The Ethics of Log Cabins
The arbitrariness of well-being measures: family mealtimes and Facebook enrollment

Teen Sues Parents

By Jonathan B. Wight

This would be funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.

A wildly privileged teen going to a ritzy private school thinks she is owed even more.  So she is suing her parents for neglect.  Fortunately, a judge rejected her claim.

How, oh how, could this entitled young person come to experience real deprivation—not as punishment, but as education? 

In college I once had a long talk with a janitor.  I had seen him reading books of literature in the afternoon in the back of the gym.  He told me that the school paid him for 8 hours attendance and he got his work done in 4, and they didn’t object to his reading.

Anyway, he told me how he raised all his four children.  At a certain age, I think it was about 16, he would give one $50 in cash and put him on a bus for a city a few hundred miles away.  He had to figure out how to live for two days before coming home. 

This forced retreat seems a little draconian, especially given safety concerns.  But I admire the fact that he was trying to get his kids to think about what it means to be homeless, alone, destitute.  Being able to empathize with others is partly about having experiences that enable one to relate.  The young teen suing her parents likely doesn’t have any idea about real neglect, which is sad for her emotional development. 

Adam Smith thought we could supplement our own experiences and expand our moral imaginations with great literature.  It has often been my helper, such as Orwell’s wonderful Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and Liebow’s, Tally's Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men (1967) and many others. 


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