You’ve heard about the economic bailout, but have you heard about the parenting bailout? Though neither of us has children, we find the situation so puzzling that it’s worth writing a column about. Our story begins with the observation that, until recently, Nebraska was the place to go to get rid of a kid.
Like every state, Nebraska allows parents to leave unwanted children at a hospital with no repercussions. The idea is laudable - it protects unwanted newborns from plastic wrap and the dumpster. Perhaps inadvertently, however, the letter of the Nebraska law allowed parents from across the nation to come to Nebraska and abandon children who were up to 18 years old.
After discovering this loophole, parents from Nebraska and other states abandoned 35 children, more than half of them teenagers, in Nebraska hospitals. For better or for worse - better, we think - Nebraska recently added a 30-day age limit to its safe-haven law. In the three weeks following an announcement that the loophole would be closed, drop-offs increased by 300 percent. That got us thinking.
Although the un-amended Nebraska safe-haven law might have been a fluke, could it indicate a broader trend against responsible parenting? A few disparate data points suggest some Americans believe that, like resolving the financial crisis, parenting should be someone else’s problem.
According to Vitalsignsreport.com the 1990s saw a 700 percent increase in the prescription of drugs frequently used to treat child behavior problems. One explanation is that doctors are doing a much better job of diagnosing diseases such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But a culture of over-diagnosis is a plausible alternative hypothesis. We hate to jump into “back in my day” sentiment, but we remember when ADHD just meant “class clown.” And while we acknowledge that ADHD is a serious neurobiological disorder, we suspect that some parents all too eagerly seek this diagnosis for their children just to control them more easily. The possibility of parenting-by-medicating is disturbing.
Parenting-by-television, a second parental shortcut, is no less distasteful. Children in the United States watch an average of three or four hours of television a day - a habit that, according to KidsHealth.org, correlates with low grades and obesity.
Even worse, infants and toddlers spend an average of two hours per day in front of the screen. To be certain, educational programming, when watched in moderation, can be good for kids. But too much TV can interfere with physical and social development.
And it’s one thing for kids to watch the Discovery Channel to learn about cuttlefish or cephalopods. Even the best parents can’t teach everything. But what about simpler things, like healthy eating?
Teaching good nutrition is apparently too much to ask of parents in California, which recently banned bake sales in public schools.
Through their elected officials, California parents have delegated to the government the task of teaching kids how and what to eat. It’s not that we oppose having a unit on nutrition, but should the government have to tell you how to take care of your kid? And if so, should you be having one in the first place?
Too many people become parents without thinking it through. What it all comes down to is this: when it’s time for you to be a parent (hopefully a long way off for our freshman readers), make sure to actually be a parent. Read to your children. Make sure they get outside. Teach them about nutrition.
We don’t know why some Americans seem to think someone or something else should do parenting - whether it’s a pill, a television or a government. It may take an entire village to raise a child, but primary responsibility should be on the parents.