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September 25, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s an eye-opener (University of California, 8/23/16).

For some years now, I’ve inveighed against adults’ overprotectiveness toward children. Despite the fact that children in the United States are far safer than they’ve ever been or that violent crime is at its lowest level in decades (with the exception of a slight recent uptick), somewhere our culture has absorbed the notion that children are uniquely at risk of harm.

The roots of that extreme and entirely unwarranted change are deep and, to me at least, a tad obscure. Certainly, the process was well underway when the pre-school hysteria of the 80s and 90s surfaced. In those memorable cases, adults browbeat children into making the most bizarre and even impossible claims of sexual abuse by daycare employees. Astonishing sums were spent prosecuting teachers and daycare operators accused of “crimes” that any normal adult would know at a glance never happened. Small children repeatedly raped with butcher knives, sometimes in space ships were among the claims actually taken to trial by district attorneys.

But what occasioned such patent nonsense, such destructive, Kafkaesque legal attacks? What enabled sane adults to force children into making such accusations and then believe them? The Salem Witch Trials may have had ergot to blame for their excesses. What did the prosecutors of the McMartin Preschool or the Fells Acres Daycare defendants have to explain their behavior?

One explanation (not justification) is the notion that the hysteria about children’s safety stemmed from the radical changes that were taking place in family structure. The shocking rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing, the equally shocking increase in divorce rates, the marginalization of fathers, widespread abortion and other trends that had taken hold in the 70s scared people and rightly so. Our concern for children raised in the Brave New World wrought by those changes manifested itself in many ways, one of which was the fear that mothers were being replaced by daycare. Hence the hysteria about child sexual abuse in pre-schools that was all but 100% imaginary.

I think that our society-wide overprotectiveness toward kids today stems from the same thing. We’re not comfortable with the breakdown of the traditional intact family and so we assume kids to be at risk even when they’re not. The new study I linked to bears this out.

In it, respondents were presented with a series of scenarios and asked to rate each, on a scale of 1 – 10, according to how dangerous they viewed the situation to the child in question. For the most part, the scenarios presented were pretty benign. A mother leaving her child in a car on a cool day for 10 minutes while she’s in a phone store where the child is plainly visible to her through the store’s window, is fairly typical.

With 10 as the maximum level of risk, respondents rated all scenarios at 6.99 on average, i.e. very risky for the child. So, as we might expect, the perceived risk to children, even from objectively non-threatening situations, was high.

From there, the researchers made somewhat more nuanced inquiries. The various scenarios included those in which the hypothetical mother left the child alone involuntarily (e.g. she had to go to work) as well as those where she left the child voluntarily (e.g. relaxing or meeting an illicit lover). One scenario featured her being knocked unconscious in an accident and so being unable to attend to her child for half an hour.

As the researchers noted, it would be rational to assume that respondents would realize that children left intentionally would be at less risk than those left involuntarily. After all, when a parent knows she’s going to leave a child, she can make arrangements for its safety and well-being. She can leave food in the home, a phone for the child to use, instructions about whom to contact in case of emergency, etc.

But remarkably, respondents assessed children left intentionally to be at greater risk than those left involuntarily. Why would they have done that? Apparently, they affixed a moral component to the hypothetical mothers’ behavior and that moral component increased their risk rating. So, although rationally, a mother who knows she’s leaving her child alone for a while can make sensible arrangements for its safety, while a mother who’s taken from the child by unexpected circumstances can’t, respondents penalized the first mother more than the second.

In short, they felt that the mother who had a choice about leaving the child was morally wrong to do so, whereas the mother who had no choice was seen to be morally neutral. And strangely, the respondents upped their perception of the child’s risk according to their moral opprobrium directed at the mother.

“In fact, children left alone on purpose are almost certainly safer than those left alone by accident, because parents can take steps to make the situation safer, like giving the child a phone or reviewing safety rules,” said Barbara Sarnecka, study co-author and associate professor of cognitive sciences. “The fact that people make the opposite judgment strongly suggests that they morally disapprove of parents who leave their children alone, and that disapproval inflates their estimate of the risk.”

I believe that ties into our continuing discomfort with the breakdown of the family and the greater involvement of women in the workplace. As I’ve said before, data on the roles people actually take on when they have children reflect far more traditional values about men and women, fathers and mothers than elite discourse would like us to believe. Put simply, the great majority of people are hanging onto those traditional roles where and when they can. Yes, more women now are working for pay than previously, but that’s more because the economy requires it than their desire to join the corporate rat race. According to the Census Bureau, six million women are stay-at-home mothers, while barely 200,000 men are stay-at-home dads. And nothing predicts a man’s being divorced by his wife like the loss of his job.

All that and mountains of other data point to the reality that, whatever elites in academia and pop culture say about the wonders of casting off restrictive gender roles, We the People aren’t buying it. We sense what got us here as a species and we’re not about to be led away from it by self-appointed guardians of the public weal.

The last bit of the study bears me out.

The authors found another interesting pattern when they replaced mothers in the stories with fathers: For fathers – but not mothers – a work-related absence was treated more like an involuntary absence. This difference could stem from the view that work is more obligatory and less of a voluntary choice for men.

Sure enough, fathers weren’t penalized for going to work, but mothers were. There’s only one reason for that: the traditional role of the male as resource provider is valued. It’s what he’s supposed to do, so respondents refused to consider him morally deficient for doing so. Mom? Not so much. Her traditional role is that of caregiver to children, so leaving them in order to earn got lower marks than it did for Dad.

 

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