Last week, a Quebec Superior Court Judge overruled a father's punishment for his daughter. After what the father claimed were repeated misuses of the internet, he finally made the decision to deny his permission for her to attend her year-end school trip. The child then left the home, choosing to live with her mother instead (the parents are divorced), who granted her request to take the trip. However, the school refused to allow her without both parents' consent, so the girl took her father to court.
The father has custody of the twelve year old sixth grade student, and had warned her several times about her internet habits, which included the use of dating sites and posting what her father felt were inappropriate photos of herself online. She was initially forbidden from using the sites, then circumvented the parental controls he installed on the family computer, and finally started visiting the site from a friend's home. The father felt compelled to use a more punitive response, and took away the trip. (Some reports of the story indicate that the "final straw" was an altercation between the girl and her stepmother, but this detail is not widely reported.)
My gut reaction upon hearing this story was that the judge who handed down the decision had been denied a similar trip or activity when she was a girl, since the only logical reason I could think of for a judge to overrule a parent's discipline would be a personal one. I have no proof of that theory, but it still rings true to me days after the fact.
The punishment, while severe in the eyes of a twelve year old girl, is not some form of child abuse or even excessive parental control. From the story, the father tried several times to rectify the problem, and each time the girl challenged his authority or simply ignored his requests. What is interesting to note is that the girl did not leave the house when he enacted the internet restrictions, nor when he put parental controls on the computer. No, it wasn't until he actually found a punishment that worked that she chose to seek assistance from her mother to circumvent him.
In some cases, parents may punish their children excessively, and in those cases, the courts need to step in and protect the children. However, being denied a school trip is not an excessive punishment. It does not restrict the child from any fundamental right, and in the larger picture would not affect her. However, in the short term, she would have grasped how seriously her father felt about her internet usage, and hopefully it would have given her a better perspective on the matter.
Instead, we are left at the top of slope, and the path downward is treacherous. If the courts can say a school trip is important enough to get involved, where does it end? What if a girl wants to go to a party where the parents know there will be no supervision and underage drinking? Or if a boy wants to sleep over at his girlfriend's house but his parents won't let him? Technically, if the decision is upheld, it could become a landmark decision, cited by "maligned" children for years to come.
This will be the last Daditorial post for a while, as I have decided to put this column on hiatus for the time being. However, you can still find me at Tales From The Dad Side.