The Structure of Republican Thought
Morning Coffee Videocast: ENRON

The Car Seat and the Volonte Generale

Glenn Reynolds whines about having to put his children in car seats, whines about having to drive them to soccer practice, whines about being asked to help out on field trips, and whines about being expected to be a presence in his children's education:

OpinionJournal - Federation: We've taken a lot of the fun out of parenting.... [A]side from the economic payoffs, parents used to get a lot of social benefits, too. Yet in recent decades, a collection of parenting "experts" and safety-fascist types have extinguished some of the benefits while raising the costs, to the point where what's amazing isn't that people are having fewer kids, but that people are having kids at all....

[Today] the burden on parents is much, much higher. And it's exacted in a million tiny yet irritating other ways. Some are worthwhile--car seats, for example, are probably a net gain in safety--but even there the cost is high. I heard a radio host in Knoxville, Tenn., making fun of SUVs and minivans: When he was a kid, he boasted, his parents took their five children cross-country in an Impala sedan. Nowadays, you'd never make it without being cited for neglect. And you can't get five kids in a sedan if they all have to have car seats, which these days they seem to require until they're 18....

[T]he pressure to take children for a seemingly endless array of after-school activities, most of which require parental chauffering. Add to this the increasing amount of parental responsibility for things their children do wrong, coupled with steady legal diminution of parental authority (Ms. Flanagan mentions an incident in which Caroline Kennedy was spanked for running off and notes that today it might result in jail time--an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much.) You're responsible for your kids in ways previous generations weren't, but your ability to discipline them is much reduced; and as my wife, a forensic psychologist, notes, the bad kids know that they can cow most adults by threatening to call 911 and make a bogus abuse charge.

And forget disciplining your child, even with a harsh word, in a public place. At the very least, if you do you'll be looked on not as a virtuous parent helping to preserve the social fabric, but as that worst of all sinners in contemporary American culture: a meanie. And schools, anxious for parental "involvement," place far more demands on parents than they did when I was a kid...

I had forgotten he was such a whiner.

Let me assure him that here in glorious San Francisco, parents discipline their children with harsh words in public all the time: "Mandala! Have respect for different faiths! Mormons are people!" "Ezekiel! Stand up straight! Your body can't be in harmony with your Manipura Chakra that low!" Let me assure him that we have songs in our hearts and springs in our steps as we strap our children into their car seats and think, "Thank God! We've just greatly reduced the odds that an accident will be serious! All praise the wisdom of the NHTSA, part of the Federal Department of Transportation, and its role in the process by which we make the laws that we then ourselves obey!" And let me say that driving the Sixteen-Year-Old to track practice so that he can break 5:20 for the metric mile is a great delight.