Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How Old is Old Enough?

The world is a very confusing place.

According to this story out of central Florida, negligence charges were dropped against a mother who left her child in the care of her 14-year old son while she went to a job interview. The charges were dropped because they didn't seem justified because a 14 year old is old enough to baby-sit."

So let me get this straight. A 14 year old is old enough to watch a child, but not old enough to take care of him or herself? Put more bluntly, a 14-year old can be responsible enough for another person's life, but not one's own?

Why is it that 14 is old enough to baby-sit, but whenever a 14-year old is "the victim" of a sexual act, they are suddenly too young to understand/comprehend/take responsibility for what happened? I have always hated this double standard. Kids should either be old enough, or too young. It shouldn't matter in relation to what.

As soon as a person is capable of doing something, they are old enough. Kids these days are not naive; they know what sex is at a younger age, mainly due to television and movies. So I find it hard to believe that these stories of teachers having sex with students are completely one-sided.

It's time the children stepped up to the plate. If we are going to continue living under this notion that "children are the future" then they have to start shouldering some of the responsibility for their own actions, even at an early age. That's why at my children's fifth birthday it's going to be shape up or ship out.


Christine said...

That story is vague. Any fourteen year old should be able to keep track of a four year old. It seem to me that the fourteen year old needs an ass whooping.

Gerbil said...

From a legal standpoint, the reason a 14-year-old is a "victim" of a sexual act (when the other involved party is an adult) is that 14-year-olds are not presumed cognitively or emotionally capable of giving consent. Also, in most states a 14-year-old can't consent to a medical procedure (including mental health services and research activities), but he or she can provide assent to go along with the parent/guardian's consent. Many states do have exceptions for family planning and pregnancy-related services, as well as any situation in which obtaining parental consent might reasonably place the minor in danger (e.g., treatment for abuse perpetrated by the parent).

Yes, it's terribly arbitrary to say that an 18-year-old is an adult and a 17-year-old isn't. But there are mounds of scientific evidence that demonstrate that adolescents' decision-making is much more impulsive and less future-oriented than adults'. There are even some data that suggest that our brains are not fully developed until we're in our mid-20s!

Plus, in our society there is an assumed power differential between any two people of different ages and/or stages of cognitive development. School-age children know that they're supposed to do what their teachers (or coaches, or scout leaders, or religious leaders, or whoever else) tell them to do, even if they don't want to. Can we safely assume that a child or teenager can say "no" effectively to a trusted adult, especially if that trusted adult has threatened him or her in some way?

If you believe that "as soon as a person is capable of doing something, they are old enough," including sex, then where do you draw the line between consenting parties and abuse, if at all? Babies learn how to play with their genitals at about 6 months; is it right for an adult to touch the baby in the same way, just because the baby knows how to do it? Is it okay for an adult to have sex with a child, just because the child has seen sex portrayed on TV?

In any event, the issue in this news story seems to be that the mother deemed her teenaged son responsible enough to baby-sit, found out that the toddler wandered off into traffic while she was out, but took several hours to notify the police that the child was missing. That's a lot of disregard for the child's well-being right there. The (dropped) negligence charges don't seem to have much to do with the son as babysitter. Rather, it's the mother's apparent lack of concern for the 4-year-old who was still missing when she returned home.