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Our Assessment of Parents Is More Informed by Moral Judgment Than Actual Risks


One of the biggest challenges for today’s parents is figuring out how much freedom to give their children. The range of permissibility, flanked by overbearing on one side and negligent on the other, is narrow and subject to change at any moment. One’s peers may consider hand-holding, and its many age-appropriate equivalents, compulsory in one scenario and excessive in another. The same goes for leaving children unattended, which can be perceived as everything from character-building to dangerous, depending on the particulars.

What makes this all the more complicated for parents is that outside assessments of parenting choices tend to be fueled more by moral judgment than empirical assessments of assumed safety risks. There’s no evidence that today’s children are less safe than children of past generations who were generally afforded more freedom by their parents—if anything there’s some evidence that they are safer. Nevertheless, today’s parents are being chastised, and arrested, for hands-off parenting choices that were once considered kosher.

A recently published study examines the relationship between perception of risk and moral outrage, and found that moral judgement heavily clouds our assessments of risk in the parenting choices of others. “The less morally acceptable a parent’s reason for leaving a child alone, the more danger people think the child is in,” the study’s authors write.

In order to determine this, developmental psychologists Ashley Thomas and Barbara Sarnecka and philosopher Kyle Stanford, all from the University of California, Irvine, devised an experiment for which they made up six stories about parents leaving children of various ages unattended for various periods of time and asked their 1,500 participants to rate both safety risks and the morality of the parents involved. One story features a 10-month-old named Olivia who is left alone for 15 minutes to sleep in the car in a cool underground garage. Another features Susie, 8, who spends 45 minutes alone at a Starbucks one block away from her mother. In order to determine the effect of moral judgement on the perceived safety risk, the experimenters varied the reason why the child was left alone. Possible explanations include: unintentional, so the parent could work, so the parent could volunteer, so the parent could relax, and so the parent could have an affair.


Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine

On August 16, 2016, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) made another step in the intimidation and silencing of Ukrainians with dissenting opinion – SBU searched the apartment of Myroslava Berdnyk, a popular blogger and political writer who openly criticizes the post-Euromaidan authorities and exposes Ukrainian nationalism. She was detained for interrogation and later released.

As with many other Ukrainians who refuse to join the anti-Russia crusade of the government in Kyiv, Myroslava Berdnyk now stands accused of undermining the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.
Myroslava’s case is particularly significant and important because she is the daughter of Oles Berdnyk, a famous Ukrainian dissident who spent many years in Soviet prisons who was also a famous writer, writing many science fiction novels.

Oles Berdnyk was a big dreamer, who dreamed of a common world, based on cultural, spiritual, scientific values that transcended political, social, ideological and confessional differences. He was also a doer. In 1989, he founded Ukrainian Spiritual Republic, a free association, a fellowship of Ukrainians all over the world. Scientists, artists, writers, enterprises and collective farms joined his Republic. In July of 1990 at the World Assembly of Spiritual Ukraine, over 100,000 delegates came to the town of Kolomyia in Western Ukraine. Oles Berdnyk was touring Ukraine, talking about love, harmony and humanity’s common responsibility to preserve the Earth. Conference rooms and halls were full. People stood in hallway listening to Oles and his ideas of ecologically responsible evolution, which were incorporated into the principles of the United Nations Environmental Program.

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