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Here's a title for your eventual parenting advice book: "Interior Solution Parents."

Some black tails are unthinkable for a parent to experience.

Children really are raped and murdered in California -- more than zero every year. Mothers can't imagine living with themselves if they let it happen to their own child.

It's sort of like letting small children swim without a parent around. Black tail low odds that your kid will be one of the ones who drown every year, but who could live with themselves if it was your kid?

How many children do you have, Horowitz?

I'm curious as to the extent of your parenting experience.

To equate sleeping in separate bedrooms with leaving kids in the park - that's just egregious.

Horwitz has two children, 18 and 14. Both have survived their childhoods thus far and are largely smart, well-adjusted, talented, and mature. One boy, one girl. So I've done the gamut. And I've been known to leave my kids alone at the SLU hockey rink and trust them to hang out with friends "downtown" without parents with them. I'll gladly get you the phone number for NY state Child Protective Services if you'd like. :)

Care to share your parenting experience with us, given that you seem to find fault in my judgment as a parent?

"Horowitz Has Two Children"... I think I saw that play Off-Broadway.

Yes, there is a p>0 chance of something terrible happening to your child. But if it makes the news, it almost never happens.

I wonder if the parent quoted lets their children go to school. Or play at a friend's house. Or visit with family members (who are much more likely to rape one's children than are strangers).


Why couldn't you say all the same things about driving your kids around in the car, which is even more dangerous? "If only I hadn't taken the 5 today and taken the 405 instead!" The point is that letting your kids do age-appropriate things unsupervised isn't just a risk, it has benefits just as we accept the risks of driving in order to get the benefits. Parents who fear "worst case scenarios" and thereby deny their kids the benefits of exploring the world on their own more (again, in age-appropriate ways) are denying them both lots of fun and skills central to maturity and adulthood.

As the proud parent of none, I may be excused if I change the topic a bit. Many areas in which people claim non-marginal (corner solution) decisionmaking really are nothing of the sort. Even in the realm of moral decisionmaking,for example, people are balancing at the margin (whether or not they are utilitarians). This is one of the points of my article on Moral Dirigisme:

As Mario suggests, people use this type of rhetoric all the time: "My child's safety comes before everything else." Or, Nothing is more important than doing whatever is necessary to 'save the planet.'" Or, "All my thoughts and actions are devoted to doing only 'God's will.'"

In fact, of course, people "demonstrate" their preferences in ways that show that they don't do what they say.

And as I once mentioned before when a similar topic came up, I believe that part of some parent's paranoia about "everything" and "only" for their child is the fact that so many more people in modern industrial society (if they have children at all) only have one or two children.

Thus the "marginal unit" is the "total supply," which (other things given) raises the "value" of its loss to the "user."

While I know this will be "shocking" to many, suppose that you have, say, five children rather than one. And one of those five is killed in some terrible accident. Of course, the parents will be "crushed" be the loss. But the loss will be less than if they lost their only child. It may make many uncomfortable to think about it this way, but if you've had five children you still have four "units" left to give and share love with, to attach your "hopes and dreams."

It is the change in the average size of the family unit in modern industrial society that, I would suggest, explains at least part of the greater intensity of fear of loss that we seem to observe or have a sense about in parents "safety" concerns and attempt to protect from harm.

Richard Ebeling

Well, those Greeks let their kids run about all over the place, now look what's happened to them!

On a more serious note, this does seem to be more of an American problem than a European one. And I say this as somebody who has spent time in both places. It's more than common over here to see kids walking on their own to the train station, and this can happen as young as 4 or 5.

Out of interest Dr Horwitz, what's your opinion on parenting and alcohol?


I agree that this is much more (North) American than European.

As for parenting and alcohol: I think parents often need copious amounts of alcohol. :) But I don't think that was the question. ;)

The best thing parents can do to help their kids avoid becoming binge drinkers and having alcohol problems when they reach college/adulthood is to show them from a young age that alcohol is one of life's great gifts when used properly and respected. My kids have been able to have wine when we have it for dinner since they were maybe early teens. Not a full adult sized glass - maybe just a sip or two. More as they got older if they wanted.

My son is now 18 and if he wants a beer with dinner, he's welcome to have one. My daughter is 14 and if she wants a little juice glass full of white wine, she's welcome to have it. Respectful use of alcohol is among the most civilized behavior we can indulge in and disrespectful/abusive use is among the least.

My son just finished his first year at college and he drank some but, as he said the other day, unlike many of his peers, "I didn't drink stupid." Yup, that's it.

In 20+ years at a small liberal arts college I have seen the toll that binge drinking and the like can take on students. I've had more than one die from alcohol-related behavior. I blame it mostly on the 21 year old drinking age and some on parents who are so paranoid about alcohol that they turn it into forbidden fruit at home too. (And I blame DARE and similar programs for making KIDS think it's the devil rather than learning to respect it and deal with it maturely. We've gotten better about educating kids that way about sex, but not about alcohol.)

I wish parents would handle it better because alcohol abuse is the number one factor interfering with my ability to educate college students the way I'd like and the way they deserve given what they're paying.

Dr Horwitz, it's really interesting and encouraging to hear that! As a European I've grown up drinking wine with dinner, when I lived in the U.S. for a short period I was in for quite a bit of a culture shock. A few family friends thought it was pretty much the epitome or irresponsibility that my parents would let us have some watered down wine with dinner. But the reality is that by the time kids go to off to college in Europe they're pretty well acquainted with alcohol and the drinking culture of higher education is a lot less pronounced.

It's interesting that some parents are so naive about it. A lot of parents, mostly in the States, seem to think that if only they punish their children heavily enough the kids will stop drinking. The reality is that there are all sorts of unintended consequences. One big difference I've seen between parties in US and in Europe is that when accidents inevitably happen, kids in Europe will pick up the phone and call their parents, whereas in the States children will do all sorts of things to avoid being caught drunk.

This is a pretty obvious example of unintended, but there are more subtle ones. One thing I've noticed is that with drinking the main constraint is money, not time. So earlier curfews are usually pretty counter-productive.

For the record, I really don't mean to bash the US here, I absolutely loved the time I spent their.

Every DARE memeber I ever knew that went to college ended up doing drugs. Great program.

Good parenting involves a good deal of common sense. My wife and I have 4 boys ages 16, 13, 9, and 2, so although not completely an expert, I am developing some experience. The ultimate goal of parenting is to prepare offspring to *leave the home as soon as possible* (in accordance with social norms), and possess the skills to survive on their own when they go. The strategy is to put them in situations where they have greater and greater responsibility and liberty as they grow older, and make application of what they learned the last time out to their new situations. Much like teaching and learning math, the easy problems come first and the hard ones come later. There is no cookbook recipe though, and every kid has a different personality and traits, which requires special wisdom from parents.

I give all my kids some common advice though. Math for academics, and squats for athletics (the same for both boys and girls). It's because both are usually the hardest, so most of the competition does not do them. Math and squats. Find a way to motivate your kids to embrace benefits of these, and they will probably do just fine.

P.S. If my teenagers read this, they would die laughing because they know that I am serious about the math and squats.

Mario: Great paper! Lots of really good stuff in there - for Austrian and non-Austrian alike.

Well, those Greeks let their kids run about all over the place, now look what's happened to them!

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