Whenever an issue arises that deals with how parents raise their kids, even the most conservative of us treads carefully; we are loathe to interfere in what values parents pass on to their children, even when we disagree with them, as your role as a parent is one of the most important rights you have. However, there are times when we must interfere, when it is in the interest of both the children themselves and the rest of us to do so. If you wish to teach your children to believe in god, to be democrats or republicans, baptists or pagans, that is your prerogative, but when you fail to give them the basic knowledge they need to survive, well, then you’ve abrogated your responsibility and the rest of us have to take a hand. As with so many ills in this world, two problems that young people face today can be squarely pinned on ignorance, on the narrow minded priests and demagogues that frighten the sheep with fire and brimstone invectives, and the parents who put alliance to church or myth above their children’s health.
Channel 11 news spokesperson on health Dr. Steve Salvatore addressed one of these yesterday, speaking about the rise, worldwide, in unplanned pregnancies; the US continues to lead industrialized countries in them, but the numbers are rising in many other countries. Dr. Steve said flat out that the problem is, first, not enough kids are getting sex education, or they’re not getting the right information about sex, a trend clearly linked to the religious right and the Abstinence Only crowd, shameless hucksters who make millions selling and running programs that have proven, time and again, to be almost totally ineffectual in helping young people develop into sexually healthy adults. What was unexpected, however, was that Dr. Steve said an equally big problem is not lack of information, its lack of confidence and self-esteem. Many teens know they should be using protection, they know they should be quizzing their prospective partners, but they’re too afraid or ashamed to do it, clearly a product of the twisted attitude in our American culture, one that parades sexual images everywhere but teaches you to be ashamed of your sexual desires. It is apparently not enough to teach them facts, we must address attitudes toward sex, giving teens the empowerment they need to make the right choices. Parents whose children have sex ed still undermine them when they bark about shame and deny their children an accepting environment to be sexual. Education alone can’t solve the problem, we must change the attitude of frightened parents who cannot bear the thought of their children as sexually active.
A second problem comes from California, the poster state for doing the wrong thing for the right reason; the school year has just begun, and officials are reporting that almost 3% of incoming kindergartners have not been properly immunized, which means about 11,000 kids are not only endangering themselves, but all the kids and adults around them. Why so many? Because the misguided liberals have allowed a “Personal belief” exemption, meaning a parent can opt out of vaccinations simply because they feel like it; with all the disinformation about vaccines and autism, as well as a large immigrant community without the proper education to appreciate the risk they’re running, a situation is brewing for a major outbreak of something like measles or tuberculosis. Think that’s unlikely? In CA last year, an outbreak of whooping cough (yup, a disease that hasn’t been an issue since Oliver Twist) sickened over 9100 hundred people, and killed 10 infants, and the numbers of unprotected kids is growing. Ignorance strikes again, whether the “I know science ’cause I read the Internet” anti-vaccination crowd, or just non-English speakers who don’t have any grasp of the danger they are exposing their child to; will California reverse this foolish policy? Unlikely, even after an epidemic that may kill or sicken thousands, and we all know that the schools and the government will get the blame, when these fools did it to themselves.
A line from the (admittedly, right wing) movie Parenthood addressed our problem, when a character pondered, “You know, you need a license to own a dog or a cat, or even to catch a fish… but they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” No one is looking to interfere with your rights as a parent, but you have an obligation to your fellow citizens as well, and when you fall asleep on your watch, when you let ignorance and fear make your decisions for you, you leave us no choice but to step in and do the job you have failed to do.