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Parenting in the Press

A Law Protecting Our Children From Us?

Here’s a question: How far do you want the government to go to protect your children from your own bad habits? To what extent should the government be able to tell you what to do in the privacy of your own home or car in order to safeguard your kids?

These questions were floating through my head as I heard a story about a bill that’s going through Maryland’s legislature that would make it a primary offense (meaning the police can pull you over for it) to smoke in a vehicle with any passenger under the age of 8. On its surface, this sounds like a sensible law, meant to protect young children from secondhand smoke, which numerous studies have shown is extremely harmful. We know that when children, in particular, are exposed to secondhand smoke, they are at increased risk for respiratory infections, asthma, and ear infections, among other concerns (see here). No one can deny that in a perfect world, no child would be exposed to secondhand smoke, especially in such a confined space as a car. However, until smoking itself is made illegal, passing a law preventing people from smoking in the privacy of their own vehicle raises serious concerns.

To backtrack just a little, I feel I should mention that I am not and never have been a smoker; my husband is not a smoker; my parents were not smokers. As a registered Democrat, I usually applaud local, state, and national governments’ efforts to protect citizens, sometimes from themselves. What concerns me about the Maryland measure is that if the government can prevent me from smoking in my car (which I don’t do anyway, so I’m speaking hypothetically), what else might a policeman be able to pull me over for one day? How about playing really loud music, which might damage my daughter’s eardrums?

Okay, okay, I know there are already laws dictating what I do in my car, like wearing a seatbelt and driving the speed limit, and I wouldn’t argue against those, but smoking in and of itself is not a crime (yet). The government may be able to say that I can’t smoke in public places, like restaurants, but now they’re going to tell me I can’t smoke in my own car? What’s next? I can’t smoke in my own house?? If they’re going to criminalize smoking, why not just halt the sale of cigarettes all together?

Another concern I have is why the law would only protect children up to age 8? High school students are equally defenseless in being exposed to secondhand smoke if they are forced to ride with their parents, which most are. Interestingly, the bill originally protected all children under 16 but was later amended. Why? Because they weren’t sure how to enforce such a law. How would they know how old a child was? Well, children under the age of 8 are required to ride in carseats in Maryland, making that age group easily identifiable, hence the change to the bill. But if you’re going to create such a heavy-handed law, why not really go for it and protect all children? And if you doubt your ability to enforce a law properly, then it probably shouldn’t exist.

Perhaps you have a different perspective on this issue. What do you think? Should the government protect children from the irresponsible behavior of their parents, or should our right to privacy in our own car trump any such law? Please leave a comment or respond to the poll below.

- Evanthia

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Why I Believe Spanking a Child is Bullying Behavior

“Don’t hit. It’s not nice.”

“Keep your hands to yourself.”

“Use your words.”

These are common phrases uttered by parents and teachers. Kids are taught that aggressive behavior is not acceptable. If they are frustrated, they should use other ways to confront their feelings instead of impulsive aggression. We encourage them to explain their feelings, walk away, or tell an adult. We tell them they should not hit.

But then, some parents use physical punishment as a way to “teach” their children.

When parents spank their children, what are they hoping to accomplish?

  1. The child will stop the behavior.
  2. The child will not repeat the behavior.

But what exactly are parents teaching their children when they choose to use physical punishment?

Here’s what I think they are teaching:

  1. If someone is bigger than you, they have the right to hit you.
  2. If you have tried talking with someone and they are still not listening, you can hit them, especially if you are bigger and stronger than them.
  3. I know I am telling you to use your words and not to hit, but I can hit you because I’m your mother/father. The rules only apply to you, not to me.
  4. I don’t have to respect you all the time. Just when you are following my rules.

My biggest issue with spanking is that it falls into the category I call “power parenting.” It’s a parenting style where parents bully their children into following rules. I’ve seen this when parents shove food into their crying children’s mouths, or when they leave a baby who is too young to understand, crying in his crib. (Cry-it-out is a whole separate topic and one that will be covered another time.) It’s parenting by bullying. As an educator who has seen hundreds of children go through all phases of development, I’ve always wondered; do children whose parents are aggressive turn into aggressors themselves?

Recent studies, including one in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, were summarized on msnbc.msn.com and on Yahoo! Health, and explored current research on this issue. These studies found that spanking literally has no positive effects except for stopping the behavior in the short term.

These articles explain that spanking can:

  1. teach kids that aggression is an appropriate technique to use in frustrating social situations
  2. increase aggression within a couple of years, if physical punishment occurs on a regular basis
  3. teach kids to internalize feelings
  4. make children antisocial

Perhaps it works in the moment, but it creates a sense of fear and intimidation in the long term. And because the child is just being bullied into stopping the behavior, they have no idea what to use as an alternative the next time this situation occurs. Parents need to take into account their child’s cognitive development when considering how to discipline. Kids test boundaries and learn how to deal with overwhelming feelings. That’s how they grow. It’s challenging for us and can be extremely frustrating, but it’s not fair to spank them because we don’t know what else to do.

I am not saying that discipline is unnecessary. Children do need boundaries and consistent rules, praise and consequences. However, I believe in raising children with the golden rule in mind: Treat them as you would like to be treated. They are people too, after all.

- Sarahlynne

ARE French Parents Superior??

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an essay on their website with the inflammatory title “Why French Parents Are Superior.” The piece is actually an adaptation of Pamela Druckerman’s new book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Given that just last month the WSJ also published an essay on “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” (I kid you not), as part of the “Tiger Mom’s” 15 minutes of fame, American parents are justified in feeling that they’re under attack. But maybe we can all glean a lesson (or even a reminder) from the French, because overlooking Druckerman’s wild generalizations, she does raise some valid points about parenting.

She begins by reporting that French toddlers sit “contentedly in their high chairs,” eating (not throwing) whatever is placed on their trays. Apparently, they also don’t have temper tantrums, interrupt their parents’ conversations, or demand to be entertained. How am I to believe that French parents aren’t experiencing these perfectly natural toddler behaviors? After all, my days as an educator and my classes in child and adolescent psychology tell me that toddlers are stuck between wanting to assert their new-found independence and having mom tell them what to do, so they’re constantly pushing the envelope and determining limits. But French toddlers don’t go through this normal developmental stage? Well, maybe not as…severely.

So what exactly are the French doing so much better than us? First, “…the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive.” Parents care deeply for their children, but they do not answer to them. There is no French equivalent of “helicopter parenting,” something most teachers dread! I can attest to the fact that many well-meaning, loving American parents cannot seem to let their children—teenagers!—manage their educational experiences (taking notes, remembering homework, studying for tests) on their own. In rejecting the American mode of overparenting, French parents take time for themselves, which one can imagine would make them less likely to lose their patience with their children.

At the other end of this relationship, French children are expected and encouraged to entertain themselves. Druckerman writes about dropping her daughter off at a free, public preschool in France only to find that the kids were not engaged in adult-led songs, games, or activities, but rather played amongst themselves. As Dawn has written in “Preschool Pressure: Are You Feeling It?” Americans, in contrast, expect the preschool experience to be utterly enlightening—“their child’s ticket to an Ivy League college.” Shouldn’t our kids be able to play on their own? Doesn’t this encourage vital independence?

The second major theme of Druckerman’s essay is the emphasis French parents place on learning to wait. She claims this is why French toddlers “sit happily at a restaurant,” because they must wait to eat until mealtime. I know I have struggled with trying to teach my daughter that we sit at the table for three square meals and an afternoon snack. And just because we picked up her favorite food off the shelf at the grocery store, does not mean we will open it right that second and begin consuming it. If we wait to eat at the “appropriate” time, we are teaching our children about the value and pleasure of food and the importance of sitting down at the table as a family.

Of course, no family is able to achieve these ideals all the time, but delaying gratification with food may certainly teach young children to delay gratification in other areas, too, creating noticeable behavioral differences. Druckerman asks, “Might this partly explain why middle-class American kids, who are in general more used to getting what they want right away, so often fall apart under stress?” (Read: fewer tantrums?) I think it’s possible.

Her final point is that French parents have an “easy, calm authority with their children” that Americans lack. She writes of her own fear of damaging her child by reprimanding him too forcefully, only to find that adopting a more authoritative tone was no more damaging but much more effective. Although Druckerman has grossly oversimplified French and American parenting styles, the lessons she shares can serve as reminders for us that we are, in fact, the bosses of these little people who rule our lives, and they do best when we set our expectations high.

- Evanthia