As tales of child abuse are screamed out on the nightly news, pressures mount for a national policy. Adolescent children are taken away from parents who appear “too strict,” and state after state have passed laws on child abuse that include vague provisions for “mental health.” Parents are beginning to wonder exactly where they stand. John Whitehead has done a good job of putting the news stories together with the legal evidence into a book that parents would do well to read.

While eminently useful as a popular tract, Parents’ Rights is not exactly a work of scholarship. This would be no great problem if Whitehead had not been taken into the popular fantasies of Alvin Toffler and Phillipe Aries. With statistical legerdemain Toffler portrays an America in which only 7 percent of the population lives in traditional families. Toffler must live in a strange neighborhood. Of course, a large part of the population is single, some are divorced, many mothers work (mostly part-time) but the doomsayers are absolutely ludicrous. More seriously. Whitehead endorses the common misconception that natural parents are, by and large, responsible for most child abuse. On the contrary, most recent studies indicate that it is stepparents, not natural parents—exactly what could be predicted from evolutionary biology.

Whitehead seems to regard the nuclear family as a fragile creation of modern times and duly cites Aries’ theory that childhood was “invented” sometime after the Renaissance and retails the usual horror stories of ancient infanticide. In fact, human beings, especially women, are programmed to establish families and rear children. There is a variety of family types, although most people in the world grow up in a household where women cook, clean, and sew, and men go out to work and bear the principal authority. Since children represent a kind of genetic immortality, parents are always concerned about their welfare, even though economic circumstances might drive some societies into practicing a selective infanticide on certain newborns. In general, however, parental affection and responsibility are the rule—not the exception.

The trouble with Whitehead’s well-intentioned horror stories is that they cry out for equally well-intentioned legislation, which will have the effect of discouraging parental responsibilities. Families need to be reempowered, which will never take place as long as family advocates accept the erroneous arguments of those who would destroy the traditional family or make it an agent of the state. 


[Parents’ Rights, by John W. Whitehead; Westchester, IL: Crossway Books]