The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Conservatives lit up the airwaves, blogosphere, and Twitter earlier this year, expressing outrage over comments by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, who urged Americans to embrace a more “collective notion” of children—one that sees all children as “our children.”1 Harris-Perry’s remarks, part of an ad campaign supporting increased government spending on education, also exhorted Americans to put aside the “private notion of children,” where “your kid is yours” and “kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families.” Instead, Harris-Perry insisted, “Kids belong to whole communities.”2
Her comments triggered verbal volleys from both ends of the political spectrum.
Sarah Palin tweeted, “Apparently MSNBC doesn’t think your children belong to you. Unflippingbelievable.” Rush Limbaugh termed it “outrageous,” but “nothing new,” noting that Harris-Perry’s words reflect the collectivist philosophy of “Marx, Engels, [and] the Communist Manifesto.”3
The left accused conservatives of “distorting” the meaning of Harris-Perry’s words, and ignoring the context of her message. Media Matters soft-pedaled her comments, recasting them as a high-minded “call for society to rethink the way it values children.”4 Educators jumped on the liberal bandwagon and defended Harris-Perry’s words as consistent with the “It takes a village” approach to parenting and education. 5 Harris-Perry herself “doubled-down” on Twitter, insisting that, “Kids are our collective responsibility,”6 because even though “families have first and primary responsibility” for children, “our children are not our private property. . . . They are independent, individual beings.”7
Should conservatives—and families in general—worry that Harris-Perry’s comments signal a “progressive” push for state control over our children?
Harris-Perry’s viewpoint was rejected as “stupid,” “dangerous,” and “naïve,” in comments by many ordinary folks (although others seemed enamored of the “village” approach, favoring collective responsibility). The government has not, in fact, attempted to “nationalize” anyone’s children. Surely conservatives and, presumably, most parents would never stand for such a thing.
However, we dismiss Harris-Perry’s comments at our peril. Not because they reflect the sinister aspirations of previously-closeted collectivists, but because they remind us that the progressive agenda seriously threatens family integrity, parents’ rights, and children’s wellbeing. The left does not need to “collectivize” or “take” our children in order to control them or to isolate them from parental influence and religious values. They have found a simpler way: putting children in supposed control over their own lives.
Whether hiding under the convenient cover of health policy and the “mature minor” doctrine8 or openly carrying the banner of “youth rights,”9 progressives are relentlessly fencing parents out of crucial, value-laden decisions in their children’s lives. Legislators and judges, for example, often cite privacy considerations, consistent with the jurisprudence that has evolved in the wake of Roe v. Wade and its progeny, as justification for allowing minors to consent to sexual and reproductive health services. Health policy also has favored allowing minors to be treated as adults for the purposes of consenting to treatment of sexually transmitted infections, obtaining family planning services, and accessing substance abuse treatment.10 Some scholars have sharply criticized the “mission creep” that has allowed the “mature minor” exception, evolving from abortion-related jurisprudence, to eclipse the general rules requiring parental consent for the medical treatment of minors.11 Many “youth friendly” medical professionals and advocates for youth rights envision a future where parents have little or no control of, or influence over, significant areas of their children’s lives—sexuality, gender identity, and reproductive health care.
Instead, young people will claim their “rights” and exercise their autonomy, guided by a new class of “professionals” and “experts” who specialize in sexuality, reproduction, and “health” (and who uniformly promote views in sync with the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or “SIECUS”).12
Significant territory already has been ceded to youth autonomy, to the detriment of young people and families alike. Parents and policy-makers who care about the wellbeing of the natural family need to push back—hard—against the youth rights agenda. An important step in that effort is to recognize the “youth rights” subtext in recent challenges to family integrity and traditional values.