It looks like the national conversation emerging from the Newtown tragedy is one I've actually been going on about for some time (that's 2008, folks): the acceptability, or lack thereof, of parents writing tell-alls about their own children. Will Baude first made the connection with my "dirty laundry" tag, but it just keeps going.
The issue of mental health in children and adolescents is critically important, and families who are struggling deserve nothing but help, support and understanding. But it frightens me that personal blogs and major media outlets have suddenly become acceptable venues for parents to publicly speculate about whether or not their children are mentally ill.And:
Parents should be the first line of defense to protect their children’s privacy, but sometimes they aren’t. In those cases, children have few avenues for protection or defense. Defamation cases involving minors can be tried in civil court, but because children have no legal standing, a parent or other adult would have to file the lawsuit. Those cases would also be very difficult to prove, since the potential long-term impacts of childhood defamation are hard to measure.And:
So, in the absence of other protections, the media has an important responsibility not to republish gratuitous material that could damage a child’s long-term personal or professional prospects. A few months ago, when I wrote an essay that described my relationship with my fiancé, he had to give his consent to The New York Times (in writing, no less) before they would publish it. Because children don’t have that opportunity, major news outlets need to exercise more discretion. Parental consent is important, of course. But it’s not the only important factor. A child should never be drafted against his will as a public symbol of mental illness and violence, or anything else.The only slight thing I'd disagree with in Keenan's post is her use of the word "gratuitous." Whichever details (an act of near-violence, an arrest, a diagnosis, an especially bratty breakdown or an especially disappointing college rejection) could well be essential to telling whichever story; the "gratuitous" is the identification of a real-life child.
I'm thus going to reiterate my own suggestion that there oughta be a law. Newspapers are going to go on printing these things because everyone loves a parenting tell-all. These things go viral. Nothing like a juicy revelation under the guise of this is a very serious issue someone was courageous enough to bring up. These hyper-public confessions aren't going anywhere.