Yesterday, in a moment of lightness I posted a facebook meme that said “Post this if you rode unsecured in the back of a pickup and survived.”
I’ll note that part of the reason I posted is that the only time I did that was when I was camping with my host family during my exchange student year. If we wanted to go to the grocery store with dad, my teen host sister and I rode in the back. It was fun and slow along country lanes.
I remember the warm summer afternoons, and riding in the back of the truck amid the corn fields.
The other part was of course more complex. I think we have been wrapping kids/teens and sometimes adults in bubblewrap. I have theories on why, but that was sort of a general “yeah, there was a risk, but it wasn’t a huge risk, and yeah.”
Even so it surprised me when I started getting comments from people who said they knew people who’d died by falling from the backs of pickups and lecturing me on the fact that those who didn’t survive couldn’t post the meme. (DUH.)
I’ll note at least in one case the person who didn’t survive had been standing in the back of the pickup and shooting out the back (rats, I think) which of course is much more dangerous than sitting in the back leaning against the cab, with the gate part closed.
Yes, if my host dad had hit something full on at sixty, we’d have been thrown. Probably. But he wasn’t doing sixty, he was doing 25 and the chances of his hitting anything head on on those roads was close to zero.
So, should it have been illegal, or should it have been left to his discretion?
Look, in theory I’m all for cracking down on people who have little kids unsecured in the back of the pickup. I don’t even like seeing dogs unsecured back there, not on the highway at least.
In practice, things are a great deal more complex.
I’m going to confess right here that I spanked my kids. The older son more than the younger. Spanking consisted of open hand on behind, and most of it while behind was still wearing diapers. After that there were more effective methods of punishment because he was conscious/sentient enough to know what it meant when I said “the computer cord goes away for a day.”
Before that, sometimes you needed to swat him just to get his attention. (Ideally to get his attention we should have used a two by four. Still should. But we didn’t want to HURT him and the swat was enough to stop him.)
Time outs didn’t work on him. He would come out of them and resume whatever had got him put in time out.
Until he was conscious of time and consequences, the smack on the butt was the best way to get whatever it was to stop. (Whatever it was included stuff like running naked into a downtown area in the middle of the night; melting crayons on the radiator; trying to turn the gas stove on/playing with gas knobs; wanting to remove the cat’s eye with a screw driver [the cat was okay. He remembers the incident. He thought the cat was a robot]) I.e. we took no joy in it – I truly learned the principle of “it hurts me more than it hurts you” – and we only did it when we were unsuccessful by other means at stopping behavior that would endanger him or others.
Younger son I THINK got swatted twice in his entire childhood (Pretend-smacks on the back of the head don’t count. That’s now, and he’s bigger than I. Also they’re pretend.) because he responded to time outs, distractions, and taking away something he was playing with instead of spanking. His biggest sins were the sin of the younger child: scream like a banshee to get the adult’s attention. He didn’t ever throw chairs at us, bean us with toy trains or lock us out of the house. … or take off running naked through the middle of downtown. He did take off running through the middle of Orly airport but when he was too young to even think of smacking on the behind (a year old) and just bored.
Recently, over the thing with the football player beating his kid I became aware of two things: first, there are people who think that spanking is somehow always sexual and therefore think smacking a kid on the behind is kinky. (These people need therapy.) And second, people think the swat to the behind (more noise than anything else) should be illegal because they think normal, sane parents if they smack the kid once are at risk for beating the kid into the ground.
Or to turn that around: they think if they make it illegal to swat your son on his diapered behind then children won’t get beaten to the ground; burned with cigarettes; locked in closets, or whatever the extreme forms of child abuse they call to mind.
This is the same form of insanity we see with gun control.
Look, just because in extreme cases, to protect him and others I swatted the kid’s behind, it didn’t mean I was going to start beating him till he died. I didn’t want to beat him. And it was already illegal. Heck, it was illegal when I was young and when it was normal to beat kids with switches, wooden spoons and wooden rulers.
There is a vast amount of difference between a singular smack that surprises and stops and beating. There is even a difference between smacking a kid’s hand with a ruler (no, I never did it, but it was the accepted form of punishment in the school I attended. For some reason the smack was called a bolo which means cake in Portuguese. I rarely got it, though I did if asked to recite the multiplication tables aloud, because I knew if you missed three you got smacked, and suddenly I couldn’t remember anything. I don’t recommend beating with a ruler as an aid to learning, but it didn’t permanently damage me, either.)
(And no, you’re not teaching the kid violence. Kids know violence without learning it. Arguably they know more violence if they were never spanked, because they’re not aware of what it does. All mammals physically disciple their cubs. And while I agree we’re not animals, and we stopped as soon as other methods worked, sometimes it was the only thing that stopped a careening little boy.)
And here is the key: the people who would BEAT a child would do it whether it was illegal or not.
The people who buy guns to kill people, don’t care if buying the gun is illegal.
And the people who stand and shoot rats from the back of a moving pickup don’t care if it’s illegal.
Almost anything you can think of, making it illegal has a cost. In the case of older son, I REALLY don’t know if we’d have got through his childhood without major incident without the occasional smack. (I could tell you stories.) Curiously, once he got to be around five, and you could threaten/reward and he understood, he was one of the best kids to deal with. Before that… (And despite the “teach them violence” thing he still is one of the gentlest young men with the weak and defenseless.)
In the case of guns, when you make them illegal, you make it easier for those who don’t care it’s illegal to prey on a disarmed citizenry.
In the case of seat belt laws, etc, you have smaller trade offs, but trade offs, nonetheless. Oh, okay, so on a long camping weekend, I might have had to do without gum. Or pads, which was at least one reason for one of the trips. Not the end of the world. But there are all sorts of issues. For instance in Portugal the seat belt law discommodes my mother. (Mind you I have nightmares at the idea of riding there, on those roads, with those drivers WITHOUT a seat belt, even if I did it all the time as a kid.) You see, she’s very short and it goes right in front of her neck. I know in the US there are adapters for that, but not in Portugal.
My brother in law died in a motorcycle accident from a tire blow out because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. (He’d just removed it.) OTOH other motorcyclists hate the helmet laws because it cuts out on visibility or whatever. I don’t know. I don’t ride, and it’s not my life. The choice should be theirs.
What I mean is, yes, he died (mind you he would be liked to survive with severe impairment if he’d been wearing the helmet) but other people think they have valid reasons not to wear helmets. And, well, he might have been in a region when a helmet was required, but he’d removed it for a few minutes because he was hot.
To be fair, given the chance, he’d probably rather have died than be incapacitated. (He’d talked about it in the past.) I’d disagree with that choice, but it was HIS choice to make.
The point I’m trying to get at beyond the rightness of any of the actions mentioned is this: laws are not magical formulas. There are trade offs to every human action. Sane people know those trade offs and make a judgment on them without the need of a law to distort them. People who are either insane or outlaws will not care if you have a law.
I’m not going to discuss spanking, for instance. We did it briefly, in a mild form, in limited circumstances, with a child who didn’t respond to other methods of discipline. It might not have been the best thing ever, but at the time it was the trade off we felt we had to make, as rational and informed human beings to both keep our son safe and keep him from hurting others. We never had any wish to beat our child into the ground, and if we’d had it, the law would not have deterred us, because that was already illegal.
We don’t have any intention to go around shooting people, and if we did laws against gun ownership wouldn’t deter us. It’s already illegal to shoot people.
We don’t ride in the backs of pickups, but if we had to because it was the only way to get somewhere, then we’d probably ride with our back to the cab and the back closed and not on the highway. Because we’re willing to risk lower safety, but we’re not crazy. And if we HAD to we’d do it despite the law. If there was a way around we would rather be inconvenienced than break the law. But in either case, we’d not be seriously endangering ourselves.
OTOH the people who want to stand up and shoot rats from the back of a moving pickup aren’t going to be deterred by laws. They’d do it anyway.
Laws are not magical words of power. Passing a law doesn’t mean the extreme form of evil/mean/careless action is going to stop magically.
You might stop/inconvenience the responsible people from doing a mostly safe form of whatever you want to stop. I’m sure if it were today my host father would say “you can’t ride on the back of the pickup, the police might stop us.”
But if he were the kind of person who encouraged his kids to stand and hold on as he sped down the highway? Well, why would the law deter him if potential loss of the kids didn’t?
The law isn’t magic words of power. Saying them will not keep people who don’t care about the law anyway from doing the harsher forms of whatever you’re banning. They’re already doing things that risk life and limb of themselves and others. What is a little legal trouble on top of that?
Teach people the risks and let them make their own decisions.
Before passing a law remember that even the best laws have drawbacks. And that laws only stop the law-abiding.