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February 18, 2012

If you have kids at home (or plan to), you must read this [Fritzworth]

Courtesy of Ilya Somin over at The Volokh Conspiracy comes a link to this very important paper by David Pimentel, a law professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law on the social and legal risks of trying to let your kids grow up like normal kids. Pimentel covers several interlocking issues, but the gist is that media hyperbole over "risks" to children, combined with vagueness in state legal statutes on child endangerment, puts parents at risk of criminal prosecution for allowing their kids to do normal things. I'll put his opening three paragraphs after the jump.

Parenting in American society is a far more demanding enterprise than it once was, and the changes over a single generation are startling. Intensive parenting is becoming the norm in the dominant American subcultures, which are embracing safety-conscious parenting approaches that might once have been viewed disapprovingly as “overprotective” parenting. Most of the change is motivated by a well-intentioned desire to protect and promote children’s safety and welfare: more specifically to (1) insulate them from risks of physical harm and victimization, and (2) increase their access to educational and cultural advantage. De facto legal standards appear to be evolving right along with these attitudes about proper parenting, with individual parental choices increasingly secondguessed by a society now willing to pass judgment on them.

On the one hand, this is healthy, as child abuse has decreased, along with virtually every other threat to children’s health and safety. Indeed, children have never been safer than they are now. On the other hand, part of the focus on child protection is based on unfounded fears and hysteria, fed by distorted and sensationalized media reports of risks faced by children in today’s world. The result has been a disturbing shift in favor of “over-parenting,” which despite the best of intentions, may be harming America’s children in unanticipated ways. This potential for harm is behind a growing movement toward “Free Range” parenting, rooted in the philosophy that children can and should be given greater responsibility and autonomy at young ages, and that the perceived risks that prompt overprotective parenting are overblown.

Despite the sensibilities of Free Range parents, the trend toward “overprotective parenting”—defined as those aspects of overparenting that address issues of safety—may be reinforced and exacerbated by the fear of criminal liability. If criminal child neglect standards are sufficiently vague, applied in the discretion of prosecutors and in the judgment of juries steeped in the media’s fearmongering, parents will have little choice but to stifle their children’s independence and initiative, and buy into the Intensive Parenting culture.

Most telling -- and chilling -- are the tales of criminal prosecution for parental behavior that I suspect most readers of this blog would consider normal and even desirable. If you have kids still at home -- even teenagers -- take the time to read the whole thing. ..fritz..

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posted by Open Blogger at 10:09 PM

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