Making the state the parent

June 17, 1999|By Froma Harrop

THESE characters are fictional. Mr. and Mrs. Ewing of Passaic, N.J., tell their 15-year-old daughter Amy: "No tattoos." A month later at Monmouth Beach, Amy bends over to pick up her mascara wand, and her bathing suit rides up in back. What do the Ewings see on her left lower buttock but a tattoo of a red rose. Amy has defied her parents. Whose problem is it? Why, it's Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's, of course.

Indeed -- and this part is not fictional -- social conservatives in the state of New Jersey are trying to put this matter onto the desk of the governor. They want legislation requiring parental consent before any business may apply a tattoo or body piercing to a minor. One can sympathize with a parent who doesn't want his son walking around with a ring piercing his upper lip. Yet if Dad forbids Fred to go out and get anything pierced, and Fred shows up at dinner with a ring through his upper lip, isn't that something Dad should take up with Fred?

Family relations

Call me old-fashioned, but the reluctance of parents to raise their own kids is the very crux of our "youth problem." Dad's wrath should not be turned on Pat's Piercing Parlor, but on Fred. That self-described conservatives are pushing bills that would have the government get involved in the parent-child struggle for supremacy is shocking. I know what they will say. They are passing laws to increase the power of parents to control their children's activities. Bah! Parents already have that power. They're just not using it. When government starts ordering American business to make sure that children behave responsibly, it is undermining parental responsibility.

Thinking up new ways that government can "help" raise children has traditionally been the job of liberals. Conservatives frequently complain about Democratic programs that subsidize child care. They envision parents dropping off Teddy at the day care center six months after birth, then picking him up 18 years later. They make a good point. But then they push for laws requiring prayers in school. Shouldn't it be a parental function to provide their children with a religious foundation?

Liberals want government to stop teen-agers from smoking. A little autobiography here. I recently took a 16-year-old nephew to a Mexican restaurant. After we ordered, he got up and went to the restroom. He came back smelling like he had just spent 24 hours in the smoking car on the train to Marseilles. He thought I hadn't noticed anything. The point is, any parent who is half-alive can tell if a kid has been smoking. The parent, then, should stop the habit in the flesh, rather than sue a cartoon character who advertises cigarettes.

President Clinton has gotten movie theater owners to require that young people show identification at R-rated movies. An "R" rating means that children under the age of 17 may not enter the screening room unless accompanied by an adult. Such movies usually contain good amounts of violence, sex and dirty language.

"When you drop them off, you shouldn't have to worry about your G-rated kids getting into violent or suggestive R-rated movies," the president said.

Shouldn't parents decide what is suitable entertainment for their children and supervise their movie going? Instead, we ask a moronic Hollywood institution to determine what is acceptable entertainment for children and what is not. For example, "Shakespeare in Love," is rated R (too sexy). Younger teens, however, may see the PG 13-rated "Life is Beautiful," a romantic romp through a Nazi concentration camp, suitable for the entire family. The ratings system could prevent impressionable teen-agers from seeing stories that, some believe, encourage anti-social behavior. You know, the kind of movie in which a depressed young outcast, who hates his mother and stepfather, kills off his family and friends. Well, not many kids want to see "Hamlet" anyway.

This latest round of child-rearing proposals was set off by the high school massacre in Littleton, Colo. Society fears that, as parents are off working and shopping, the younger generation is succumbing to savagery. How are the parents of the good kids to protect their young ones from bad influences when they themselves also are out working and shopping? Guess that's a job for Governor Whitman.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal editorial writer and columnist.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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