My thirteen-year-old son spent the best day of our Colorado vaction this summer* hanging by his fingers from a rock 250 feet above the ground, secured only by a belay from above held by a climbing instructor who was simultaneously securing a second climber.
My son is also a skiier, has been since age five. When he was ten, his instructor complained to me, "He doesn't seem to care much about technique. All he wants to do is see how fast he can go down the steepest possible slope without killing himself." [I immediately knew that she did not have any boys of her own.]
His twin sister is also a skiier, albeit a bit more conservative on the double black diamonds, which she has been taking since she was nine years old.
She plays goalie for two very competitive soccer teams. Her goals against average is around 0.6, which means that roughly half of her games are shut-outs. This tends to frustrate the other teams, who usually come up with the bright idea that crashing into the goalkeeper, or cleating her, might be sufficient intimidation to get the ball past her. I've never seen that work, but she gets cleated somewhere on her body about once per game. Two weeks ago she got cleated in the forehead, which is not that unusual [she goes out and dives under other players' feet a lot], except that this time she managed to get cleated in the forehead while standing up. You had to be there: high bouncing ball, exceptionally tall girl who must have taken karate to get that roundhouse kick that high.... A little blood, a few scars.
We have not raised our children to be risk averse. Sane, yes. Calculating about what represents a good risk and a bad risk, yes. But we have attempted to get them to understand that life lived within a cocoon is hardly worth living at all.
You maybe disagree. Fine, raise your children your own way. I won't interfere.
But the State, of course, does not feel that way.
I wonder by whose logic I can sign a parental release to allow a thirteen-year-old to go rock-climbing [where even a fall on belay may leave him with a concussion, or worse], skiing [where any number of bad things can and do happen to people with great regularity, or play soccer [where most of the other team seems intent upon kicking my child in the head], but the State does not consider me competent to determine when and where my children should or should not wear bicycle helmets.
We have family rules about that. The six-year-old grandson must wear his helmet every time he is on a two-wheeler, whether he rides on the sidewalk or not. The thirteen-year-olds must wear helmets if they leave our residential side-street to go on the main drag [which, by the way, is still a residential street], or if they are not riding on an actual cars-prohibited bike path.
Ah, shit: our family rules break the law.
There have always been people--usually, sensitive caring people--who know better than you how to raise your children. And--objectively speaking--some of them probably do. But it is not their responsibility to raise my children.
Another anecdote; when you have twins you learn very quickly what is and what is not essential. You know what is not essential? Heating up baby formula. They can drink the pre-mixed bottle or sippy cup right from the fridge. Yeah, the first couple of times their little faces with squench up, but they get used to it really fast, and once it is normal they get along just fine. [Oh, and don't tell the American College of Pediatrics, but we actually started my son with rice cereal mixed into his formula at three days because he was too big and too hungry and could sleep for more than an hour without waking up to eat if we didn't. Obviously this stunted his growth: at age thirteen he is five nine and has size eleven (adult) feet.]
But the visiting nurse who came to see my grandson when he was just back from the hospital at five days old insisted that if I didn't slowly and lovingly warm each bottle in water atop a stove with the burner set to medium heat he'd need false teeth before he was thirty. Or maybe he'd become a serial killer. I don't remember exactly what she said would happen, but it was going to be bad, really bad.
There are abusive and neglectful parents who do it really, really wrong, and hurt or kill their kids by hitting them, not feeding them, or just not loving them enough. But you know what? Bicycle helmet laws are not going to save those children. Sad fact of life: we can save some of those children [we adopted one of them], but as all down through history childhood is a dangerous part of life, filled with barbaric practices.
If the State used its resources to identify and help only children at severe risk, and if State bureaucrats actually took their jobs seriously [in truth, I know some--angels--who do, but far more who don't], then many more children would be saved than will ever be saved by legislative panaceas like bicycle helmet laws or the statutes repeatedly offered in some California municipalities that defining a parent smoking in the house as child abuse.
For 99% of all families the correct answer is: the State should butt the hell out of child-raising, even in single-parent families, even in the inner cities--unless the parents actually ask for the help.
On another thread, Pandora said that her children have standing instructions that if they are ever with their friends and a gun is produced, they are to go home NOW. Do not pass GO, do not run talk to the parents, GO HOME. As much of a 2nd Amendment advocate as I am, I am 98% in agreement with that for my children, and 101% in agreement for that with hers. Odds are if a gun is produced by other kids with no adult around, there is trouble brewing, even if unintentional. Why 101% with her children?
Because they're her children and she gets to make the goddamn rules. I don't care what you might think about her not being comfortable with firearms or your right to clean your hunting rifle when her kids are visiting your house: her kids, her rules.
On the other hand, when I send my kids to school there is a different set of rules in our household. Or I should say, different RULE. It is really simple: the teacher is always right. Even when he or she is wrong, he or she is still right. If I have a problem based on what my kids tell me, I don't tell them about it, I communicate directly with the teacher: adult to adult, kids not involved. Because the last thing I intend to do is set up a power struggle in that teachers' classroom. And besides: my kids need to learn that the world is full of situations you cannot bend to your own desires, so you need to figure out how to cope without getting in trouble. Or at least without getting caught.
[Oh, yeah: and all children--including yours and mine--lie about what happened in school. Get over it.]
[Old saying from US Army Ranger School that applies equally to kids: If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'. And if you get caught cheatin', you ain't Ranger material. For the intentionally obtuse: I am not talking about cheating on tests.]
Which is why I do not buy any of the faux "freedom of conscience" arguments from people who don't want their kids to be "forced" to watch President Obama on TV. Guess what? School is frankly about coercion all over the place, and the chief lesson once your kids become independent learners is how to find the edges of the system and survive. Coddling them by "protecting" them from strange ideas or bad teachers is, frankly, not helping them at all.
Don't agree? Fine. Take your kids out of every school activity with which you politically disagree; I won't interfere, other than to think you're not doing them any favors.
The answer to the question, "Who owns your children?", is that they own themselves: they are fully complete people placed in our care and training until the time comes when they can competently make their own decisions. This is usually well after puberty when the hormones that rot their brains have subsided, at least a bit, but it varies with every child.
*--here I am required by my agreement with Libertarian in Colorado to point out that the climate in Colorado is far too frigid and the natives are far to unfriendly for it to be a reliably fun place to visit. My successful vacation there was merely a fluke. You would not want to go there. Really. The mountains are overrated piles of dirt and the skiing is terrible. I would not lie to you.