Intrusive Parenting Laws Are Already on the Books

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids sounds the alarm over a bill in California, the bulk of whose primary opponents are, unfortunately, anti-vaxxers and the like. But if one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, one shouldn't assume a proposed law is harmless based solely on the opposition it attracts -- or good based on the stated intention of its sponsor. For starters, Jacob Sullum of Reason notes the following:

All of the "rights" declared by [Richard] Pan's bill are vague, and several of them involve claims on other people's resources. In Pan's view, the decision to reproduce gives people a license to raid the wallets of total strangers who had no say in that decision. Furthermore, there are no clear limits to that license, since it's anybody's guess what "appropriate, quality health care" or "appropriate, quality education" might entail, what it takes to achieve "social and emotional well-being," or how the government can guarantee "optimal cognitive, physical, and social development."

The most contentious "rights" in Pan's list are the ones that imply second-guessing of parental decisions and interference with family relationships. S.B. 18 says children have a right to "live in a safe and healthy environment," to have "parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest," and to "form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being." Since it's not clear what happens when a parent's idea of a healthy environment, healthy attachments, or a child's best interest conflicts with a legislator's or a bureaucrat's, you can start to see why the bill's opponents call it "an attempt by power-hungry California legislators to further degrade the rights of parents," argue that it "will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California," warn that "it's extremely problematic to allow a very small group of people to decide what constitutes 'best' for...millions of families," or worry that Pan's dubious, undefined rights "could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child." [bold added, links dropped]
Sullum goes on to note that the state already intervenes on behalf of children in appropriate instances, such as child abuse. He is also correct to note that such a law would invite all kinds of meddling sooner or later.

Let me add that, for anyone who pooh-poohs the threat that such a bill poses to parental rights, many states already have meddlesome laws on the books. From Skenazy's blog, it is possible to learn, for example, that in Maryland, it's illegal to leave a child under eight inside a locked car without someone else at least thirteen years old also in the car. This is supposed to promote safety, so who could argue against it? Allow me...

Consider the following hypothetical: Your sick child, age six, is fast asleep in the back of the car (after a day of vomiting). It's cool outside; your other child's daycare is in a safe neighborhood; the parking lot is heavily trafficked by other parents (many of whom you know); and you park in full view of its office. You need to go inside for less than five minutes to pick up your other child, age four. Your spouse is unavailable to help you on short notice. Maryland law requires you to drag your sick child into the daycare center, if you can't find someone willing to hang out in your car with the sick kid, rather than doing the common-sense thing: Locking the door and making a quick pick-up.

Perhaps Pan's ridiculous bill and the publicity it is attracting is a good thing: Parental rights are already under attack, and the situation will not improve until, for starters, we stop turning our brains off every time someone says something is for the "safety" of "our children."

-- CAV


Steve D said...

I have never been entirely clear on what the danger of leaving a child inside a car (locked or unlocked) is supposed to be, or what the law (or a thirteen year old) is supposed to prevent. Overheating could be an issue but not on a cool day and if otherwise, it would be a good idea to leave the window open a bit.

Gus Van Horn said...


From what I gather, it's a combination of overheating and hysteria over child abductions, which Skenazy frequently mentions (whose probability is far lower than the risks associated with many of the things the same alarmists find acceptable).

It occurred to me that someone might answer my hypothetical with, "So call them and ask if they can escort your other child out." I haven't asked, but I would hardly be surprised that there would be a policy in place against doing so.