agreed wholeheartedly with Joel.
And Andy wrote as follows:
I’m a 39 year old male who doesn’t want to spend his day sitting in jail charged with child enticement or charged with another crime.
If I see a female child alone, I’m not stopping for pretty much anything. It’s just not worth me having my name plastered all over the media as a potential abuser.
This is worrisome to me both because I want my kids to live in a world where their neighbors and even strangers (men and women) can approach if there’s a problem, without fearing retribution for doing so, and because I think physical community is so important and we have to be able to talk to one another even if we haven’t ever met before.
No one should fear the police. But it seems as if parents have a legitimate reason to fear the police getting involved in their kids lives (as they tend to get arrested for making harmless choices), and individuals fear being criminalized for caring about the well-being of children. This is harmful to citizens and bad for law enforcement.
“What the heck are we doing arresting parents for things that were perfectly normal 30 years ago?” Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle raged in a recent column. The focus of her ire was a series of reports of parents being punished for choices about their kids that the authorities felt were inappropriate. The reason for McArdle’s reaction is that in all these instances nothing happened to the child in question.
A woman in South Carolina allowed her nine-year-old daughter to play in a local playground while she worked. She was booked for “unlawful conduct toward a child” and has lost custody of her kid. A Connecticut woman was cited for a misdemeanor because she chose to run an errand while her 11-year-old sat waiting in the car. The Atlantic’s Colin Friedersdorf got a letter from a woman who spent four years battling local police and child protective services in an effort to reunite her family. She lost custody of her kids for the “crime” of choosing to leave her four children, ages 10- five, at home while she took a class at a local university. And earlier this year, Kim Brooks, wrote in Salon about facing serious charges and years of legal entanglement including settling for hours of community service for having let her 4-year-old sit unharmed in a car for a few minutes.
None of this is accidental or coincidence, it is systemic and has been going on for at least three decades. It is all part of an effort to replace parental authority and discretion with the regulations and standards of the state. “The African proverb ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ seems to serve now as a rallying call for the establishment of a communal authority to set new standards and methods of child-rearing,” writes Dana Mack in her 1997 book The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family.
Those replacement child-rearing standards have been applied in the area of family law to punish parents like Tammy Cooper in La Port Texas, who was charged with child endangerment and child abandonment even though the arresting officer found her sitting on her front lawn watching her kids play. And Charles Eisenstein was cited for disorderly conduct and threatened with arrest for “endangering the safety of a minor,” when he argued with police about taking his kids to climb the ice formations along the frozen Susquehanna River. In his discussion of the loss practical wisdom and individual discretion, psychologist Barry Schwartz tells of a father who was removed from his family, forced to undergo counseling, and his kid put in foster care, because the dad mistakenly gave his seven-year-old son “hard” lemonade at a Detroit Tigers game. Schwartz explains that at nearly every stage of the process, whether it was nurses at the hospital who tested the son’s blood alcohol level (it was negative) or the welfare workers or the judge, the father was told, “We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure.”
According to Mack’s thesis, family law courts and social service agencies have been unduly influenced by an attitude that the “best interests” of a child is separate and often in competition with parental authority and the family unit. “Parents have been convicted of ‘child abuse’ for spanking, for grounding, for home schooling, and even for no reason other than a suspicion on the part of a mandated reporter or social worker that while conditions in the home are at present stable, they may be conducive to neglect or abuse in the future,” explains Mack.
As the examples from this summer indicate, family law and mandated reporter rules have now trickled down to local police who are invoking “potential harm” to children due to the decisions of their parents. This reality is surely bad enough and yet if we look more broadly at how public policy questions of children’s health and welfare are legislated, we see that parental discretion and judgment is often superseded by that of the state.
It is in this context that we must view the policy of the city of New York to put baby formula under lock and key in favor of pressuring mothers to breastfeed. And consider as well the federal mandates about breastfeeding courtesy of Obamacare. Or hospitals and daycare centers that, under state guidelines and regulations are prohibited from swaddling infants because it may pose a risk to the child. Not to mention the dietary restrictions for public school kids from the Department of Agriculture, and the standards for safe playground thanks to the Handbook for Public Playground Safety from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Melissa Harris-Perry says we should welcome all this government intervention between parents and their children. “We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children,’” she explains, “so part of it is we have to break through our … private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everyone’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”
The notion that the state hasn’t gone far enough in its effort to transform our understanding of who children belong to and who shall have authority for their safety and well-being, is surely a frightening prospect to all those parents already caught in the web of unjust parental punishment.
From my most recent Pittsburgh Tribune Review column:
Balls and cartwheels are banned at recess and many schools are decreasing or eliminating free play.
Surveys show that car seats have become so complicated that many parents and caregivers don’t use them at all.
When it comes to children’s safety, it seems we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns as the quest for perfect results has become the enemy of good-enough regulations.
Read the whole thing here.
“It’s a big year at our house. This September, for the first time, my 14-year-old began taking the subway to school by himself, my 10-year-old began taking the city bus to school by himself, and I began leaving my 6-year-old at home alone for short stretches.
“As with many of our previous milestones, all came about due to necessity.”
But to look at many of the comments in response to Adams’ post, lots of her readers ignored the word necessity. Adams got people who accused her of breaking the law, who “admired” her for something they themselves would never do, along with some who just thought it was downright reckless of her to admit to leaving an innocent child unattended, where any Tom, Dick or Harry Predator could snatch her away. Adams finds that last one just plain silly. When I interviewed her she dismissed the notion that anyone could find her daughter from the few details she provided in her essay. “How is anyone going to find my daughter from my having written that we live in an apartment in New York? Is someone going to use the internet and come through the computer screen into our apartment?”
Adams didn’t like the criticism but she understands it. As she declares there’s a “definite culture of fear” among parents. Even though crime has gone down and even though many adults remember being left alone themselves as children, somehow it is all different now.
What makes Adams a newly minted Captain Mommy though is the fact that writing about the subject of leaving her daughter at home alone meant that she had to find out if those who accused of breaking the law might have had a point. As Adams writes, “I was pretty surprised to learn that The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone. And that some states even have specific guidelines on the books, as low as 8 years old in many places, and as high as 14(!) in Illinois. (My 14-year-old doesn’t just stay home alone in New York State, he watches his siblings, too!)”
Adams made sure that New York State, where she lives with her family, didn’t have a statute proscribing a particular age when kids could be left home alone, and was happy to discover that she was not in jeopardy of being hauled off to jail. (It is worth noting, that New York does have a law against kids left in cars alone below the age of 8, however.)
Why is Adams so against such laws? As she explained it to me, “I’m not a fan of arbitrary guidelines. I’m against mandatory minimums for kindergarten or retirement. [I’m] against government making that decision because it is an arbitrary rule without seeing what’s going on.”
Adams believes that every child is different making each situation different as well. But that’s not good enough for nanny-statists who are convinced they are “saving the kids” by pushing for these laws. The one-size-fits-all solution is the only one government can handle and so we get rules and regulations that interfere with parents’ choices rather than supporting them.