Big Sister
June 26, 2001

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I was leafing through the paper the other day. The first three pages, or so, were devoted to the revelation that Jim Jeffords had suddenly become an independent after twenty plus years of sitting on the fence. I believe that I took a certain amount of pride that 67% of Vermont's legislative representation in Washington are no longer affiliated with a political party. Independence is, after-all, the lynch-pin of what Vermont is all about. Then I turned to page four of the paper. That started me thinking...

At the bottom of page four was a short article that read, "House Bars Teens From Piercings, Tattoos."

Now, I'm the parent of a teen and a pre-teen. Being a parent is hard work, full of tough decisions about tough issues. I suppose I should thank the Legislature profusely for taking me off the hook. Now I don't have to rationalize the decision to ban my children from getting tattoos, because I have the law on my side. I should be grateful to the State of Vermont for having my children's best interests at heart in enacting yet another law that makes my job easier.

We've been getting a series of laws like that from Montpelier recently. They've managed to wrangle with tough issues like teen smoking and drinking in recent years, really cracking down on those kids. It makes me feel all warm inside. Thank you.

The wonderful thing about this new law is that it closes a loophole that was especially problematic: the notorious "Parental Permission Required for Minors." This is a relief, since having to say no to my children creates an atmosphere of disharmony. Now I can safely say yes to almost anything, and shortly will never have to say no to anything. I can simply say, "It's illegal." To this significant body of legislation, I'm hoping that the legislature will enact new legislation requiring the filtering of cable television to homes with children under 18, allowing only Nickelodeon, Disney, Discovery and ETV. I'm also hoping for legislation restricting teens from driving until they're 21 and punch-cards for fast food restaurants, allowing children to be fed there no more than once per week. I'm sure that some legislators will be drafting bills to that effect over the summer.

These bills may appear to be well-intentioned. Closer scrutiny, however, does not support this.

I was initially supportive of the teen smoking law, until I discovered that it is a civil law, not a criminal law. This means that a well-meaning citizen can file a written affidavit reporting an under age smoking offense and it is left to the accused to prove their innocence. It's no deterrent; nicotine is a powerful addictive drug. It's a law of harassment, levied by short-sighted folks who wanted to make a gesture that they were doing something.

Likewise, the piercing/tattoo ban may have seemed like a good idea. I have a hard time understanding how restricting them from getting these things done at a licensed establishment is going to improve the health risk. I have a vision of bottles of alcohol, India ink, and safety pins in my mind.

The thing that most makes me wonder is that this trend toward restrictive laws is being driven by folks who I may have run into during my wanderings through the 60's and 70's. It strikes me that a whole generation driven by independence from the more stringent moral standards of post-war America is suddenly discovering the error of their past ways and trying to reverse this trend through passing a whole new series of Blue Laws.

The main difference between teens of thirty years ago and teens of today is that we had something to believe in. Kids today don't really have that. There's nothing much to rebel against - no War, no pollution, no dress codes, no racial and sexual inequality. Daley and Nixon are dead, and haven't been replaced.

So maybe all this has an upside. Maybe our kids will get fed up with all of this and rise up and rebel against it. I hope so. I'm getting tired of saying "No" to them.

Jim Bennett


JH, Baltimore, Maryland: Bravo, Jim! Many times, legislators pass laws merely as a means to prove their "worth" as those we have elected to office. Too seldom have they proven this worth through actions that make complete sense. Half-sense, as I see it, is a means to appease, and does so for the silent majority. However, there is a crying need for "watchdogs" who can spot the manure and first side-step it, then, clean it up. Although I've always valued your opinion(s), I've not always had the chance to publicly show my [affection] for your insightful words. Keep at it, Jim... I shall call you my "Voice in the Wilderness", henceforth!

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March 21, 2009