For much of the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first social progress has been measured in terms of purportedly advancing human rights.  Part of this movement has included the rights of children and implicit in that discussion has been a focus on their rights as being independent of the rights of parents.  What began as a relatively simple discussion and agreement around issues such as child abuse and the responsibility of adults to behave in accordance with social norms or loose possession of a child through state or government intervention has evolved to new levels of complexity.  Moreover, the public school system which at one point was considered to be supportive of parents has over time shifted its balance towards supporting children as their primary clients.  This has increasingly created new levels of confusion and ambiguity whereby children are allocated the rights of adults while at the same time being largely devoid of responsibility for their actions.  The age at which children are considered to be responsible for their own decisions as well as being capable of making them continues to move backwards from 21 to 19, 18, 16, 13 and now discussions about the rights of 11 year olds to be able to make independent decisions regarding such matters as gender identity and surgical sex changes.  One wonders where it will stop.  But clearly, as the rights of children increase, the rights of parents decrease to the point where parents are feeling more and more powerless and subject to attacks from radical elements seeking to replace parental influence with their own.

At present in the United States there is significant debate over what is being denounced as right wing parenting.  This has resulted in a fierce counter attack from exponents of left wing parenting who at the extreme seemingly advocate complete freedom of action for children independent of their age.  Clearly there is some age at which nobody would assume that a child can be held responsible but as of now it seems that nobody can agree as to what that age is.  Further complexity is added by the fact that there is not one age at issue but numerous different ages for different rights such as voting, drinking, driving, criminal acts etc.  The Republican Party has introduced a ‘Parents Bill of Rights Act’ which passed by the House and now goes before the Senate.  This action was taken as a result of the widespread concern by some parents as to what children were being exposed to at school and through the media in terms of political and family values, gender identity, critical race theory and traditional morality in general.  Additionally, however this also included the rights of children to act independently of their parents at increasingly earlier ages and some attempt to define a line of demarcation.  According to the extreme left such movements are merely the result of “the moral panic” of the Republican Party seeking to move this discussion to the national stage while at the same time promoting a agenda that encourages repressive measures in some States to restrict the promotion of gay rights, the awareness and acceptance of racial injustice and the historical record of colonialism and white oppression.

At the core of this conflict rests the simple question of what rights parents have to teach, promote and insist upon their personal values with their own children and to what extent should those children be exposed to the advocacy of values by others.  Like so many other issues confronting us today, it would be of great benefit to all parties for the purposes of clarification to identify and define what is in dispute along general principles.  Granted that the legal age of adulthood or responsibility for decisions may be arbitrary and difficult to establish, nonetheless the present situation seems tantamount to trying to 

nail a custard pie to the wall.  Some commonly held and agreed upon grounds are required to avoid chaos.   Certainly it would appear that if children are regarded as being free to make decisions independently of their parents, the consequences of those decisions should not involve displacing them to parents who have been rendered powerless.

Perhaps fewer other issues are as volatile as those surrounding children and parental rights.  At one point it was assumed that the arbitrary age of 21 would define the ability to make adult decisions and be fully responsible both personally and legally for them.  This age was curiously also identified as the age to be allowed to legally consume and purchase alcohol and to vote.  Implicit in the concept of parenting were the ideas not only of nurturing but also of protecting as components of parental responsibility.  Moreover, children were perceived as representing a legacy of their parents both genetically as well as  in terms of perpetuating family values.  Increasingly however parental intervention is being equated with parental interference with the underlying assumption that children have the right to make independent decisions free of parental control.  Responsibility for the outcome of those decisions appears however to still be ultimately that of the parents.  Even where no legal responsibility is involved, the sense of parental obligation and guilt still remains.

Regretfully, the discussion around parenting with terms such as ‘right and left wing parenting’ further confuse the discussion by virtue of an artificial polarization where views are lumped together into extremes on either end of a dialectic.  This encourages conflict and inherently impedes the process of rational discussion and in this particular case threatens the identity of children as ‘belonging’ to parents.  Both sides of the political spectrum have been guilty of attempts and systemic programs to separate children from their parents.  The Hitler Youth movement encouraged children to betray their parents to authorities for views contrary to those expressed by the State.  But equally, Communism was guilty of the same programs where children felt that they were obligated to report their parents for perceived misconduct.  Peer groups now increasingly represent a counter culture to parents and of course the internet is replete with other parties, factions and interests attempting to win over adherents to their views and values.  Attempts to placate the agendas of militant minorities within democracies in order to secure blocks of votes further encourages the introduction of aspects of ‘socialization’ within the public educational system at odds with majority sentiment now denounced as popularism.  It seems that the values of the majority now longer hold sway in the face of those imposed by government agencies.  Democracy, it would seem, needs to be protected from itself.  However, such an admission is inherently dangerous inferring that the majority opinion may and should be periodically ignored.  That is a door left open readily filled by non-democratic alternatives.

Dystopian novels have carried through with this theme of breaking up the family and the relationship between parents and children.  Indeed, in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) reproduction is removed entirely from human sexuality and becomes a matter of biological factories producing children as manufactured products engineered to social roles and purposes.  In Huxley’s projection of the future, sex is a matter of pleasure between consenting adults separated from love or commitment and encouraged in terms of what would be considered (or would have been considered) as sexual promiscuity.  Sexual performance in Huxley’s future is equatable with athletic ability and individuals regard others as well as themselves as marketable meat.  No serious attachments are to be condoned and the expression ‘everyone belongs to everyone’ is promoted as a truism  Indeed, attachments related to sexual activity are condemned as unacceptable.   Undue attention or commitment to any other individual is therefore viewed as being antisocial.  Sexual intercourse and reproduction leading to parenting having been thus completely separated, ‘parents’ cease to exist and children belong to the State.

In contemporary times, there has been discussion in and around the concept of children being the responsibility of the village rather than the parents.  True to say that certain tribes and societies practiced such measures with comparative success but equally it is true that the degree of uniformity within the village in terms of cultural norms would not have presented any serious issues or conflicts.  Whereas in those social circumstances,  conformity of values, expectations, roles and responsibilities were highly consistent, that can hardly be said to be the case today.  Indeed, it is the very diversity and inconsistencies between  the values and ideas of other groups militant and otherwise that have created and continue to feed into the conflict.  

Educational institutions have their own agenda and through out the better part of the 20th century have been devoted to preaching the exclusive moral superiority of the country in which they operated. Seemingly, this has not changed in the present century.  One could argue that Whereas subjects such as mathematics were reasonably isolated from such considerations, other subjects such as history became the flashpoints of political correctness. Nationalism was built upon the premise of moral superiority and to a very large extent racial superiority.  Where racial superiority was not a major factor doctrinal factors replaced them.  Communism and Capitalism were so framed within the last century as not being just competing political ideologies but also incompatible views of human values.  Indeed, so incompatible that they became life or death issues.  Whereas I am not sure if the communist systems had an equivalent to the “Better Dead than Red” slogan, one suspects that they did.

Issues such as multiculturalism have all furthered the murky waters in that cultures in themselves invariably have a kind of inherent tendency to promote their own superiority.  Tolerance of other cultures is often accompanied by a sense of superiority and self-advocacy by each of the participating parties.   Looked upon objectively, this is inherently destabilizing unless some form a meta-cultural philosophy is in place to embrace them.  As in The Lord of the Rings, there should be one ring that rules them all.  Such a philosophy would by its very definition be necessarily superior to any of its component parts.  Hence slogans such a strength through diversity cannot be accepted as unquestionable truths any more than other political slogans such a peace through war.  Whereas diversity may be a strength in a stock portfolio, it is not necessarily a strength within society unless there is a larger unifying philosophy that provides social cohesion.

History as previously indicated has proven to be especially subject to the sacrifice of truth to political purpose.  Revisionist history has placed a focus on the numerous distortions of fact to fiction that history so often reveals.  But countries like individuals portray themselves as either victims or victors in situations where morality was eclipsed by opportunity.  Indeed, a careful review of human history beyond carefully restricted groups, time periods and geographical regions reveals a simplistic fact.  It becomes clear that all countries like human beings describe predictable behaviours along the lines of what they can or cannot get away with.  The strong prey upon the weak universally.  If countries are not subjugated through military means, they are through economic measures.  As such, close and objective scrutiny of human history clearly shows that no one group, ethnic or otherwise is in a position to cast the first stone.  

Whereas I am not advocating excuses or apologies for abhorrent behaviour.  the placing of such behaviours within their context and time shows that the posturing of moral superiority in order to denounce or degrade others can often provide a pretext to perpetuate similar violations.  The moral codes demanded by groups upon individuals do not apply to the interactions between groups.  Hence. the Ten Commandments may be enshrined in our day-to-day language but the etc. clause is systemically added by social, ethnic, religious or national groupings.  Thus, thou shalt not kill is easily bypassed when identified with ‘others’ and duly sanctioned.  In this manner, ultimately moral rules only apply to ‘us’ and not ‘them’.  A common element in the rationalizations applicable to all cases of moral exclusion is to objectify others as being not us.  Whether occurring in gangs, nations or religious groups, morality is easily circumscribed so as to be only universal in its particular and indeed inherent in this process of creating false dialectics of opposites such as ‘we’ and ‘they’.

The purpose of the current article is to urge parents to avoid the either-or polarities that surround them and to not be afraid to stand up for their beliefs and values with regard to their own children.  Ultimately, it is a matter of individual choice and discretion as to the values that our children eventually adopt and the behaviors they exhibit.  At a certain point they will clearly be responsible for their own decisions and equally there will come a point where regardless of parental intent they will not be capable of rescue or interference.  Parental love is one of the purest expressions of love and far exceeds the love of poets and romantics. Parents should have the right to not have the beliefs and values of others imposed upon their children at times where they are impressionable and confused.  Consistency and stability are necessary to mental health and social development. Chaos, confusion and conflict are its enemies.  The messaging, policies and beliefs of other groups or militant minorities require maturity and adulthood to process.  However, parents and adults, not only have the right but also the obligation to both protect children and to influence them towards embracing their values and beliefs as a platform for their own future development.

Diversity, if taken seriously, is in keeping with Liberal Democratic values only where differences of opinion are required to be tolerated but not imposed.  It is one thing to respect the right of others to hold opinions and another to respect the opinions themselves.  All opinions are not equal and any pretense that they are can only lead to an abandonment of reason and order.  Just as a free market economy with open competition was for Adam Smith the engine of Capitalism, reasoned argument, discussion and free access to information are the foundations stones of Democracies consisting of actively participating adults.  The polarization of ideas and beliefs into dialectical opposites inexorably leading to conflict may generate much heat,  but it provides little light.  Conflict does not in itself necessitate resolution but does ensure social chaos.  As our society leans more towards emotional rather than rational responses, we see increasingly the signs of this in terms of mental health.  Conflict and disorder generate anxiety and anxiety generates fear.  Fear as an emotion can generate rational responses but more than often generates merely flight, repression, denial or escape.  Any or all of these responses involve no effort to address the problems adequately.

Having grown up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I can remember a TV that had specific programming in the afternoon for children, news at 6:00 pm and evening programming for adults that would start as bedtime began.  It was a world where criminals were always caught and there was no confusion between good and evil.  Language in all mediums was carefully vetted and nudity reserved to men’s magazine and art studies.  It was an era where the family was stressed and even married couples could not be depicted in the bedroom unless at least one of them had a foot on the floor.  It is true to say that it came as a shock when in later years I learned that criminals were not always caught and that real cowboys did not sport white hats, silver buckles and fancy guns.  It did, however, provide some foundation of an ideal world that adulthood would later allow reality to offset.  But somehow the aspirational character of that portrayal remained as a kind of moral compass.  It remained for the mid-sixties to introduce the notion of the criminal hero, lying governments sexual promiscuity.  

Perhaps there was a reason why childhood is replete with fairy tales, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny,  Beatrix Potter and teddy bears that provided comfort at bedtime rather than real bears that tore campers apart for a meal.  Perhaps part of dealing with reality is to be able to create one rather than be merely overwhelmed by one.  Perhaps there is no one human reality but various lenses through which to view a common external ultimately unknowable reality.  Clearly however, the complex and diverse messaging currently provided by all media and the internet now engulfs children from the earliest of ages into a world of moral chaos, violence.

In conclusion, I would urge you to not be afraid of being called a right-wing parent for it seems that the alternative is to be no parent at all and in so doing allow your child to become the victim of the chaos that surrounds us .