Last night's episode of Comedy Central's Nightly Show featured a lengthy segment and panel discussion on free-range parenting. Host Larry Wilmore mentioned several cases of state-mandated child-safety paranoia that were covered extensively at Reason by Lenore Skenazy, including the Harrell and Meitiv incidents.
I'm pleased to report that Wilmore was outraged by what he viewed as clear overreactions to trivial transgressions. These examples led him to ask the exact right questions:
All of these stories remind me that parenting has changed over the years, and I'm not sure that it's changed for the good. Are we being overprotective? Do we need to give our kids a little space to grow up? And is it really the government's job to raise our kids?
Amen! Wilmore's coverage of the free-range kids issue should serves as proof that fundamentally libertarian parenting ideas are spreading. The desire to let parents raise responsible, curious, independent children is not some fringe belief; it's common sense, and fully compatible with the facts of modern life. We live in the safest times in human history, and our children should enjoy as many freedoms as kids did in bygone eras.
What's standing in the way of this? The government. Local and state laws all over the country treat parents like criminals for letting their kids walk to the park or wait in the car unsupervised. A minor infringement of a silly law rooted in safety hysteria can trigger a visit from Child Protective Services. Dissent from the state's position—that children, regardless of age, should be handled like China dolls—can cause parents to lose their kids or even go to jail. That's why it's so important to insist that the state play no more than a limited role in parenting.
Recently, libertarianism has been maligned—somewhat unfairly, in my view—for promoting unsafe and anti-scientific positions on parenting. The New Republic's Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig even insisted that "to avoid a hellish death spiral of infectious disease and neglect, we would all do well to reject [Rand] Paul and his cohort on the subject of child rearing." To the extent that she's talking about a specific libertarian (Murray Rothbard) and his disciples, and a specific issue (mandatory vaccination), sure. But this neglects the broader array of parenting issues in need of a strong dose of libertarianism.
Because it really isn't the government's job to raise our kids—or shouldn't be, at least.
Watch the Nightly Show clip here.