Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality

Take Care of Your Own Kids

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, September 9, 1997 --

Aaah the single life. It's fast-paced, fun and care-free. Singles can go on exotic vacations and live in exciting places. And they can do it all without the responsibility of taking care of children.

Sometimes, however, this description seems less applicable to the lives of singles than those of typical American parents. With each passing day, responsibility for children becomes less and less a factor in parents' lives and more the job of the taxpayer.

Last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to spend $34 million of taxpayer money to help parents keep their children from buying cigarettes. Bill Novelli, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called the vote "a great victory for America's kids."1 Not in my book. While the vote may be a victory for irresponsible parents who have no control over the drug habits of their children, it is undoubtedly a defeat for taxpayers.

Senator Tom Harkin(D-IA), a supporter of the measure, said the vote was won due to the diligence of supporters who packed town hall meetings over Congress' August recess.2 Ironically, the legislation might not be needed at all if activists had spent less time lobbying and more time taking care of their kids. Such hypotheticals, however, ignore the reality of our age: Child rearing in the late '90s has become a completely hands-off sport. As a consequence, the lifestyles of fun-loving singles like me have had to be curtailed.

Well, I'm fed up, and I'm not going to take it anymore. It's time for the public to rise up and demand that parents take care of their own kids. Consider the following abdications of parental responsibility:

  • In order to keep their kids from underage drinking, you might expect parents to lock up the booze cabinet and check their daughter's breath when she staggers in at 3 a.m. This obvious answer is just too much responsibility for members of Mothers against Drunk Driving. MADD is seeking zero tolerance penalties against restaurateurs and shopkeepers who sell beer to their kids. (At their kids' request, of course.) Zero tolerance, where enforced, leads to irritating scenarios like 75-year-old men getting turned down by bartenders for not having a photo ID. MADD is also seeking registration of beer kegs (I can just see the waiting period coming) to keep their kids out of those all-night keggers.
  • Parents increasingly are asking others to take care of their children while expecting others to foot the bill. A Children's Defense Fund report estimates that 13 million American children are put in day care, most while parents are working. The same report urges public funding for child care, warning that "states that fail to invest adequate resources in child care and early education will jeopardize parents' ability to work."3
  • Since it's obviously too much to ask parents to pay for a babysitter, the job is given to the TV. Shows with significant violence and sexual content have long been relegated to late night timeslots, but that still isn't enough. A bunch of parents got really mad that NBC's Friends was in the early primetime slot given its silly sexual innuendo. As a result of parental complaints, we now have a worthless television rating system and Friends' producers were told to give the characters' racy banter a rest.
  • The internet has so far remained free of such repressive parental tinkering -- thanks to the Supreme Court -- but hasn't been for a lack of trying. Dissatisfied by NetNanny and other monitoring software, parental activists sought to sanitize the net for their children's unbridled perusal. As Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said, "[W]e just want our children to be protected from cyberporn."4 Protected, as well, from the inconvenient need for parental guidance.
  • Cigarettes are the family fascists' cause du jour. Camel Joe and the Marlboro Man are history, much to the chagrin of adult fans of the characters. Apparently, the two marketing creations had more power over people's kids than the parents did themselves. It's hard to compete with a character on a billboard when you only spend an hour a day with your kids.
  • Rage against cigarettes is helping remove yet another parental responsibility -- providing medical care. Thanks to the children's health care law passed last month, the federal government will pay for uninsured children's health care coverage, funded partially by tobacco taxes and partially out of the pocket of the single guy.5
  • If these laws make you crazy enough to buy a gun and join a militia, then think again. In many urban jurisdictions, you will face tough obstacles put in place by family fascists who don't think it's safe for guns to be in the home because children may play with them.

It's no surprise that such outrageous laws get passed. Everybody wants to be an advocate for kids, and it is virtually impossible to find principled legislators who will stand up against this kind of legislation. The Democrats believe "it takes a village to raise a child," and the Republicans believe in government promotion of family values. Both philosophies are wrong. It is unacceptable to ask those who have chosen not to have children to take responsibility for those who have. I do not elect to be part of a proverbial village to lessen parental responsibility. Nor do I elect to uphold family values to lessen the need for parents to protect their kids.

The message for parents should be simple: Take care of your own kids. If you don't want to take care of your own kids -- if you think it shouldn't be your responsibility -- if you think it's too expensive -- if you think it is too much work -- but most importantly, if you think others should be responsible -- then for God's sake don't have them.

1. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, September 3, 1997.

2. The Washington Post, September 4, 1997.

3. Children's Defense Fund

4. Christian Coalition

5. Children's Defense Fund (Uninsured children's health care is to be partially payed by tobacco taxes and partially be general revenues.)