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An Argument for Parental Rights

Mama bear with cubs

As much as I am a defender of banned books, I do not let my children watch a number of programs that other parents of same-aged children regularly allow. I’ll namedrop one of them, Cocomelon, only because there are plenty of other articles that dive into the Cocomelon tantrum phenomenon. You can spare me any arguments about its educational content, its engagement factor, or even its popularity. No reason you can throw my way will sway me from my refusal to show episodes to my children.

The simple reason is this: after watching for a short period of time (episodes are roughly five minutes long), my kids will have the most wicked tantrums, begging for more in the same vein as an addict begging for just one more fix.

I asked myself why would this happen. I informally experimented, showing them an occasional episode upon their requests and observing their behaviors to determine whether it was just an occasional fluke or if there was a real correlation. We did it enough for me to know the frequency of exposure and tantrums was unequivocally significant. I watched it myself, trying to understand why. I recognized the brilliance of colors, the very frequent camera shot changes (there’s a cinematic word for this but it slips my mind), and the catchy songs are extremely engaging. Later, I researched articles and scientists claimed there was no empirical data or explanation to say that Cocomelon caused tantrums.

The truth is, I could have studies citing EEGs with pleasure centers of the brain lighting up like an addict having a fix watching the show or other studies of brain waves showing no difference between watching this show versus any other activity and it still would not sway me. The reason is my parental decisions are based on the needs and responses of my own children. When my kids watch Cocomelon, even if it’s for 15 minutes, they have tantrums; when my kids watch Bluey or Word Party, they do not. Ergo, Cocomelon is a hard no in our house.

I am a believer in parental rights, but since the expression “parental rights” is laden these days with political undertones and the term is used differently depending on the context, please allow me to explain what I mean when I say “I am a believer in parental rights.”

To me, I define parental rights as making decisions for my own children without the input or interference of anyone else. In our family, parenting decisions are decided mutually between my husband (their father) and myself. Andy and I may not always agree on an issue, but we hash it out behind closed doors, come to a decision, and emerge as a united front. When the kids ask about [pick-your-topic], they face annoying consistency when they approach either of us. Specifically, Hazel is already at the age where she will ask me for X, I say no, and then go to her father to ask the same question. She has learned that no means no regardless of which parent she asks (or yes or whatever. The point is, Andy and I are on the same page whether or not the kids like the decision.)

I bring this up because I keep finding myself scrolling through feeds of parents asking parenting questions and reading the responses and subsequent disagreements from other parents.

Example: I’m undecided about whether I should allow my child to [play unsupervised in the backyard, walk to the bus stop alone, eat sugar after 6 p.m., attend homeschool/public school/private school/un-schooling, have his/her own phone, join a club/athletic activity/extracurricular activity, be given an allowance or earn an allowance, watch [pick-a-controversial kid-show/movie], screen time/no screen time, vaccinate or don’t vaccinate, read or don’t read [particular “banned” book], etc.]

I could go on, of course, but generally, it’s a parent posing a question of whether they should or shouldn’t allow [pick-your-issue]. The ages of the child(ren) vary as do the specific details. Sometimes age is the issue. Sometimes it’s the details. Sometimes it’s the issue itself.

Next come the responses. The best responses (I think) are those that say some variation of "This is what I know. This is what I do. This is how it worked. Best of luck!” This kind of response answers the question, provides reasoning and details, refrains from judgment to the original poster, and ends with a kind and motivating expression of support. After all, these messages are typically posed in groups that are meant to be supportive. Luckily, this is most often the type of responses that follow, and usually are varied in their own details.

Yet, I find myself reading too many responses from parents who say things laden with judgment and accusation. Often, I’ll see disagreements between responders on comments that are simply mean. I’ll refrain from actual examples, but scroll through social media and I’m sure you can find plenty of your own.

Personally, I bristle at the notion of another parent whose values and philosophies may not mesh with mine having the power to make choices that impact my child. I feel this most strongly about the book-banning issue. I do not believe that any other parent should have the right or power to impact the decisions that shape other people’s children. This does not mean that I allow my children to check out any book they choose. If one of my kids were to come to me with a book I would consider unacceptable given their age, maturity, or simply because I find the content offensive, that does not give me the right to demand that libraries strip their inventories of these titles. Likewise, I think I would be out of line if I were to go standing outside of Netflix carrying a sign and shouting that no children should be allowed to watch Cocomelon. I think the expression “parental rights” these days has been bogarted by those who are more motivated by a political agenda than allowing all parents to make decisions based on their own values and judgments.

I recently flipped through a banned book that was deemed pornographic and, although I can understand the objections of some parents based on its illustrations and some of the content, it is a book that I plan to use in a few years with my preadolescent children to discuss their bodies and sexual health: It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robin Harris and Michael Emberley. The illustrations at first are surprisingly detailed, but I would not describe them as pornographic. Yes, there are close-ups of anatomically correct genitalia and there are discussions about sexual identity, conception, masturbation, abstinence, contraception, abortion, and online safety, amongst many others. Yet, I can understand why some parents would bristle at the idea of their children or teenagers having access to this book. My reasoning for wanting to share this with them when I consider them old enough is I believe that a discussion of the birds and the bees should go beyond simple anatomy and mechanics, but more than anything, I would want them to have the trust to come to me when they do have questions and to know that they can truly ask me anything without embarrassment.

In my opinion, raising children to believe that the human body and its functions are secret and shameful will only lead them to turn elsewhere when they have questions or are curious; given the technology of the times, I do not want the internet to answer their questions if they are too embarrassed to ask me. As much information and controversy as this book has on varied topics, asking the Internet without restraint (and kids are innovative and resourceful. Parental blocks on home technology do not mean they can’t find access to the Internet without restraint using a friend’s device) is opening Pandora’s Box from honest and healthy curiosity to uncensored obscenity.

I believe that God has created our bodies and all of their functions as beautiful and I also believe that it is all perfectly normal. That is how I plan to have that conversation with my children when the time is right. Besides, one day, they will hear of all of these topics as they live their lives as adults. I would rather be the one to introduce them.

I also would not judge, shame, or criticize anyone else who chooses to let their kids watch Cocomelon, ban banned books in their home, or decide to take a completely different approach to controversial or uncomfortable conversations with their own children. The idea of parental rights is that every parent should have the right to raise their children as they see fit based on their values while not encroaching on the rights of other parents who may make different choices with their own children.

This is what I know. This is what I do. This is how it worked. Best of luck!


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