Family vs. State

The rearing of the next generation is the most important task that any parents can undertake. Their role in developing the social and communication skills of our children that, in turn, nurture a sense of stability within our communities cannot be replicated by any government.

That is why a commitment to building stronger families should remain a first-order priority.

An important part of being a parent is making the judgment calls that help children develop a sense of responsibility and self-reliance. Regrettably, not all parents are equipped to make appropriate decisions for their children, as their own good judgment is often sadly lacking.

One need only consider the poor decisions of many parents affected by drugs, alcohol or other addictions. Incapable of making appropriate decisions for themselves, let alone their children, successive governments have wisely introduced laws to help ensure the protection of children.

Who among us can object to the prosecution of negligent parents who leave children in cars parked in casino car parks for hours on end while they feed their gambling addiction? Similarly, those children subject to wanton neglect or dangerous environments need the protection of the state.

Unfortunately, the state sometimes takes its role too far.

Consider this week the case of the public servant who was arrested for leaving his nine-year-old at home alone playing video games for half an hour. He faces a possible three year jail term.

Parents have been threatened with prosecution for leaving their children in cars parked outside a store while they spent 10 minutes inside, while others were warned that leaving young children to walk to school unaccompanied could also result in legal consequences.

As mentioned earlier, I cannot imagine anyone not supporting any attempts to protect the welfare and interests of children. However, when laws are made, they need to be implemented with a modicum of common sense.

In most circumstances, parents are best placed to determine what is appropriate for their child. Age is not always a determination of capacity and I have seen some 10-year-olds with more personal responsibility than their teenage siblings.

Importantly, shielding children from appropriate risk-taking and taking responsibility for their actions can have long-term consequences. Judgment and the consequences of decision-making are best learned under the guidance of a family member.

Only a couple of decades ago, groups of young children would head to the local oval, catch the bus to school, ride their bikes around the neighbourhood or walk to the local shop as a celebration of independence. It didn’t always end well (as many in my boyhood neighbourhood would attest), but it was a process that helped children transition to teenagers and ultimately responsible adults.

Applying well-intentioned child protection laws in a ham-fisted manner not only threatens the long-term interests of our children but also subsumes the responsibilities of the parents in favour of the state.

We are wise to be concerned about the consequences of both developments.

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