Foster care vs. “The Village” 4/25/08
As news continues to develop about the removal of over 400 children from a ranch operated by a polygamist religious sect in Texas, I’m being asked what’s worse for the children, life in the foster system or life on the ranch. It’s a good but complicated question, and each of the children deserves to have an individualized custody evaluation before a judge ultimately decides. In any custody determination, the best interests of the child(ren) should be the deciding factors (see my previous post, “Child custody evaluations,” for a rundown on the procedures involved in such assessments). As a child custody evaluator, I can tell you that, in general, being separated from their parents is likely to be traumatic for the kids, at least in the short term. You have to keep in mind that life on the ranch is the only life these kids know, so they don’t know how nutty their parents are, they just love them. Even children who are profoundly physically abused by their parents experience separation anxiety when they’re removed from their parents’ homes. On top of that, the households into which these kids have been transplanted, while far more normal to us, probably seem to them almost like households on some other planet. Having said all that, raising children in an environment straight out of “The Village,” to me, is abusive. First, there’s the obvious fear that the girls will be subjected to sexually abusive practices under the guise of religion. In addition, as you know if you’ve read this blog or have watched me on t.v. enough times, I believe that every person’s purpose in this life is to take the unique gifts, talents, and abilities with which he or she is born and develop those as fully as possible. Just watch some of the footage of interviews with women who live on the ranch — they’re so zombie-like, almost catatonic, that they make the “Stepford Wives” look spirited! In this case (again, generally speaking, with possible exceptions such as children with special needs), I believe that the children’s chances of developing as human beings to the fullness of their potentials is limited so severely by the culture of the ranch that the negative effects of being separated from their parents are probably outweighed. In the first few years of their lives, the effects of the ranch environment may not be very detrimental as long as their parents are caring and attentive, but as the kids enter the most formative years of their personalities, it saddens me to think about the limiting effects of that environment on them. The parents probably would argue that their kids are better off on the ranch because they’re not exposed to all of the negative influences of our popular culture, which also concern me, but as I see it, the only place the kids have any hope of achieving their full potentials as human beings is outside of the compound, imperfect as that outside world is. In my opinion, it’s similar to a situation in which a six-year-old with pneumonia is in critical condition, and his parents refuse to take him to the hospital for treatment, choosing instead to rely solely on prayer for his recovery. If the parents want to rely on faith healing for their own health, that’s fine with me, even if it endangers their lives, but a minor child is not competent to make that decision. Once he’s 18, if he’s into the faith healing thing, fine, but until then, our society has to defend its most vulnerable members, its children, from neglect as well as abuse, which in my opinion means we remove the kid from his parents’ care and get him to a hospital stat. In the case of this nutty ranch in Texas, if the kids grow up and choose to live there at the age of 18, I’m far less worried about it, but until then, they’re too young to make that choice, and I think it’s abusive. That’s my opinion as a psychologist. Now, as a lawyer, I can tell you that parents have wide latitude in this country to raise their children as the parents see fit. Therefore, unless the state can show that an individual child is likely to be physically or sexually abused or exposed to other crimes on the ranch, I’m afraid there’s a good chance that the child will be returned to his or her parents. That’s why the DNA testing that the judge has ordered is so important. In the case of a six-year-old whose real mother is 18 or 19, the sect’s leaders could send an older woman to court claiming to be the child’s mother, in order to conceal statutory rape and or polygamy involving the real mother. Exposing such criminal practices on the ranch will be key to overcoming the presumption that a child should be raised by his or her biological parents when possible and to ensuring, at the very least, that there is ongoing monitoring by guardians ad litem (independent adults appointed by the court to look out for the kids) of any children who return to the ranch. It’s a very sad situation all around.
Akon a con, not an ex-con 4/21/08
This is just a funny follow-up to my post “Of hip-hop and hippies” from last summer. Fans of hip-hop artist Akon apparently feel betrayed because it’s been revealed that Akon has embellished — no, not his resume — his rap sheet! Akon apparently billed himself as a hard-core ex-convict when he’s only had a few beefs that are relatively minor, and this apparently has fans up in arms. So the dude’s not a criminal, at least not a big-time criminal, and people feel ripped off? This is shocking — I thought hip-hop was an uplifting movement that was all about pulling yourself up and out of a drug-involved, criminal lifestyle. Maybe it’s like that “Million Little Pieces” book that turned out to be a fraud about overcoming drug abuse — people not wanting to hear about the lifestyle from someone who hasn’t really been there. Either that or hip-hop fans really do like the glorification of drugs and crime and now see Akon as a poser. Hmmm, wonder which it is? (And believe it or not, I actually like a couple of songs featuring Akon — at least I did until I found out he’s not a real “g”!)
More “Girls Gone Violent” 4/20/08
So after two more graphic videos were posted on the Internet in recent days depicting teenage girls beating other girls senseless, people have been asking me for my take. Unfortunately, girls going violent has become a routine enough occurrence that all I have to do is refer people to my two previous posts on the issue, “Isolated incident or sign of bad times?” and “More signs of bad times?” and just add the obvious: that these are not isolated incidents in my opinion — they’re clearly signs of bad times. Along those same lines, if it seemed like deja vu this week when one of Dr. Phil’s producers bailed one of the perpetrators out of jail to appear on Phil’s show (only to have the episode canceled when news got out that he had played the “get out of jail free” card), it could’ve been because you recalled his attempt to insert himself into the Britney Spears chaos earlier this year and/or because you recalled reading my previous post “What was Dr. Phil thinking?” right here.
Sorry I’ve been a.w.o.l. for a while — I’ve been caught up in some of the t.v. coverage and festivities surrounding K.U.’s N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championship this past week, and this post was inspired by something I overheard during the championship game. But first, I have to give credit to the tens of thousands of K.U. students who jammed the streets of Lawrence after the game with very little damage done to property in the area. We were all set to do a t.v. piece on how crazy people’s behavior can get in situations like that (i.e. the insanity of “celebrating” by being destructive, especially of your own campus, town, etc.), but there wasn’t really any bad behavior worth covering. I’m usually not happy about not doing a piece, but in this case, it’s fine with me! Now, here’s what I overheard: one student telling another student about taking a friend’s Adderall (a psychostimulant medication for “A.D.D.” or “Attention Deficit Disorder”) in order to stay awake and alert while drinking adult beverages from 7:00 a.m. on the day of the championship game through the massive street celebration that lasted well into the wee hours of the following morning. Ok, so we did have some insane behavior on game day — just not so much in the streets! I believe that college students abusing one another’s prescription drugs is a rampant and underreported problem on campuses across the U.S.A., and the medical profession isn’t helping by dispensing unnecessary drugs like candy. First of all, in my opinion, far too many college students have psychostimulant prescriptions like Adderall and Ritalin because they are misdiagnosed with “A.D.D.” by general-practice physicians who want to appease their patients and don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to psychological diagnoses. I see it as a part-time university faculty member every semester — students who supposedly have “A.D.D.” and take psychostimulant drugs but clearly have the ability to focus their attention when they want to. As I see it, if you can focus on a video game, or a movie, or a sporting event for hours on end, and the only time it’s tough to focus is in class, then there’s nothing wrong with your brain, unless laziness and lack of self-discipline are now brain disorders. Maybe we should rename it “D.D.D.” or “Discipline Deficit Disorder.” Another indication that many college students who have psychostimulant prescriptions don’t need them is the fact that they give or sell the pills to their friends, often for recreational use, as I overheard last week. For those students, “D.D.D.” could stand for “Dumbasses Doing Drugs.” Did these people learn nothing from Heath Ledger? There’s a reason why a prescription drug requires a prescription — because it’s likely to hurt you if you take it improperly or when you don’t need it! In my opinion, the medical profession needs to get far more conservative about how it’s handing these drugs out to college students, and the students, who are supposed to be at least partially educated, need to wise up and not start taking them unless a licensed psychiatrist, after a thorough psychological evaluation, has found a true brain abnormality for which behavior changes cannot fully compensate.
P.S. While we’re on the subject of D’s, as I predicted, the third member of “The D Team” (see my previous post with that title), U.S. Marine Corporal Ceasar Laurean, has been apprehended. He had fled to Mexico after the murder of his pregnant mistress, also a U.S. Marine.