In the wake of the Tanning Mom scandal, the New Jersey assembly is proposing banning use of tanning salons by children. In addition, yet another Mom has been arrested for solar abuse of a child in Pennsylvania.
The Jersey mom has been charged with child endangerment under NJ law, which provides that a person having a legal duty for the care of a child who causes the child harm that meets the definition of “abuse” or “neglect” (as defined by NJ law) commits a crime of the second degree. So what is abuse or neglect? It’s defined as loosely as: a risk of physical harm, or failing to take proper care of the child. What exactly does that mean? Under that broad definition, my own Mom committed crimes when she:
•Locked my brothers and I in the station wagon at the grocery store parking lot with the window cracked;
•Let us jump off the high dive at the community pool (remember high dives?–thanks lawyers);
•Burned through two lighters a day smoking cigarettes around us. (Not two packs, mind you. Two lighters.)
All of these exposed us potentially to “harm,” under the statute. Under the statute, your parents were surely criminals at some point. And if you have kids, you have been a criminal at some point too, even though you likely strap your kid into his car seat like it’s a NASA shuttle launch.
And this is the problem: we’ve drafted criminal codes so broadly that criminal activity is not a matter of tangible, ascertainable definition, but rather human discretion. And that discretion is often influenced by a singular, bizarre incident, and the public pressure that results.
Do we really need to pass legislation on the tanning industry because of this one incident? Is that the best use of the lawmakers’ time?
I’m not saying Tanning Mom is Mother of the Year. I’m more concerned about how we as a society are now trying to legislate aspects of human behavior that are not really legislate-able. If exposing a kid to ultra-violet rays is abuse or endangerment, then isn’t letting your kids run amok on the beach in Wildwood in July without sunscreen also “endangerment”? Is moving your family to sunny Arizona per se endangerment of your children? All of these expose kids to solar radiation–possibly more than a tanning bed. Every parent arguably exposes their child to some harm every day. And while we’re talking about potential harm, what about the actual harm absent dads are imposing every day on an entire generation? If I had to choose between (1) Mom forcing me into a tanning booth, and (2) Dad being just a phone call at Christmas, I say: slather me in Hawaiian Tropic, and let’s get our Pauly-D on. But we won’t condemn absent Dads because, well, did you see Tanning Mom? What’s more interesting to you? Of course. The train wreck is.
Negligent parenting is about the biggest–and most ignored–social crisis today. But the solution begins with parents–not with legislation. We will always have bad parents–after all, without them, who’s going to keep the porn industry supplied with fresh talent? Hopefully, not you. Take care of your own little snowflake; don’t ask the law to do it for you.