Monday, October 25, 2010

Lucia Linley Boniface on children at home under the age of 14

Linley Boniface has written an opinion piece in today's Dominion Post that I actually agree with. It starts:
A recent Dominion Post contained a feature so controversial that not a single member of the public interviewed was named.
She then asks what this controversial topic could possibly be, listing a number of activities that you think would warrant such anonymity, before identifying the criminal act that most parents dare not admit to: leaving under 14 year olds at home, alone. Children who could possibly taking care of siblings and not a parent in sight.
I always assumed it was an urban myth that parents were legally required to keep children under house arrest for the first 14 years of their lives. Apparently not.

That's right, it's illegal in NZ to leave children who are under the age of 14 at home without an adult there to supervise them. Last week during the teacher's strike, many Year 9 children who could have been 13 years of age, were most likely left to fend for themselves at home while their parents worked. I heard Bill English admit to as much, while saying that parents were actually responsible for making sure that this did not happen.
This view of children as witless invalids is entirely new. For almost all of our species' history, and in most of the developing world still, children have been regarded as capable of taking on an increasing level of responsibility as they move toward adulthood. They have cared for siblings, carried out meaningful domestic chores and, in some cases, contributed to the family's finances.
Linley has such a way with words.  'Witless invalids', brilliant!  When she then goes on to explain the position of Senior Sergeant John Robinson, a youth services specialist on leaving older children at home.
"A mother who's out for a run - would she be happy that her 11-year-old was home alone [during the Christchurch earthquake]?  I don't think so.  It's the same for the parent popping to the dairy in the car.  What if there's a car crash while she's out?  Would those kids be alright on their own?"
Linley then articulates exactly what I though when I read that paragraph.
No - far better to be with their mother in the car crash, clearly.
 That's right.  The police think that children are better off possibly injured or worse with their mother in a car crash than being left at home alone.
This kind of worst case scenario thinking is typical of people who believe parents should make their own lives, and those of their children, an utter misery because of the fear that something bad might happen.

But the truth is that something bad could happen, no matter what precautions you take. Leave your kid at home alone during an earthquake, and the kid could die. Be at home with your kid during an earthquake, and the kid could still die. Alarmist examples like Mr Robinson's ignore the fact that there is a massive difference between no-hoper parents who leave small children alone in their cots while they're off smoking P, and parents who measure the risk and give children increased responsibility depending on their ability to deal with it.

That's what I've tried to do with my children. And while I have known the law existed and not thought it was an urban myth, I've tried to not let it dictate how I parent my children. Without admitting to anything, when I think of how much freedom and responsibility I was given at a young age as the oldest of six children, I find myself horrified as to how restrictive I am with my own. Yet, I'm not nearly as restrictive as the law wants me to be.
In the same article, Child Youth and Family's northern regional director, Grant Bennett, said young children should never be left alone because they could become distressed and develop "anxiety issues".

Anxiety issues? How about the issues kids develop when they are taught the world is a terrifying hostile place and that they are not smart or brave or resourceful enough to deal with it? The more pertinent threat is that we are breeding children who will enter adolescence without the skills, experience and confidence to cope with everyday life.

This law is a total disgrace. It interferes in family decision making as to the capability of each individual child, and in doing so ensures that the upcoming generations are more childlike and incapable than previous ones. If we are freaking out about the numbers of unemployed now, just wait another 10 to 20 years.

But I'm not holding my breath that this law will be changed.  Just like the anti-smacking law, the NZ Government, no matter which party is in power and for some inexplicable reason, does not trust NZ parents to do what is best for their children.  The Government thinks it knows best.  The anti-smacking law is tied into our UN obligations, and our government does not want to be seen as acting against the dictates of the UN in any way.  But the no child under the age of  14 at home alone, where does that come from?  I'd really like to know.

3 comment(s):

ZenTiger said...

A great article by Linley.

The issue is an important one, because again, good parents and capable children get lumped in with cases of neglect.

I note the latest Fire Safety advertisement pushes the idea that even if Mum is home, she is just as likely to not watch the stove, and the ensuing fire will kill one of her children as she looks on helplessly.

FAIRFACTS MEDIA said...

Been home alone never hurt me.
Sometimes it may have just been the hour or two between arriving home from school and parents arriving home from work.
In my teenage years, it was great to have a bit of peace and time to yourself!

joyfulpapist said...

It isn't quite as draconian as the reports make it sound. It's in the Summary Offences Act (and has been there since 1989). It says that "Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances."

If everything goes right, that's okay. But if something goes wrong, the onus is on the person responsible for the child to show that the provision of supervision was reasonable and/or that the time was reasonable and/or that the conditions were reasonable 'having regard to all the circumstances'.

So if you left your 13 year old with an emergency phone number and a next door neighbour in call, would that be reasonable provision?

If you left your 13 year old for five minutes while you took the rubbish out, would that be a reasonable time?

If you had to rush down to the school because your 5 year old had fallen off the jungle gym and your 13 year old was home with a bad cold, and it was the middle of winter, would the cirumstances be such that it was reasonable to leave her tucked up in bed while you took care of the wee one?

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