When good laws go bad: Zealous interpretation of everyday life

Existing laws in Australia can criminalise parents for leaving their kids unattended as this article shows – including letting kids walk to and from school and other places – something I have highlighted in my research.

Three things really get my goat:

1) Criminalisation of parents who are generally doing a good job, who have assessed their own kids as competent, and whose kids able, wanting and willing to take responsibility; and criminalisation of parents who consciously are bringing up their kids to be independent, competent, self-determining people.

2) The idea that there is a magic ‘age’ at which kids can do things by themselves, including being left alone, is being promoted. This magic age seems to be 12 according to the article. Twelve years may present an average based on some research about children’s development from particular fields of study or countries, however, what we take as ‘biological truths’ are not necessarily so. The high level capabilities of kids in other countries to help with work, family, and community responsibilities show far greater maturity and competency than what we expect or allow in Australia.

3) Zealous application of laws aimed to protect kids from the very worse-case scenarios are likely to target people who appear to be lower income earners who do not fulfil middle class parenting ideals, or are less able or likely than middle class parents to hide the gap between moral and expert notions of what should happen and what does happen in trying to negotiate everyday life.

Our values, how we interpret kids’ independence and how laws are implemented stem more from moral, cultural and habitual positions on the ‘right way’ to raise kids. The broader way in which laws are being applied to children being by themselves does not acknowledge the diversity of children’s competence, differing family habits, unevenness of maturity in children’s abilities e.g. kids be immature in some ways and mature in others… The broad blanket approach reinforces the notion that kids are not part of our communities and that parents should be scared and intimidated by conservative cultural values due to the impacts on them and their families.

If these laws are being applied more rigorously now than in the past in Australia, as is happening in the USA,then we should worry. They are premised on a great and deep distrust of ourselves, each other, and people in public space.

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About Julie Rudner

With great excitement for the adventure we were about to go on, my mother would shout out, "We're off to see the Wizard"! It didn't matter if we were going to the shops for milk, the museum or a holiday. My mum focused on the joy of the everyday, knowing that if we engaged with life, we would always find something new and positive. With great animation my dad would explain the workings of things and how to pull things apart, put them back together, and if the situation called for it, make something new. My sister and I were taught to evaluate situations, make our decisions, and reap the consequences (both good and bad). We were encouraged to push our boundaries and not let fear prevent us from pursuing our dreams. Importantly, we learned to pick ourselves up, learn from our 'failures', and use our valuable lessons to build our confidence, independence and strength in ourselves.
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