April 19, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
In the wake of the most recent harassment of Sasha and Danielle Meitiv and their two children by Silver Springs police and Child Protective Services, comes this fine article by Ross Pomeroy who, remarkably enough is a zoologist, environmental scientist and assistant editor of RealClearScience (RealClearScience, 4/2015).
I’ve written several pieces on the trials and tribulations of the Meitivs, two loving, responsible and careful parents. My points have, in a nutshell, been these: (a) the Meitivs are good parents; they carefully monitor their children’s capabilities and only allow them the freedom of which they’re capable; (b) that runs afoul of a CPS agency that’s ever-ready to substitute its own ideas about parenting for those of perfectly good parents; (c) it also runs afoul of a cultural zeitgeist that tells us every day that children are in constant danger from unnamed but sinister forces; (d) those overreactions by the public and CPS actually endanger children’s welfare by devoting scarce resources (CPS caseworkers) to situations that don’t need their attention while potentially ignoring those that do; (e) the entire process advances the cause of governmental power at the expense of families; (f) children in this country are overwhelmingly safe and (g) public policy should reflect, not contradict, that fact.
All of that is clear enough. But Pomeroy adds yet another layer of important information to what I’ve already reported, and for that, I thank him. It seems social scientists have studied the effects of “helicopter parenting,” i.e. the only type deemed acceptable by CPS, the police, mandated reporters and sundry other busybodies.
Ironically, all that extra attention seems to benefit parents far more than children. Helicopter parents report living happier and more meaningful lives than hands-off parents. Contrast that with a plethora of studies examining the effects of overbearing parenting on kids: A study from Ohio State University found that excessive praise can cause children to develop over-inflated egos and narcisstic tendencies later in life. College students with controlling parents report significantly higher rates of depression and less satisfaction with life. Another survey found that students with helicopter parents have reduced psychological well being and are more likely to use anxiety medications.
Overprotective parenting isn't always salubrious for kids' physical health either. For example, many parents commonly withhold potentially allergenic foods from their young kids, lest they by some chance suffer a severe reaction. But, as landmark research published earlier this year demonstrated, preventing kids from eating those foods may be contributing to the rise in allergies! According to the CDC, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Hyper-parented kids also exercise less and are more likely to be bullied.
In short, by their compulsiveness, helicopter parents are satisfying something in themselves but contributing to an array of negative outcomes for their kids. The simple fact is that children who have an adult always present to solve their problems, may not be as able to solve them for themselves later in life. Children whose every act is praised may come to believe they’re better, more deserving than the non-parental world does. After all, every child will someday become acquainted with the wider world, one that’s not populated with people who love him/her. If that child expects unadulterated praise, disappointment and confusion will inevitably ensue.
So the Meitiv’s approach to parenting, safe as it is in the present (their older child is 10; if he’s ever been harmed or endangered during all those years, no one’s mentioned it), is probably better for the children in the long run than its more anxious counterpart apparently favored by state authorities. Maybe someone will point that out to our Big Sister at CPS.
Meanwhile, Pomeroy cites data on just how safe children in this country actually are in general. It’s a point I’ve made virtually every time I’ve written on the case.
"Bluntly put: It’s hard to think of a safer time and a better place than the United States of 2015 to raise children — but we act as though the opposite were true," Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, recently wrote at Science of Us.
A quick scan of the data, provided by the meticulous researcher David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire: The physical abuse of children declined by 55 percent between 1992 and 2011, while sexual abuse declined 64 percent; between 1997 and 2012, abductions by strangers also went down by 51 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle deaths among kids 12 and under declined by 43 percent in the last decade.
Meanwhile, CPS agencies across the country received about 3.2 million calls last year claiming a child was being abused or neglected. Eighty percent of those proved to be meritless. Of the remaining 20%, another 80% were claims of neglect, leaving 4% of calls to CPS agencies being substantiated examples of child abuse. And of course the overwhelming majority of those incidents had a perpetrator who was known to the child – a mother, father, boyfriend or relative.
So the harassment the Meitivs are currently undergoing has as its goal the prevention of a type of danger to children that is all but non-existent.
No one, least of all Danielle or Sasha Meitiv, is advocating irresponsible neglect of children by parents. What they Meitivs have done is carefully test their children’s capabilities and allow them incrementally greater freedom accordingly. Rightly, that’s what Pomeroy argues for.
But common sense, and even a healthy amount of science, indicates that taking a slight step back is the best course of action. Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist at the Institute of Human Development, at the University of California - Berkeley is one of the foremost experts on parenting. For decades, she has held that the best parents strike a balance between discipline and autonomy. They don't shower their children with praise, nor do they hem them in with excessive restrictions. They step in when necessary, but generally allow children to figure things out for themselves. Baumrind calls it the authoritative style of parenting.
That looks a lot like what Sasha and Danielle do with their kids. Pomeroy thinks so too.
Despite being labeled as neglectful, Danielle Meitiv seems to parent well within these recommendations. As she told ABC's Nightline, "Frankly I think that raising independent children and responsible children and giving them the freedom that I enjoyed is a risk worth taking."
Parenting isn’t simply a series of judgments by parents. It’s not deciding whether bedtime should be 8 PM or 8:30 or whether little Andy or Jenny has had too much sugar today. Those and countless other decisions are important and necessary of course, but above all, parenting is a relationship between parents and children. If there’s love and trust between child and adult, many different types of parenting can be appropriate.
So I have a few questions for CPS. You’re content to second-guess the Meitivs when they allow their children to go to a park that’s a 30-second automobile ride from their home. So, will you be there when one of them has a scary dream in the night? What about helping with homework? Will you be on hand to give advice about which girl or boy to date? Which college to attend? How to handle a bully at school?
I know the answers of course. No CPS caseworker will be anywhere around and were the Meitivs to telephone them, they’d be told to deal with it themselves. And that’s yet another problem with what CPS has done to this family – it’s ad hoc. There’ll be no follow-up, no follow-through. No CPS caseworker will be around to notice the effects of the agency’s behavior on the kids or the parents. They’ll never know the fear they’ve instilled in those kids.
What else they won’t do is take responsibility for any of those negative outcomes experienced by the children of helicopter parents. In some cases, they may have done a lot to promote that type of parenting and cause those consequences. But no CPS caseworker or agency will ever admit it, much less take responsibility for doing so.
Ah yes, responsibility. That’s the thing the Meitivs are trying to teach their kids.
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