By Stephanie Gibson
A friend observed recently that my neighbor sure knew how to suck the fun right out of a Slip 'N Slide as she yelled at her kids: "GET IN THE SHADE! MOVE OUT OF THE WAY! NOT TOO FAST!"
So much for fun in the sun! Sadly, my neighbor isn't alone in her tendency to drain the joy out of increasingly few opportunities for innocent childhood fun.
If one so-called watchdog group has its way, the trinkets in McDonald's famed Happy Meals will join an ever-growing list of childhood pleasures that have gone the way of the dodo bird, forced into near extinction by lawsuits.
It's becoming a rare sighting indeed to see a slide or a real swing set in a public park these days. All these childhood favorites are vanishing because of lawsuits.
In this latest foray to stomp out simple pleasures, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) claims that the toys in McDonald's Happy Meals are making America's kids obese.
Make no mistake, childhood obesity is no joke and serious efforts underway to curb our nation's weight epidemic are appropriate and well-placed. But eating at fast food restaurants – or allowing children to eat at these establishments – is a parent's choice and a matter of personal responsibility.
Federal legislation that requires restaurants to publish nutritional information about their fare is also appropriate so people can make informed choices.
Even so, in a recent statement to the news media, the head of CSPI said, "At some point parents get worn down. They don't always want to be saying 'no' to their children. We feel like an awful lot of parents would be relieved if this one pressure was removed from them."
Wow. What a frightening thought: Suing our way out of responsible parenting.
Imagine the headlines:
"Watchdog Sues Neighborhood Association: Too Much Fun Made Kids Late for Dinner"
"Watchdog Sues Video Game Makers for Creating Kid-Sized Couch Potatoes"
"Watchdog Sues Superstore for Offering Too Many Kid Choices"
In this world, parents should have no fear the next time their kid gets the "I wants" at the store; they could always sue to avoid having to say "no."
Telling children "no" is a critical responsibility of parents charged with shaping contributing members of society out of these little people.
My father jokingly says my children were born like cavemen and it was my job to make them civilized. He was only half joking.
Children who hear "no" learn about boundaries, safety, self control and values. When kids don't hear "no," the entitlement epidemic that fuels our lawsuit-happy society continues.
With so many willing to play the blame game, the "somebody's gotta pay" attitude is pervasive.
Too many people have abandoned all semblance of personal responsibility and replaced it with a warped sense of entitlement.
Responsible parents make choices for their children. They may not always make the right choices. But parents who embrace personal responsibility own their choices and their consequences.
If we've arrived in a place in time where junk lawsuits are the only way to curb junk food intake, we're in real trouble.
Instead of trying to sue away temptation or litigate out of parental duties, we should be focusing on ways to accept personal responsibility and instill these values in our kids.
Stephanie Gibson is executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.