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“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.
My latest review — Jennifer Senior’s “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting” — is in the May issue of Commentary Magazine.
In general I liked the book but found that her assessment of modern parenting comes down heavily on the side of “no fun” rather than emphasizing the “all joy”.
Senior, who writes for New York magazine, travels from Minneapolis to Houston to Brooklyn, talking to middle-class, divorced, married, and single mothers and fathers of babies, toddlers, kids, and teenagers. She makes us painfully aware of the ways in which parents are “too into it”—and how, perversely, their methods are making them miserable.
Senior is questioning why when we’ve volunteered for the project of having children, we seem driven to make it terribly complicated.
In her final chapter, Senior does get to the joy part of her title, and she gets it right when she argues that “to be happy one must do.” Happiness isn’t an achievable goal so much as the by-product of a meaningful achievement, she explains. But having spent the previous 80 percent of the book illuminating and dissecting why parenting is “no fun,” it is hard to be left with anything other than a heavy, somewhat hopeless feeling about what lies ahead for these hothouse-flower children and the puzzled, exhausted people who are raising them.
A mother in NJ was prosecuted and found criminally abusive for leaving her 19-month-old alone in the car for the 5-10 minutes it took her to shop at a store. Nothing happened to the child and yet the parent has been prosecuted and found guilty.
We have come to the point where potential harm is equivalent to actual harm. This is a serious problem.
From Scott H. Greenfield’s blog Simple Justice:
This isn’t a matter of parenting “best practices,” but whether the failure to adhere to a bubble-wrapped vision of child-rearing forms the basis for criminal prosecution, for inclusion on the child-abuse registry, for loss of civil rights, perhaps career, home and even the right to remain parent to a child.
“The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.”
Let me translate this wisdom for my North American audience: Bubble-wrapping our kids hurts them more than it helps.
And where’s the proof for this seemingly counter-intuitive observation? An elementary (primary) school in New Zealand where the principal agreed to remove the playground rules and discovered that there was less bullying, less destruction, less trouble than before.
A university researcher wanted to study the effects on children of removing all the anti-bullying, overly-regulated recess rules. It turned out that liberation has made the kids much happier, more creative and reduced playground injuries.
“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t,” says school principal Bruce McLachlan.
“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”
And parents were happy because lo-and-behold their kids were happier.
It is also so important to use this case as evidence of the harm done to kids (especially boys) when schools reduce recess, put kids in straight-jackets of zero-tolerance policies and even eliminate certain games and recess altogether.
As “The War on Boys” author Christina Hoff Sommers explains, “as early as pre-school and kindergarten, boys can be punished for behaving like boys. The characteristic play of young males is “rough-and-tumble” play. ”
This is exactly the type of play that has been eliminated from school playgrounds all over America. And it is exactly the type of play, along with imaginative play that girls and boys need to keep them focused when they go back into the classroom.
Research also shows that these types of child-generated games are an important part of kids’ social development.
Three cheers for the Swanson School in Aukland and here’s hoping that schools here in the US start getting the message and freeing their students to climb trees, skateboard and just have fun.
Big thanks to my husband Ben for bringing this great news story to my attention.
Lynette Fraga executive director of Child Care Aware explains that when parents can’t afford the cost of licensed daycare they choose a cheaper, non-regulated option. “The big question mark is: ‘Are children safe in unregulated care?’” Fraga said. But when regulated daycare includes brushing teeth it is obvious that affordability is being sacrificed at the altar of “high-quality”.
No doubt, state licensing of daycare is a useful yardstick to impose basic standards of safety, hygiene and quality. We’re way past that already, however and have moved into high-cost for high-quality regulations. Before more taxpayers funds get earmarked to give access to licensed daycare to more economically disadvantaged mothers, it would be useful to revisit the basic criteria for daycare facilities and in many cases, create a lower, more affordable standard.
– See more at: http://www.iwf.org/blog/2792992/More-Daycare,-Less-Regulation#sthash.rx6WUEZS.dpuf