Eureka! Breakthrough Study Explains Why We Arrest Moms for Putting Kids in Nearly Non-Existent “Danger”

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Moral Judgement Influences How Dangerous We Believe The Situation Is

America is experiencing a bizarre disconnect between real and perceived danger when it comes to kids. But why?
Why are we arresting moms for putting their kids in “danger” for doing the things our own moms did without anyone batting an eye, like letting us walk to school, or play outside, or wait at home a short while? Recall that just about a week ago a mom was arrested for letting her kids, 8 and 9, wait at the condo for under an hour while she went to pick up dinner.
Well at last, a new study by researchers at the University of California Irvine may have figured it out. “Our fears of leaving children alone have become systematically exaggerated in recent decades – not because the practice has become more dangerous, but because it has become socially unacceptable,” as the University put it in a news release.
In other words: The only socially acceptable mom has become a mom who never takes her eyes off her kids. With that in mind, whenever we see an unsupervised child, we automatically assume the child has a bad mom. And once we are harshly judging that mom, our minds unconsciously judge her “crime” extra harshly, too. We believe it to be more dangerous than it actually is. So it’s a feedback loop: Unsupervised kids have terrible moms, terrible moms endanger their kids.
Remember that viral video of a man shrieking at a mother who let her child wait in the car a few minutes while she went into a phone store — a store with a plate glass window through which she could keep an eye on her kid? The videotaper was screaming as if the mom had thrown her child down a well. Many of the comments were just as vicious — “Shame on that horrible mother” was a mild one — even though the child was demonstrably fine.
But our perceptions have nothing to do with the world actually becoming more dangerous (crime is at a 50-year low), or even the legitimate fear of children getting overheated in a car (moms get yelled at for leaving their children the few seconds it takes to return a grocery cart). Instead, our perceptions have everything to do with our seriously screwed up “moral intuition.”
To test that notion, the UC Irvine researchers Ashley J. Thomas, P. Kyle Stanford and Barbara Sarnecka asked 1200 people to rate how much danger kids were in on a scale of one to ten, in different situations. The only thing the researchers varied was the reason the kids were left unsupervised.
In one survey question, for instance, they presented the story of a child waiting 30 minutes in a car because her mom had been dropping off a book at the library but was hit by a car and temporarily knocked unconscious.
Other groups of survey takers were told the child was left in the car the same amount of time, but the reason for mom’s absence was different: She was working, or volunteering, or relaxing,  or off to see her lover.
While all five groups of respondents felt the child was in danger, the group that judged the danger the lowest was the group told that the mom was unconscious — in other words, that the mom did not MEAN to leave her child unattended, it was an accident.
The groups told that the mom was doing anything else — working, volunteering, relaxing — felt the child was in more danger, and the group told that the mom was having an affair felt the child was in the most danger.
So the perceived danger quotient went up when the respondents felt more judgmental toward the mom.
“People felt it was more immoral to leave a child voluntarily than involuntarily,” Prof. Sarnecka, a developmental psychologist, told me in a phone interview (after thanking me for Free-Range Kids, the site that “made our research possible”). “And once you think only a bad mom would leave her kid in that situation, then your belief about how dangerous it is goes up.”
When the researchers substituted dads for moms in these scenarios, the dads’ work-related absences were treated the same as their unintentional absences: Their kids were perceived at the very lowest level of danger. But when women left their kids to do some work, the perceived danger increased.
Unconsciously we seem to consider moms as selfishly, immorally choosing to endanger their kids by going to work. Working mom = evil mom.
The dad test sample was small. The researchers intend to delve into it deeper the next time around. But even the results of the mom-only surveys seem to show that Americans believe the only decent way to raise a child is with a full-time mother never taking her eyes off her kids. Only June Cleaver types get a pass.
Anyone else — impoverished moms, single moms, moms with big families — are seen as putting their kids in danger simply because they cannot directly supervise every kid every second.
Since many moms do work, and since all moms make daily choices as to when to let the kids wait at home, or in the car, or get themselves home from soccer, this exaggerated idea of child endangerment has very real world consequences. Cops seeing kids at the park think the mom is negligent. Child Protective Services reps hearing of a latchkey kid over-estimate the danger to the child. The result is arrested parents, and arrested development of the kids.
“People are very attached to the idea that they are rational beings,” says Sarnecka. But as the study shows, they aren’t. They are swayed by unconscious judgments. “It would be really great if people could be rational about their irrationality.”
Until that happens, we cannot have open-ended laws that defer to an authority’s spidey sense. Instead, we must insist that a child be in provable danger of immediate, indisputable, statistically likely and egregious harm before parents be judged negligent.
Because otherwise they’ll just be judged, period, especially the moms, and especially the moms with fewer resources. And that harsh judgment will suffice for a verdict of guilty. – L


That mom let her kid play at the park? Grab a pitchfork and let's go find her!

We’re looking for the mom who let her kid play at the park!



Video of the man who confronted the mom who let her baby wait in the car a short while.

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53 Responses to Eureka! Breakthrough Study Explains Why We Arrest Moms for Putting Kids in Nearly Non-Existent “Danger”

  1. Backroads August 30, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Makes a lot of sense. Fascinating how danger becomes so situational and morally relative. Logically a kid left in a car 30 minutes is at the same risk no matter why he was left in the car.

  2. BL August 30, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

    “Only June Cleaver types get a pass.”

    This doesn’t work. The June Cleavers told their kids to go outside and play and come back when the street lights come on.

  3. Reziac August 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    That’s a really good insight. If the reason WHY the kid is unsupervised “matters” — then the whole concept is bogus, because you can’t judge the effect on the kid by the parent’s intent.

  4. fred schueler August 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    This sure sounds like a conspiracy to keep women tied to their kids so they can’t do anything else – I wonder what the response would be if the moms were herpetologists and took the kids out to look for Rattlesnakes?

  5. Anne August 30, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    That’s an interesting study. I’m tempted to test it with some local helicopter moms I’d like to see if their reaction changes if I first just tell them I leave my eight-year-old home alone for twenty minutes and then give my very sympathetic reason that involves meeting the needs of another child. Is the eight-year-old in less danger if I am still doing my mothering duty? Is that more likely to change their reaction in a positive way than hearing that the eight-year-old got dressed, fixed herself a bowl of cereal, packed her snack, and started watching for the school bus?

  6. Sarah M August 30, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    This was so fascinating!! And yet, not really surprising. I think the LEAST surprising thing to me was that dads were judged less harshly. They don’t call it the mommy wars for nothing! I think there is an underlying level of the collective subconscious that says ‘dads are just oblivious, therefore its different than negligent/bad’. Just look at any of the comedy sitcoms or funny commercials. Dads are always the ‘dummy’.

    Sarah M

  7. SKL August 30, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    This was discussed on a forum that I frequent. Some people felt that letting “moral” bias affect our judgment of danger is logical, because a person who would e.g. leave a baby to go see a lover is probably a bad parent in general.

    The problem with that is, most of the time we make *assumptions* about the parents’ intentions and then go on to judge based on those assumptions, which could be completely wrong. Usually the complainer has never met the parent of the kid in the car, until after s/he has made an accusation. So bringing parental intent into this makes no rational sense.

    And even if it is wrong to leave a kid in the car to go see a lover (I agree it is), it doesn’t make sense to prosecute it criminally. It can be dealt with in divorce court / custody hearings. Making it a crime means it’s a crime no matter who does it for whatever reason.

  8. m August 30, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    It’s funny, because children had more freedom when stay-at-home mothers were common. Stay at home moms in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s COULD watch there kids 24/7/365, but instead encouraged them to go out on their own. In elementary school, we spent HOURS on our bikes running around the neighborhood with no supervision whatsoever. During summer, I could easily spend 10 hours a day totally free to explore.

    Now that most women are less accessible to their kids, they are expected to be more vigilant. Is some of it “mother-guilt”?

  9. Workshop August 30, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    I believe there is a lot of data indicating that humans are really bad at judging the real risks of things. This ties to the data that indicates humans are not ruled by logic, but by emotion.

    For example: Donald Trump has made a career of putting together business deals. One would think that if he were “crazy” as he is portrayed, there would be lots of stories from business partners about how insane the man is. There aren’t those stories, so LOGIC dictates that those stories are just that: stories. However, EMOTION dictates that he’s a crazy loon. I say this not to indicate preference for one presidential candidate or another, but to demonstrate logic is not the first thing we use. (Also note that Trump initially used emotional based arguments, and now Hillary is using emotional based arguments. They know emotion [fear] works.)

    There is a similar moral judgement when someone is on the sex offender registry. Our emotion says “OMG pedophile!” when the reality is probably something much less.

  10. Sue Luttner August 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    Fascinating experiment. Thank you for reporting it. I hope they follow up on the father/mother dichotomy relative to working. Every once in a while, you really can figure out a way to measure bias.

  11. Peter August 30, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    I recall a sad real-life version of the research scenario in my area over 20 years ago. A male bank vice president put his infant in the back seat of his car and then made the (extremely rare) mistake of forgetting to drop him at day care. He forgot the child was in the car while he went in to work. It was a hot day. The child was found dead in the car after noon. That same week a lady visited a local casino and left her kids in the running, air-conditioned car for 15 minutes while she went to cash in some chips she found at home. She was arrested. In the press, the bank vice president was treated with “Oh the poor man”. The response to the casino mom was “She should be sent to prison.” Judgy McJudgeface strikes again.

  12. Jess August 30, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    “Now that most women are less accessible to their kids, they are expected to be more vigilant. Is some of it “mother-guilt”?”

    Oh my goodness! This! I’m the working parent and my husband the stay at home dad and, though i know this is what works for us, I can’t help but feel guilt or like people are judging us because I’m not the one home with the kids.

  13. SKL August 30, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    I understand the popular mom guilt argument, but why are officials playing into that? Why the completely non-factual PSAs telling people there are massive dangers that actually don’t exist? (You know, like the danger of leaving your kid in the car “even for a moment.”) And the selective reporting that condemns lower risks while approving of higher risks?

    I am a single working mom, and I have to say I don’t get a lot of crap for that per se. When I do, it’s usually not from the “mainstream.” Well, naturally, considering that working moms are now pretty mainstream. So I’m not sure I buy that argument. I do think it’s more that we don’t expect much from dads. I remember how, in my previous job, dads used to be glorified if they took off work to do stuff with their kids, while moms doing that would raise eyebrows. Dads are not expected to parent much, they need kudos just for trying. A mom is expected to have much sharper instincts and be much better at preventing harm. (And maybe that is justified, I don’t know.)

  14. Qute August 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

    I also find it fascinating that not only has society become so much more judgmental about mothers but that they have also become so quick to call in authorities when their moral ire has been sparked.

    There was mom judging when I was growing up in the 70s and the 80s. The difference was that the judgy-ness was kept to porches and kitchens as a group of snarky, crow women gossiped about other people in the neighborhood and didn’t involve calling the cops over EVERYTHING.

  15. Mary August 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    My 11-year-old son and I were just talking a few days ago about the perception of “kids in constant danger” that we seem to be dealing with these days. We talked about the fact that, in so many ways, kids are safer now than they’ve ever been, not just because of the decreased number of kids snatched by strangers, but also because of better nutrition, better medical care, better safety precautions (seatbelts, helmets, etc.). A kid today stands a much better chance of living a long, healthy life than a child born just 50 years ago.

    So why are kids these days hovered over and watched like a hawk, when 50 years ago, that was unheard of?

    I’m a free-range parent. I let my children do the things that I know they are mature enough to handle. Yes, I’ve had people confront me about it – both strangers and people I know. I don’t let it sway my opinion one little bit because NONE of those people knows my children better than I do.

    My theory for the perception that all children are in constant danger: To me, it’s like our own immune system. There’s a theory out there that allergies in children is increasing drastically because their little bodies don’t have much to fight anymore. We live in a scrubbed-down, sanitized environment, and our children don’t come into contact with all the mud and grime that previous generations did (myself included – I LOVED making mud pies in the driveway after a rainstorm!). The theory states that with the immune system having nothing to attack, it starts attacking harmless things – such as peanuts, for example. (My son has a peanut allergy, so I’m familiar with this one.)

    Perhaps we see an increase in people freaking out over things moms (why is it almost always a mom?!) do with respect to their kids. Not only are there fewer real things to worry about when it comes to kids’ safety, but there’s less to worry about for human beings in general. We don’t have predators; we have better treatments for all sorts of ailments; we live much longer and have much more free time on our hands than our ancestors did by far.

    At the heart of it, we’re bored. We may not think so because we run ourselves to death going here and there, but really, I think we’re bored. We need a “cause,” something to fight for. Voila! Let’s pick on moms and the things they do with their kids!

    That’s my theory, anyway – we praise helicopter parents because, in our bored brains, they’re doing it right.

  16. marie August 30, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    Workshop said:
    There is a similar moral judgement when someone is on the sex offender registry. Our emotion says “OMG pedophile!” when the reality is probably something much less.

    I made the same connection and blogged about it here.

  17. Mark Roulo August 30, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    “I think the LEAST surprising thing to me was that dads were judged less harshly. They don’t call it the mommy wars for nothing! I think there is an underlying level of the collective subconscious that says ‘dads are just oblivious, therefore its different than negligent/bad’.”

    There is also the social expectation that dads are expected to be more risk tolerant with their kids (maybe except for their young daughters?) than moms are. In some sense, part of Dad’s *role* is to allow for more risk than Mom will allow.

  18. Mark Roulo August 30, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

    “Well at last, a new study by researchers at the University of California Irvine may have figured it out.”

    We should remember that the important word here is “may.”

    Psychology studies have a bad habit of poor reproduceability. From Smithsonian Magazine last year: “According to work presented today in Science, fewer than half of 100 studies published in 2008 in three top psychology journals could be replicated successfully.”

  19. Workshop August 30, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    Also, about dads being judged less harshly . . . .
    Don’t forget we’ve had years of media portrayal of fathers being buffoons, of always getting things wrong, of being the butt of jokes on family sit-coms. Go ahead and name a family show where the father is a smart, capable man who puts the needs of his family before his own wants. Since I don’t participate in popular culture, I can’t name one.

    Fathers are judged less harshly because we’re expected to screw up.

  20. EricS August 30, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    “Selective Fearing”. 😉

    These aren’t new to many of us here. But it’s reassuring that science is backing up what we’ve always thought. Rule of thumb for any parent. If it was good for you at that age, it’s good for your kids. You just have to make sure you prepare them, just like your parents prepared you. That’s how it has always been for generations upon generations. Until now. Many parents are veering away from the tried, tested, and true method of parenting. And it’s not working. Kids are more in “danger” now then previous generations. And it isn’t because of crime or dangers out in the real world. But because they are so sheltered these days, they don’t learn to adapt to the world around them. They don’t learn to protect themselves. They don’t learn to see and anticipate things, to prevent the least amount of harm, if at all. That’s like giving a person a gun, and they’ve never held, or fired a gun before. Bad things are bound to happen, because fear and insecurity will be overwhelming for them.

  21. EricS August 30, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    @Workshop: You won’t find any shows in this generation. But in previous ones?

    Leave It To Beaver
    Father Knows Best
    My Three Sons
    Happy Days
    Good Times
    Family Ties
    The Alan Thick Show
    The Cosby Show
    Home Improvement

    And a notable mention to a more recent sitcom (starring Tim Allen), Last Man Standing.

    I also enjoy the fact that there are a couple of recent series that set the time in the 80’s, and pretty much how kids were during those times. Stranger Things (2016), and Dead of Summer (2016). The Duffer brothers (Stranger Things) were born in 1984. And the creators of Dead of Summer where born in the 70’s. And it clearly is reflective in their series.

  22. Ed Vazquez August 30, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    this sounds a lot like Machismo and division of labor by sexes, is the defining moment. In other words women are to stay home barefoot and pregnant. Its all a justification to return to the old, and to condemn hard working moms, as not satisfying that quota. The idea that men should be working and women staying at home is pase! The old fashioned way needs to be discarded, and room for progress needs to be liberated. Men don’t want to let go of their “supposedly” superior ways, and thus need to put down women in whatever capacity they may hold. People grow up! We don’t need to return to the old and antiquated ways so that women can be victimized by a patriarchal system, I’m a man and confident in the women I have the pleasure of knowing, and wish a more level playing field for “all” forms of people..

  23. JPH August 30, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    You missed the most important piece, that the respondees blamed the mother even when her absence was not her fault!

    “people were explicitly asked to rate the morality (rightness or wrongness) of the mother’s actions, and specifically by how they judged mothers who left their children unintentionally. For example, the mother turns away from the child for a moment to return a grocery cart and is hit by a car while doing so. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 meant the mother did nothing wrong, people’s average rating of this situation was above 3. “

  24. A Dad August 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    @Ed, Huh?

  25. Caiti August 30, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Genius study! Love love love it!

  26. Anna August 30, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    “It’s funny, because children had more freedom when stay-at-home mothers were common…
    Now that most women are less accessible to their kids, they are expected to be more vigilant. Is some of it “mother-guilt”?”

    I think this is absolutely the case. The moms I know at my (rather traditional) church are mostly either stay-at-home or employed part-time, and it’s very striking how much more freedom they give the kids than any moms I know in the cultural mainstream. Our kids run around outside the church hall together throughout the social hour (or in bad weather, climb over and under huge, wobbly piles of stackable chairs), and only parents of 18-months-old or younger feel the need to go check on their kids regularly. The kids love it, and I haven’t seen or heard of any serious injuries yet!

  27. Ater August 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    @Backroads, it’s funny you mention that. I’m an entomologist, and I once posted a rant about how helicopter parents were ruining our outings at a park by climbing on the structures with their kids and telling my boys they couldn’t climb a ladder or a slide. In the post I mentioned that I’m usually off looking for bugs. People picked up on that like it was the weirdest, dumbest thing they’ve ever heard. Why are you looking for bugs when you should the entertaining your perfectly competent children?

    Incidentally, I see a lot of parents ignoring their children in favor of phones. At least if I find a cool bug, I can show it to them.

  28. Donald Christensen August 30, 2016 at 6:09 pm #

    ……after thanking me for Free-Range Kids, the site that “made our research possible”

    You started something. It’s catching on in a big way. It is having a huge affect on many people. The number of people (that are hugely affected) will grow into the millions!

  29. Gina August 30, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    I think it’s also because if we don’t do what “she” did, WE are better parents with safer kids.
    That’s the mindset, anyway

  30. Jen August 30, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    @ Anna–
    I wonder if what you are witnessing is because Moms that are home with their kids more are more familiar with what they can handle and what they can’t. Because of work schedules, I see my daughter for an hour in the morning rush and in the evening where we have two hours to get through dinner and nightime routine before bed. Intuitively i know she CAN do things — i did them at her age and she’s a heck of a lot smarter than me. But i haven’t had time to teach her certain things (like laundry – though we are working on it). And, i haven’t witnessed her doing things that i know she probably could do. So…I wonder if mom’s that don’t have as much time to witness their kids in action underestimate what they can do and therefore perceive the risk to be greater. I find myself consciously looking for opportunities for my daughter to try new things on her own.

  31. SanityAnyone? August 30, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    I always thought that the job of law makers was to get the brightest heads together to think rationally, challenge each other’s assumptions and prejudices, and arrive at conclusions/laws that are superior to individual’s reactions. Sounds naive now. We might have a hard time individually overcoming the fear we learn in society, but laws or lack of laws should not exacerbate the problem.

    I’d like to hear more stories where a misguided do-gooder complains and the cop says “the kid is fine and the decision was up to the parents”. No satisfaction is received and the stability of the family is preserved. The complaints would decrease dramatically if there were no exciting payoff.

  32. andy August 31, 2016 at 1:48 am #

    @Jen It could be, I have also noticed that fespite stereotypes, moms with small children who are at home are less safety concious then their husbands. Husbands tend to be the ones who allow less risk – they are less in tune with what kids can do and thus rely more on theories they read.

  33. andy August 31, 2016 at 1:55 am #

    @skl Single mom is different through. At the extreme judgement, single mom who does not work is “welfare queen” while married women who work is “putting career above child”. Different judgement and standard.

    But more importantly, it is probably also that different cities have different culture and people get this kind of pushback from close people more then from strangers – e.g. you would need someone old school in your family or among people you grew up with to encounter that.

  34. NY Mom August 31, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Did the study consider the age of the respondent?
    Really old women–older than the June Cleaver TV generation–had mothers who worked during the War Years and during the Great Depression.
    It is Post War Privilege that shaped the Morality of Judgement Against Women. In days long gone by, women worked and kids fended for themselves. Only rich moms stayed home, if they so pleased. Actually, before the war most folks had hired help to clean and do laundry and raise the kids while mama was free to while away her days in the gracious feminine pursuits, charity work and needlepoint.
    We forget the history of our culture. And the price we pay is animosity toward women.
    We have become misogynous–or maybe we have always been so.

  35. Katie G August 31, 2016 at 7:03 am #

    I avoid spending money with companies whose ads show men as fools (categorically.) The worst offender that jumps to mind was an ad for Stanley Steemer (carpet cleaning) that had a man running a blender without the lid and saying something like “With kids, pets, and husbands, you have a lot to handle…” UGH!!

  36. SteveS August 31, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    Also, about dads being judged less harshly . . . .
    Don’t forget we’ve had years of media portrayal of fathers being buffoons, of always getting things wrong, of being the butt of jokes on family sit-coms. Go ahead and name a family show where the father is a smart, capable man who puts the needs of his family before his own wants. Since I don’t participate in popular culture, I can’t name one.

    For someone that doesn’t participate in pop culture, you seem to purport knowing a lot about it. While I agree that sitcoms use the doofus dad too often, they do a lot of stuff wrong. I am hard pressed to think of any sitcom that realistically portrays anything.

    Fathers get a pass because they aren’t expected to do much parenting. If they do, they are seen as doing something unusual. I know a few families where the mom will occasionally go out with friends and the father is said to be “babysitting.” He isn’t “watching his kids” or “taking care of his kids,” he is doing something that he wouldn’t normally do.

  37. Workshop August 31, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    SteveS, just because I don’t participate in pop culture doesn’t mean I’m not aware of it.

    I don’t use Facebook, but I know it exists, and I know the problems associated with it. Similarly, I know enough to stay away from rattlesnakes even though I’ve never encountered one in the wild and am not a herpetologist.

    Thanks to EricS for pointing out the shows that existed in the past. I’ve seen one episode of Last Man Standing; Lenore highlighted one on this blog about GPS tracking the kids.

  38. Katie G August 31, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    Good point to whoever it was who mentioned being aware of kids’ abilities more when you’re around them more; for a wider lens version of that point, to give further idea, consider how well you know your nieces’ and nephews’ abilities!

  39. Joseph Pinciotti August 31, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Lenore, I think the roots of this are in the oneupmanship of the divorce epidemic. The papers and blogs are filled with accusations flying back and forth between warring parents with the kids in the middle. The courts began to interpret the more helicoptering parent as better, and the standard for home supervision began to change. Combine this dynamic with the era of instantaneous disaster-related “news”, and it becomes unacceptable to blink while your kids are nearby. Of course this only works with one and two kid families, not the half dozen our parents and grandparents had. By the way, keep up the good work!!!

  40. Jim Collins August 31, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    I agree with you Backroads. The risk is the same, but, what is the risk?
    Awhile back there was a 9 year old sitting in a car on a cool evening watching a movie on his iPad. He was in no real danger, but, because the car was in a casino parking garage, while Mom was in redeeming a voucher, it made national headlines. When the local prosecutor determined that no law was broken, it was all swept under the rug.

  41. SteveS August 31, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Workshop, no it just means you rely on others to formulate your opinions. Rattlesnakes acan be dangerous is a fact. TV somehow depicts all fathers as idiots is an opinion. Classic shows were certainly not immune to this and I would certainly not look to sitcoms to realistically depict anything.

  42. Workshop August 31, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    SteveS, there appears to be one show that doesn’t depict the father as a dingbat.

    I’d say the “opinion” that modern television depicts fathers as clueless dimwits is pretty spot on to reality. Which means “fact.”

    And I don’t expect to get reality from television. However, a society is influenced by its media. Advertising, for example. So if a bunch of popular television shows depict fathers as clueless, society moves in the direction of assuming fathers are clueless. It’s the same thing as “OMG predators are everywhere.” We know they’re not, but society has been fed a stead diet of fear, and so that opinion is part of the larger culture. Facts say otherwise, but (as I’ve stated before), facts and reason are largely irrelevant when it comes to humans.

  43. James Pollock August 31, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    “there appears to be one show that doesn’t depict the father as a dingbat.”
    If you’re talking about comedies, all bets are off because EVERYONE is a dingbat at some point. In point of fact, on “All in the Family”, the character actually addressed as “dingbat” was Edith.

    If you’re talking about general TV shows, though, start with “Parenthood”. One of the five fathers was an unprepared man-child, one was an abusive, self-destructive oaf, and the other three were diligent, dedicated fathers.

    The “oh, you poor man! You have no idea what’s involved in running a household” trope is at least as old as Mr. Mom. Claiming that it represents ALL media portrayals of male parenting, however, is silly.

  44. andy August 31, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    @Workshop I dunno, fathers randomly scattered through action and detective movies (I tend to watch) are not dingbats – they are usually in the role of protector. I even remember movie (but not name sorry) where the whole plot was father saving kidnapped daughter.

    Father in Whip It was good guy. Father in Battlestar Galactica is fine (through his son is adult). Fathers in Game of Thrones are no more dingbats then mothers. Men in The Wire were quite good with children – including one irresponsible guy who was good with children but super unreasonable husband. Fathers in Sons of Anarchy are alright fathers if we forget they are sociopaths otherwise. I think that Dan in Roseanne was no dingbat either. Fathers in Good Dinosaur and Finding Nemo were ok too.

    That was all on top of head, without researching anything. I know there are also stupid fathers in movies, but unless you watch entirely different selection then me it is not all that bad.

  45. Workshop August 31, 2016 at 9:49 pm #


    While those television shows may have more competent fathers, they aren’t necessarily family viewing. Certainly not Game of Thrones. Rosanne belongs to a different generation.

    It’s not “every father on television is a fool.” It’s that there is a trend, especially on family-oriented shows, to show the father as a fool.

  46. SteveS August 31, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

    The reality is that women are portrayed as dingbats, promiscuous, and other unflattering stereotypes in sitcoms. These kinds of exaggerated stereotypes make for better jokes, apparently.

  47. SteveS August 31, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    Why are we limiting this to family shows?

    As for shows, the father in the Cold War era, The Americans, is certainly no doofus.

  48. Emma September 1, 2016 at 1:29 am #

    The thing that gets me most about this… it’s probably MORE dangerous for a kid left in a car when the mom is knocked unconcious than when left on purpose for some other reason (e.g., to pop into a shop, etc). In the latter case, the mom left the kid intentionally, and would have made a judgement call about the situation (temperature, type of neighborhood, etc) and their kids ability to handle it. In the former, the mom wasn’t intending to leave the kid for more than a few seconds while returning the cart/library books/etc, and therefore probably didn’t think as to whether the temp was too hot or if there were some shady characters hanging around!! So the kid is left alone for the same amount of time, but in one situation you had a risk assessment, and the other you didn’t – could have been less safe!!

  49. elizabeth September 1, 2016 at 3:47 am #

    On the issue of fathers being portrayed as fools, in the cartoon American Dad, Stan may be clueless, but Francine is a classic portrayal of the “dumb blonde” stereotype. She is just as clueless as Stan. She is also portrayed as overprotective. An overprotective mother who has the IQ of a squirrel is bound to get as many laughs as a dingbat father.

  50. Rachael September 1, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    It’s all a matter of perspective….
    I must say that in watching the video of the mom at the sprint store I am a little upset with her. I don’t care that she left the kid in the car, I do think she should have put the windows down. What I am upset about is that rather than discussing it, she got defensive and told him to call the cops. He was right in taking it to the parent if he was concerned. She has now planted in everyone who watches that video that you shouldn’t confront the parent, because they won’t do anything but tell you to call the cops.

  51. David DeLugas September 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    We must come together and push back, fight back, against Moms being arrested! The Mom in Delaware who was arrested while getting food to-go, her kids were not hurt and not in danger, and, yet, she was charged with “endangering a child” which means her children were (per the statute) “LIKELY to suffer injury!” Will you help us help her and, in doing so, help other parents?

  52. JLM September 2, 2016 at 7:52 am #

    Here in NSW (Australia), the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 states:

    A person who leaves any child or young person in the person’s care in a motor vehicle without proper supervision for such period or in such circumstances that:

    (a) the child or young person becomes or is likely to become emotionally distressed, or
    (b) the child’s or young person’s health becomes or is likely to become permanently or temporarily impaired,
    is guilty of an offence.

    All good as a FR parent – ‘my child is not likely to become emotionally distressed in this situation’ – until you realise that the people making the judgment calls are not judging the likelihood of emotional distress the same way you are.

  53. Lauren H. September 7, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    Ironically, if a mom is leaving a child intentionally rather than accidentally, the mom will most likely have made provision and a judgement that it was safe enough to leave her child in that incident. A mom who has been separated from her child unintentionally has had no such chance, so the child might be in more danger. So, logically, the answers should be the opposite of what testers answered in the survey.