Tag Archives: current events

The Unfortunate Results of Overprotective Parenting

“Hey mom and dad, can I start walking the dog on the dirt road to do an extra chore and get a little more allowance?”

It was a perfectly reasonable question from my son, who is turning 7 in a couple of weeks. We live in a small suburban town where both my wife and I grew up. We are friendly with most of the neighbors, with one glaring exception. In order to walk the dog, he’d have to cross one quiet side street in front of our house and then walk on a dirt road with only one house on it. He’d be out of sight for a bit but still within shouting distance. In my mind it was a win-win because he’d learn the value of hard work and taking initiative, and he’d be getting some exercise to boot.

Which is why it’s ridiculously unfortunate we had to tell him no.

Why? Because as my wife pointed out, “I’m fine with it, but we can’t do it because someone will see him alone and call the cops. We’ll end up battling Child Protective Services just for letting him walk the dog by himself.”

I wanted to argue with her and tell her she was being silly, but I couldn’t. Because unfortunately, this is where we’re at when it comes to overprotective parenting in 2015.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the single working mom who was arrested for letting her 9-year-old play at a nearby park while she worked because she couldn’t afford childcare. Or Tammy Cooper, the Texas mom arrested after a neighbor told police she was neglecting her kids simply because they were outside on scooters. If you need something more recent, there’s the Maryland couple charged with “unsubstantiated child neglect” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) after doing nothing more than allowing their two children, 10 and 6, to walk home one mile from the park unsupervised.

Yet letting kids fire Uzis which results in a tragic death? Totally allowed and the parents are free from legal blame. Have fun trying to figure out that “logic.” But I digress.

As a child of the 80s/early 90s who grew up with the freedom to ride bikes around town unsupervised until the streetlights came flickering to life, I’m mystified as to where we went wrong and deviated so far off course. But then I read the online comments from said overprotective parents, and the answer is suddenly very apparent.

It’s all about fear and misinformation.

Without fail, when discussing this with other parents who disagree, I’ll see someone write “Well times have changed and the world isn’t as safe as it was back then.” Ironically, they’re not all wrong. Times have changed and the level of safety is not the same as it was in the supposed good old days. Want to know why? Because the world is a safer place in 2015.

Yes, that’s right. Statistically speaking, the data shows we are living in a much safer world than 20+ years ago.

Between 1993 and 2012, violent crime in the US declined by 48%, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Homicides fell by 51% and forcible rape was down by more than one-third. Furthermore, crimes against children specifically have declined since 2003. According to the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, physical assault against children ages 2-17 was down 33%, while instances of attempted and completed rape declined by 43% between 2003-2011.

And if you want to focus on kidnappings, the Polly Klaas Foundation – a national nonprofit dedicated to the recovery of missing children – found there are only 100 stereotypical “stranger abductions” each year, in which a child is plucked off the street by an unknown person. There is a higher chance of kids being abducted by family members or acquaintances, according to the foundation’s website.

In fact, if you’re really worried about the safety of kids, you shouldn’t let them ride in a car. Or swim in a pool. Because more children die in car accidents and drownings than are kidnapped by strangers.

I used to simply shake my head at the overprotective parents of the world and go on raising my kids the way my wife and I think is best. But this incident has made me realize that’s not always possible.

We’ve moved beyond good Samaritans rescuing babies left in hot cars and scooping up toddlers who have found their way out of houses and are playing near traffic. Those kinds of things are not the problem, and are in fact expected as members of the human race. Too many kids are suffering real, terrible abuse and that must never be allowed to continue. However, the irrational fear of the way other people parent and the willingness to alert the authorities simply for disagreeing with a parenting style other than their own, is also a genuine concern.

The Maryland parents know their kids best and know they’re capable of walking to the park alone, just as I know my son can handle walking the dog by himself. But the bottom line is that no longer matters, because the way other people parent is now directly impacting my ability to raise my children how I see fit. Because if parents 300 miles from me can be charged simply for letting their kids walk to and from the park, it is not a stretch to think the same thing could happen if my son walks the dog alone.

Unfortunately, our lives could be turned instantly upside down with one phone call from someone who simply disagrees with how we parent. That’s not right, and that scares me. It should scare all of us.

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Amazon Mom and Why Words Matter

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Chris Routly of www.daddydoctrines.com

“Choose your words carefully.”

That’s what my mother told me when I was trying to squirm out of a lie as a young boy. My father gave me that advice in college when I told him I wanted to become a writer. And my wife hisses the phrase at me in the heat of arguments when I’m dangerously close to crossing a line I can’t uncross. Point being in all of these examples, the things we say and the language we use often have a long-lasting impact and substantial significance.

Or, to put it bluntly, words matter.

Two years ago, my friend and fellow dad blogger Oren Miller took issue with Amazon’s discount diaper subscription service, called “Amazon Mom.” He wasn’t flying off the handle, loony tunes mad about it, but he was annoyed. Especially because in several other countries around the world, the program had a different and more inclusive name — Amazon Family.

“It’s not about a name and it’s not about me personally being offended and it’s not about stupid emails about yoga classes. It’s about a company that looks at the US, then looks at England, and then decides that over there, parent equals mom or dad, while here, well, we’re not ready for that yet.” — Oren Miller, 2013

Well, Amazon didn’t make the change. And unfortunately, my friend Oren had to end this fight to battle a more insidious foe in the form of stage IV lung cancer. Sadly, he died last weekend. But while Oren may have lost his battle with cancer, a bunch of his friends (myself included) decided the best way to honor his legacy is to finish his fight to get Amazon to change the name of their program.

And so the #AmazonFamilyUS hashtag was born. Since beginning 48 hours ago, it now has more than 6 million impressions. More than that, it’s been picked up by TODAY, CNN, MarketWatch, Adweek, Consumerist, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and many more, all talking about the emergence and importance of involved dads, and why some companies are still dragging their feet to be inclusive.

But with the good, comes the (expected) bad. Mainly the troglodytes who still think masculinity is how many beers you can drink in one sitting and how big your paycheck is.

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This guy.

This guy is still (unfortunately) the majority in this country, and that’s why words matter. That’s why making Amazon Family the norm instead of Amazon Mom matters. It’s why we rail against bumbling father stereotypes in TV sitcoms. It’s why we complain that fathers are either left out of, or worse, made fun of as inept buffoons by marketers promoting products parents rely on.

Some people — even some dads — say “none of this matters if you’re a good dad to your kids” and “this isn’t going to change anything,” but I don’t buy that. It will change things. And I have proof.

Did you watch this year’s Super Bowl? If so, you probably noticed commercial after commercial involving dads cast in a positive light. A lot of people were surprised and wondering why and how that happened. Well, as someone in the trenches on this issue, I can tell you it was years in the making. It involved a lot of discussions with brands who initially cast fathers as dolts. It involved laborious howling on social media about the negative effects of casting dads as idiots. And it involved showing companies that marketing to dads in a positive way benefits all parents, and the bottom line.

And that’s why we do this.

Because for better or worse, culture impacts society. Even policy. So when Phil Dunphy becomes the norm over Ray Romano, people begin to have different (and higher) expectations of fathers. When dads are seen in national spots as nurturing, diaper-changing pillars of the family, guys in general will gravitate in that direction. And when a retail giant like Amazon starts being inclusive by using terms like Family instead of Mom to market to parents, it sends a message of “we’re in this thing together.”

That’s why this change is so important. It’s for Oren. It’s for dads. Hell, it’s for moms. It’s for being equal partners in parenting and doing away with harmful gender norms.

It’s because words matter.

***Please sign the Change.org petition to get Jeff Bezos of Amazon to change Amazon Mom to Amazon Family. And if you’d like to join in the call on social media, please use the hashtag #AmazonFamilyUS.

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The Parents of Leelah Alcorn Broke the Cardinal Rule of Parenting

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Love your kids unconditionally, keep them safe, and always be there for them.

Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Alcorn, was a 17-year-old transgender Ohio kid who took her own life last week because her parents couldn’t follow that most basic and universal tenet of parenting. After telling her parents she has long identified as a girl trapped in a boy’s body, they responded by negatively judging her, removing her from school, taking away her online support network, and sending her to Christian therapists who reinforced her parents’ views that what she was doing was against God’s will.

And that, according to her suicide note published online (which cannot be linked to because her parents asked Tumblr to remove it), is what led to her throwing herself in front of a tractor-trailer last Sunday.

In the aftermath of this totally preventable tragedy, some have said it’s bad form to “bash” parents who have just lost a child. Others think making a big deal of this story in the press will only serve to cast Leelah Alcorn as a martyr, thereby legitimizing suicide as a viable solution for kids in similar situations.

I believe those people are wrong on both counts.

On the latter point, transgender kids are already at a heightened risk of suicide. According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, half of all transgender youths attempt suicide at least once by the time they turn 20. Thinking the media spotlight on Leelah Alcorn’s death will be the catalyst for heightened suicide attempts is a misguided attempt to brush off an uncomfortable conversation. After all, this is an important story and one that absolutely must be told, because it shines a light on a subject far too many people would rather leave festering in the shadows.

And finally, while I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on any parent, it is vital to talk about the fact – and it is a fact – that the actions of Leelah Alcorn’s parents directly contributed to her death. Here she is in her own words.

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”

She also described what happened when she came out as gay at school, which included a mostly positive reaction from friends, but non-acceptance from her parents. Leelah’s parents then removed her from school and took away her phone and laptop, which separated her from social media and online support networks. She spoke of “No friends, no support, no love. Just my parents’ disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

As I watched this story unfold during the last few days, I held out hope for one final potential silver lining: Leelah’s parents ultimately accepting their daughter’s gender identity, and finally seeing how their actions contributed to her death. Unfortunately, after Leelah’s mother was interviewed by CNN, it appears that’s too much to ask.

“We don’t support that, religiously,” Carla Alcorn told CNN, regarding Leelah’s request to live as a girl. “But we told him we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

First of all, if your religion says it’s a sin to be a homosexual or for boys to live as girls, imagine what it says about parental intolerance that directly contributes to the death of your child. But second, and most disappointing, even after Leelah’s death and subsequent suicide note begging for her death to mean something and help other transgender kids, her mother STILL couldn’t bring herself to refer to Leelah as “she.” And aside from Leelah’s death, her mother’s reaction after the fact is one of the most devastating parts of this story.

The reason we need to criticize Leelah’s parents and shine a light on their behavior, is because it directly contributed to the death of a child. The two people who created her – the two people on this planet who should love and accept her the most – turned their backs on her. More than that, they yanked Leelah’s support network while she was depressed, which is exactly when she needed it most. And then they sent her to religious “counselors” who perpetuated shaming tactics and reinforced the idea Leelah was an affront to herself, God, and her parents.

As a parent, that is unconscionable. That is unacceptable. And that is the kind of abhorrent behavior that needs to be exposed so fewer people will repeat this mistake.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

If Will or Sam came to me and told me they were gay or transgender, then I’d be the proudest damn father of a gay or transgender kid you’ve ever seen. I might not fully understand it and I’d probably have some reservations, but we’d talk about it. And I’d support them. And I’d let them know no matter what happens, they are loved by their mother and me to the max.

Parents, love your damn kids unconditionally. Real unconditional love, not love that’s dependent on things like sexual orientation and gender. It’s your main job and it’s your most important responsibility. It’s also the best way to honor Leelah Alcorn’s last wish, and give transgender kids in this country the love and support her parents couldn’t provide her.

If you’re in a similar situation and contemplating suicide, please reach out. To a friend, parent, teacher, or a professional at places like TransLifeline.org.

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Why Some White People Can’t See White Privilege

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I was 23 years old when I heard the term “white privilege” for the first time. And I immediately hated and resented it.

First I had to learn what white privilege meant. Simply put, it’s a term that describes the inherent advantages people like me enjoy simply from being born white. For instance, I don’t have to worry about being pulled over by the police just because of my skin color. I can live my daily life absent any and all concerns about race and how it affects my career, negative judgments during daily interactions with people, and my personal safety. Basically, white privilege means I have an easier path in life with fewer obstacles than people of color.

But for someone raised in America the land of the free where opportunity abounds and success always follows hard work, the entire notion of white privilege was impossible for me to swallow.

I heard “white privilege” and immediately classified it as someone making excuses for black people instead of holding them accountable. I heard someone trying to tell me I was spoiled and lazy just because I’m white. And I was threatened and defensive because I heard someone trying to take away from my accomplishments and hard work, simply because I supposedly had things handed to me due to my whiteness.

Basically I felt like I was being called a cheater.

So I went on the attack. I said things like “this is America and everyone has the same chance at success,” and “if black people want the success white people have, they need to work harder.” I screamed about Al Sharpton and shouted about the ridiculousness of the “race card.” And I capped off all such arguments by reminding anyone who would listen that slavery was a long time ago and we live in a modern, enlightened society largely free from racism.

It would take several years and a whole new network of friends from all over the world to see what an absolute jackass I was being.

Through new jobs and the power of online networking and social media, I began to talk to a variety of people with a plethora of life experience. Those friends and acquaintances made the difference, as suddenly the world as I knew it opened up – and looked very different from what I had known.

I’ve seen a mother with a black son and white son, and the pain she goes through when they enter a store and her black child is routinely followed and eyed with disdain, while her white child wanders around free from suspicion. I’ve listened to black fathers break down emotionally when they have to explain to their children why other kids at school refuse to play with them simply because of their skin color. One friend of mine was in a group of underage people who were caught drinking by security. Despite all of them being under 21, only my friend was detained while the rest were told to scram. I’m sure you can guess what color my detained friend was.

Even now you can see real-life stories of everyday racism and unfairness by viewing hashtags such as #AliveWhileBlack. It’s terrifyingly eye-opening, especially compared to #CrimingWhileWhite, which describes the leniency many white people experience during run-ins with law enforcement officers.

I know you’re thinking “Oh great, another I-used-to-be-racist-but-now-I’m-an-enlightened-progressive-white-guy” article. Fair enough. I’m well aware that for some people, that’s all this will ever be.

But my point is, the things I learned in the classroom about civil rights and MLK as a suburban white kid in a town that’s 93% Caucasian? They’re not enough. It needs to be personal.

I had no black friends because there was no diversity in my community, so I never had the opportunity to talk to different people. And I know I’m not alone in that boat. I truly believe if the majority of white people who don’t believe in privilege connected to people of color and listened to their perspectives – if they actually witnessed the pain and fear as they describe their experiences – things would slowly start to improve. A foundation will be built.

It’s not ever fun to admit you’re wrong about something as fundamental as how you view the world. Yes we live in America and yes it is a land of opportunity, but I was born a lot closer to opportunity than others. Too many white people think white privilege means they don’t work hard or earn their way in life, but that’s not true. White privilege does NOTHING to devalue the success that only hard work and determination can bring. But in the midst of all that, it’s important to realize we face fewer obstacles than people of color, who often have to work twice as hard for the same results. It’s all about perspective.

I hope white people will see white privilege is not an accusation – it’s just reality. Because that’s the starting point for the larger conversation about race this country so desperately needs.

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Female Teachers Sleeping with Male Students: Where’s the Outrage?

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There’s a seminal moment in the movie A Time to Kill, when Matthew McConaughey’s character is attempting to convince a jury to acquit his client, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, a black father in racially charged Mississippi, is on trial for killing the two white men who raped and tortured his young daughter. With the all-white jury champing at the bit to convict his client, McConaughey makes them close their eyes as he painstakingly details the unspeakable horrors visited upon the young girl. But because he knows the jury is inherently racist and unable to see her as human, the lawyer makes one final plea.

“Now imagine she’s white.”

I thought of this scene recently after reading about a string of incidents involving female teachers having sex with their underage, teen students. The trend seems to be similar in all the cases, with attractive teachers in their 20s and early 30s allegedly initiating sexual contact with children ranging in age from 13 to 17. In some cases the affairs last for years, even though some of the teachers are married and have families.

Here’s where I harness my inner Matthew McConaughey.

“Now imagine it’s a male teacher.”

When people close their eyes and imagine what a sexual predator looks like, it is almost always a man. People hear a teacher molested a student and they automatically think of a balding, older man – maybe a creepy science teacher – blackmailing some poor young girl to trade sexual favors for straight As. We label him a sicko, a pervert, and a child molester. Fathers talk about the beatings they would inflict on the monster who dared violate their little girls. And heads shake in negative uniformity at the horror inflicted on these poor kids by a disgusting criminal.

But here are some things I’ve seen people say when stories about attractive female teachers taking advantage of male students make headlines.

“Good for him!”
“Where were those teachers when I was in school?”
“Wow. That’s the luckiest kid in the world.”

It’s a nasty double standard to think the rape of a child or the taking of innocence is somehow mitigated because it’s a teenage boy being sexually assaulted instead of a girl. And even more insidious is the idea that these boys aren’t really victims.

The fathers who talk of pummeling the men who violate their little girls suddenly change their tone, and speak of high-fiving their sons should they ever bed a hot female teacher. The boys are praised for being taken advantage of, and some even condemn them for blabbing about it, because that means it had to end. It’s bad enough an immature teenage boy is now confused and possibly ashamed about sex after being assaulted by someone he’s supposed to trust, but that’s only the start. Because now he’s being told he should actually be thankful for what happened, and that he’s lucky.

That’s right, lucky. We’re telling male victims of sexual assault they’re lucky. Can you imagine the horror and general revulsion if we told teen female students they were lucky to score a fling with a hot male teacher? That they should be thankful for being taken advantage of and abused by a trusted adult figure?

Look, I used to make the same jokes. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. But then I became a parent and now that I have two boys of my own, I can say without a shadow of a doubt I’d be horrified if my sons were victimized like that. These boys have been violated by an adult during their adolescence, and likely face serious and long-lasting repercussions down the road that will affect them and potentially their families, for years to come.

I don’t care how attractive the teacher is, because when a teacher uses the significant power differential to abuse a minor sexually, that is a real problem. That is horrible. That is sexual abuse.

And that is always unacceptable, regardless of gender.

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