Art Carden  

"The Criminalization of Parenthood" and Mortality Risks

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This post is a modified version of a comment from the Libertarian Homeschooler Facebook page.

Via The Libertarian Homeschooler, I just saw Radley Balko's new post on "The Criminalization of Parenthood."

My wife and I are big fans of Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids, but more than once I've wondered whether a bystander would call the cops on me if I were to leave the kids in our well-ventilated car for just a few minutes while I ducked inside the store or the library.

According to this site, 623 kids have died from heatstroke from being left in cars since 1998. From the bar graph in the middle of the page, there doesn't appear to be a clear upward or downward trend. The total from 1998-present is only about 3/4 of the number of kids who died from poisonings in 2010 alone. As tragic as these deaths are, it's a mistake to say "if it saves one life, it's worth it." I wasn't able to find data with a quick Google search, but my guess is that the risk of injury or death from a kid getting hit while walking in the parking lot--even while holding hands and looking both ways and all that--is as great or greater than the risk of a kid being injured while being left in the car.

"Kids dying in hot cars" looks to me like the 2014 version of the 2001 "Summer of the Shark" hysteria. It plays to some of our worst fears. It could happen to anyone. It ranks pretty low on the list of mortality risks, though.

And, like clockwork, the hysterical overreaction machine has gone into high gear as a group is petitioning the White House to Do Something.

And now for some links. Here's an EconTalk podcast with Bryan Caplan on parenting. Here's an article I wrote about Bryan's book. Here's an article I wrote on Skenazy's book. And here's Lenore Skenazy's website.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
drobviousso writes:

Unfortunately, it's not just the 2014 version. My son is 5, and this has been a popular point of lecture since at least our birth classes 6 years ago.

NZ writes:

I don't understand the relevance of the title to the content of the post.

Parenthood is indeed criminalized in many ways, but not because people are overly sensitive about kids being left unattended in vehicles--something that isn't really emblematic of "parenthood" per se anyway.

Granite26 writes:

I freak out in a big way about the risk of forgetting my kids in the back of a hot car, or at least, I did back when I was a new parent and tired and not constantly aware of my status as a parent and without the habits formed by 3 years of having kids. I'm a little less stressed now that it's 100% ingrained, although earlier this year I DID drive right past the daycare on my way to work (for all of one exit).

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I get it. I get that it's a real risk, that it's scary scary scary, and we need to make a big deal out of it because it takes that to get it through the thick skulls of new parents still thinking they're going to be perfect and devote their every waking breath to their little rugrat.

That said, it seems like there's several miles worth of distance between making sure parents know and enabling people to take action if they see a possible situation, and criminalizing what should be, at worst, questionable behavior.

OTOH, I live in Texas, and no amount of window cracking makes it acceptable to leave your kids out in 100 degree heat that only gets magnified by the car. Also, remember that children, especially in the age group who require the complicate apparati that make them difficult to get out of the car, those children are extremely vulnerable to heat.

There's got to be some middle ground here.

Has anybody blamed the hot-car crisis on global warming yet?

tmitsss writes:

Worried about leaving your toddler in the car?
suggestions

Roll all the windows down while the child is in the car.

Drive a two seater

Put your smartphone (purse or wallet) next to the child, you know you won't forget that

Hire a DEA Agent to watch your child, (just ask Daniel Chong)

Tom West writes:

and we need to make a big deal out of it because it takes that to get it through the thick skulls of new parents

Actually, I wonder about that. There isn't an infinite amount of care, so being terrified enough to ensure you'll never, ever forget comes at the cost of something else.

And it's possible that something else is rather more important, even perhaps simply being a more relaxed, happier parent, which is worth a *huge* amount to a child over the years (if they survive it...)

The thing about public awareness is that it's always assumed extra awareness comes for free, and it almost *never* does. Doesn't mean that the awareness isn't worth the price, but we *need* to remember we're paying a price so we can weigh the options.

Mark V Anderson writes:

Now I know why you read a libertarian website, Tom. You get tradeoffs, which is not a common trait for leftists. You make some very good points which did not occur to me.

Of course Granite26 is correct that parents of young children must be eternally vigilant, but it is certainly true that this country is far too full of parents that stress out about every possible unsafe situation, and so greatly narrow the lives of their kids.

Granite26 writes:

Actually, I wonder about that. There isn't an infinite amount of care, so being terrified enough to ensure you'll never, ever forget comes at the cost of something else.

Fair enough, for sure. I think being scared enough that you leave a shoe in the back seat for a few months is probably a good investment in the whole, though.

Tracy W writes:

My motivaton for never leaving the kids in the car is simpler - once my mother did for what was intended to be a brief stop (dropping something off to a friend, if my memory serves) and lost track of time - and it was terribly boring.
I also remember her face once she realised how long she'd wound up leaving us.

As opposed to the time she forgot me at the library, which, if she hadn't confessed, I never would have noticed.

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