“Smothered by safety”

Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids is the guest essayist at Cato Unbound. Excerpt:

..any time a politician, principal, or bureaucrat wants to score points, he or she lets us know that kids are even more precious—and endangered—than we thought….

How far has society gone in dreaming up new dangers to protect our children from? Until you take a step back and look at all the new laws and regulations, you probably have no idea….

Over the summer, according to the Manchester, Connnecticut Patch, a local mom was charged with “risk of injury to a minor and failure to appear after police say she allowed her seven-year and 11-year old children to walk down to Spruce Street to buy pizza unsupervised.” This was a walk of half a mile….

…in the “real world,” stranger abductions are so rare that if for some reason you actually WANTED your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, do you know how long you’d have to keep your child outside, unattended, so that statistically the abduction would be likely to happen?

The answer is about 750,000 years, according to author Warwick Cairns. And after the first 100,000 years or so, your kid isn’t even cute anymore. …

At the same time, there is a parallel process going on the regulatory world, with bureaucrats looking ever more intently for ever less likely dangers, on the grounds that kids can never be safe enough. This explains things like the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall of a line of children’s jackets last year because the elastic waistbands had toggles on it “that could become snagged or caught in small spaces or doorways, which poses an entrapment hazard to children.”

Yes, it’s true: Those toggles could snag. Does that make them inherently more dangerous than, say, pigtails that could get caught in a door, or a charm bracelet that could get snagged on an electric window? I’m just free-associating products and problems here, because that’s what it feels like the CPSC does, too.

In the discussion, Skenazy is joined by Anthony Green, James A. Swartz and Joel Best.


  • It’s not about kids, of course: most of these regulators don’t even like kids, per se. It’s about believing that individuals can’t be permitted to make everyday decisions about how to carry on their lives (unless the decisions somehow relate to sex, in which case it would be barbaric for the government to have any opinion on the topic).

  • Decades ago I read a sci-fi classic by Jack Williamson entitled “With Folded Hands.”

    Young and naive as I was, I read it simply as a fanciful story about robots.

    Now I believe it is brilliant social satire, far ahead of its time. Well worth reading if you have not read it already, or reading again if you have.

  • Right regulators don’t like kids “per se” (whatever that means in this context).

    Titus, here’s the deal: pretty much everyone cares about kids. There are disagreements about what is best for them.

    Must we demonize everyone that disagrees with us?

  • No Ron, the disagreement is WHO decides what is best for kids.

    For some reason, people in the government believe that they have the right to tell parents and kids what to do despite lacking data or evidence. The goverment believes they have the right to intercede and break the bond between parent and child when there is no evidence of harm to child or others.

    And for that, they should not only be demonized, but ridiculed and resisted at every turn.

  • We all agree that sometimes government should decide what is best for kids no matter what the parents say. There are times when EVERYONE agrees this treasured bond you speak of should be broken and discarded. The question where reasonable people disagree is where to draw the line. I find this blind “parent knows best” world view to be fundamentally flawed.

    Gitar, I have no doubt this is your worldview. You are right, just and good. People that don’t agree with you have no evidence to support their conclusions and are just dumb. (You can apply this view to Maryland basketball all you want, by the way.)

  • I am sorry Ron that you failed to understand my point that absent of harm, the government has no right or say in the raising of a child and instead chose to address something I did not say.

    I find your idea that the government knows best to be fundanentally flawed. The idea that some 9-5 goverment employee cares more for the safety and well being of a child with loving parents is beyond “fundamentally flawed” and enters into the realm of laughable.

    More and more we are seeing generations that cannot make good decisions because the government tries to make every decision for them. You appear to believe that the government’s role is to tell people what to do. I believe the government’s role is to protect the rights of people and their freedoms.

  • Gitarcarver, you got it. I said govt knows best.

    Do you really not think there are not some 9-5 or (9:30-4:10) bureaucrats who don’t care more about random children then their own parents? If you don’t think this is a possible scenario, I really envy the life you have been able to lead. Please give my best to Opie and Aunt Bee.

    The problem that reasonable people debate is whether, in a given instance, “there is an absence of harm.” Smart people debate this issue depending on the facts. I suppose they could just ask you to give us the answer on any given situation so we would know for sure. But you are probably too busy.

  • The first problem is Ron that you believe that the government always knows more than the parents no matter what the situation.

    The second problem is that while you keep trying to say “reasonable people can have a discussion,” the people making the rules, like you, aren’t interested in a “discussion” at all. You have no problem with the justification of “because the government says so so” rather than the government justifying intruding into the lives and freedoms of people where there is no harm. The fact of the matter is that the government is not interested in any “discussion.”

    As proof please show me, where there was any harm in any of the situations given in Skenazy’s article. Yet like Pavlov’s dog you rushed to defend the actions of the goverment by saying “reasonable people can disagree” once again missing the point that it is not “people” who are disagreeing. It is not me disagreeing with you over something you say or vice versa. It is an entity telling us they know better than the rest of us. It is an entity taking kids off the streets for walking. It is an entity taking kids from playgrounds for being kids. It is an entity the arrests grandparents for taking pictures of their grandkids playing. It is an entity that suspends a 5 year old for eating a PopTart in a certain way.

    That entity comes at people and their kids with guns and handcuffs demanding obediance and suppressing any ideas that are contrary to what they believe.

    No matter how you couch it, that us not “reasonable.”

  • It is wild that you think that “government” is this monolithic whole and it is bad. Why do you suppose this is? Is it all govt? Do we have a bad political system in America? Are humans just bad? It govt incapable of following the will of the people.

    You manufacturer so many straw men it is unbelievable. I think you have fired out at least 5 in these posts.

    But what “reasonable” people don’t do is say idiotic things like “you think govt always knows better than parents. They just don’t. It is not intelligent conversation. I can’t engage you anymore.

  • Wow.

    It is amazing that you claim I create strawmen without realizing that you do it more than anyone.

    For example, I never claimed all goverment was bad as you believe.

    You then say But what “reasonable” people don’t do is say idiotic things like “you think govt always knows better than parents.” You seem to think that statement is without basis. I direct you to your post on March 5 in which you state “I said govt knows best.

    Was that sarcasm on your part? Perhaps, but sarcasm requires the statement to be obviously false and as your belief that government actions in the cases we are talking about are supportable, any hint of sarcasm is missing. At best, I will apologize for stating what you believe, but fail to acknowledge.

    Lastly, I will say again that the government should not interfere in parenting absent of harm. You disagree with that without any foundation and reverted to the argument of “reasonable people.”

    When I asked where the harm was in the cases presented in the article, you were silent and remain so instead choosing to attack me. I am going to make the assumption that you consider yourself a “reasonable person” and your inability to cite any harm indicates that a “reasonable person” can’t find any harm.

    I find it interesting that you claim reasonable people can disagree, but when asked to point to the disagreement, you can’t.

    Good luck to you.

  • The issue is that people who live in the empirical, academic, regulatory, and managerial worlds don’t live with the experience of their own policy, and as a consequence, they fail to recognize when they have crossed the subtle line between appropriate and excessive. A hypothetical example: science recently showed that children who grow up on farms, playing in the dirt, and exposed to bacteria, develop more healthy immune systems and have less illness as adults. Should a bureaucrat legislate that children must play in the dirt 1 hour three times per week, and threaten parents who fail in this capacity with legal action?

    At some point, we must recognize that the variety of human experience makes us individuals, and that it is not right, or even healthy, to eliminate all risk or suffering. Risk and suffering are part of learning, growing strong, and becoming healthy adults.

    My friend, whose son attended a NYC Kindergarten, was paranoid of allowing him to play like a boy because every bruise caused suspicion of child abuse. This is too much: boys play hard and get hurt. It’s part of growing up. I have scars, and I am careful now in certain situations because of the way I got them.