Failings of ‘parental intuition’

I am concerned by all the irresponsible, selfish and stupid parents of the world. The ones that upon reading this would be moved to comment along the lines of “you’re not a parent, so you don’t know anything” – because that is how arrogant and self-righteous the sort of parents I am thinking of are.


Being a parent does not make you immune from criticism, it does not make you an expert in rearing children and it does not make you medically qualified, intelligent or well informed. It may, however,  make some people more selfish, overly-defensive and irrational. Not only do some parents think that society owes them for having children (I for one didn’t ask them to have unprotected sex), but they also seem to think that their ‘little darlings’ are beyond reproach and any trouble that they get into is somebody else’s fault.

Let’s look at that parental blind spot to start with (since this is the one that impacts upon my life every day at work). Some parents seem unable to recognise (or unwilling to respond to) their offspring behaving in an antisocial or irresponsible manner. Rather than challenge the child on its behaviour they either ignore it or defend it (at times aggressively). Why do they do this? My guess is that the parent is aware that  the behaviour of their ‘little darling’ is a reflection of their parenting skills, so when the child’s behaviour is challenged, that is taken as a personal assault on the parent’s abilities – sometimes eliciting an inappropriately defensive response.

An example of poor parenting made clear by misplacing blame is witnessed in this recent report about a mother who has convinced herself (or has been convinced) that her 13 year old daughter fell pregnant whilst on holiday due to sperm in a swimming pool. Clearly this is a case of extreme biological ignorance covering up regular parental ignorance, compounded by cultural ignorance in the form of urban myth. With a small amount of research/thought it should be clear to the parent that something has been going on; something worrying, like unprotected sexual experimentation; or something very worrying, like ongoing sexual abuse or an isolated incident of rape. Of course, the more cynical among us might suspect that the mother in this case is fully aware that her daughter was sexually active whilst on holiday and is simply trying to get a large cash settlement by suing the hotel, rather than pursuing some hapless teenage holiday romantic or a manipulative paedophile – it wouldn’t be the first time a mother used their child in a money-making scam. Cynicism aside, by misplacing blame she is missing something that needs to be addressed appropriately.

This leads neatly on to my next grudge – irresponsible parenting based on ‘delusions of knowledge’. This is a real corker, where parents sabotage their child’s wellbeing because they honestly think that they know what is best for their child simply because they are the parent. A few examples immediately spring to my mind, starting with those where the parents were directly responsible and moving on to where parental choices were simply bad:

  • The death (2nd degree murder) of Madeline Neuman, an 11 year old girl who died from undiagnosed diabetes, whose parents decided that their faith was better than a trained medical professional. Her father even said at the trial If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God – I disagree, if you don’t go to the doctor you are putting your ill-founded beliefs before your child’s welfare.
  • The death (manslaughter) of Gloria Thomas, a nine month old baby girl who died from infection as a result of malnutition and untreated eczema. I say untreated, but her father is a homeopath and he ‘treated’ her with some magic water. Needless to say it didn’t work.
  • The death of Noah Maxin, an 11 year old boy who died of leukaemia after his chemotherapy was stopped early by his parents and replaced with alternative therapies – despite Family Services going as far as the courts in an effort to ensure the best course of care.
  • The death (2nd degree murder) of Linda Epping, an 8 year old who died from a cancer that was operable, but her parents decided to use a chiropractor rather than have Linda undergo surgery. The chiropractor was imprisoned – but it should be remembered that the parents made the choice.
  • The death of Jett Travolta, a 16 year old boy who died of a seizure. His  parents may have been influenced into taking him off anti-seizure drug Depakote as a result of advice from medical doctors within the Church of Scientology, if anyone can believe such a thing of that organisation.

There are many more examples of parental beliefs being detrimental to children, particularly when the Jeovah Witnesses are taken into account. Of course there are also wider implications entailed in parental decisions about their offspring’s healthcare when the matter of communicable diseases arises.  In this instance there are repercussions throughout society if decisions are made based on ‘parental intuition’. These can vary from complacency about sexually transmitted illnesses (pdf) to anti-vaccination campaigning, which has some historical precedence, but which demonstrably decreases herd-immunity and is largely based on misinformation, bombast and outright lies.  Despite the weaknesses of their arguments, the anti-vax movement is very effective at picking up people by appealing to their ‘parental intuition’ – no doubt assisted by high-profile spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy (a celebrity famous for her extensive training in medicine and epidemiology?). This anti-vax movement is of concern because it directly contributes to the spread of preventable diseases – after all, we know that children are less hygienic in their habits than adults and act as vectors of disease.

Jenny McCarthy Body Count

[widget fail – check here]

Of course, the parents involved in these examples do at least believe that they are behaving with the best interests of their children in mind. They are not the kind of parents who would deliberately murder their own child for their beliefs, as happened to Vandana Niwas a 5 year old girl who was beheaded in a magic ritual in order to grant her father some sons – a ploy that is unlikely to work since he is now in police custody and his chances of breeding again are severely curtailed. This chilling story highlights another thing that I find disturbing (beyond infanticide) – the sense of entitlement to children that many people seem to have, regardless of their suitability as parents or the practicalities of their situation. No wonder the world has become overpopulated when so many people view their inalienable legacy to be determined by the product of their loins. That’s another blog though

17 thoughts on “Failings of ‘parental intuition’

    • It’s amazing how you put 3 and 3 together and make banana. Ranting loads of emotive stuff and then attaching dying children to the end is the sort of thing the tobacco industry does to sell something. A factless piece of tabloid journalism, Murdoch would be proud of you.

      Unfortunately for you most of the parents who decide on the evidence that vaccination is bullshit make an informed choice to avoid it like the plague. It’s the vaccinated kid that becomes a chronic health burden on society.

      • When you say ‘factless’ are you implying that the examples I provide in the post are not real?

        And yes, it is a rant – this is my personal blog and I often find myself needing to have the occasional rant about the gobshites I encounter in life. You can believe whatever you like about vaccination, I really don’t care, I just feel sorry for your kids.

  1. Oh dear, the school holidays are getting to you aren’t they? I suggest a retreat to the walk-in freezer!

    On vaccination: the irony is that herd-immunity is particularly important when there are individuals for whom vaccination is contra-indicated but in trying to get information to the parents of at-risk children everyone hears about it, chlldren not at risk are not vaccinated, herd-immuity is lost ….

    However, I argue it is the medical and political establishment that bears most responsibility for parents refusing vaccinations. The knee-jerk response to media reports of concerns is invariably a lofty ‘we know best’ attitude.

    Basic understanding of risk seems completely lacking where it should be a prime concern. People’s risk-acceptance threshold becomes lower and lower – by orders of magnitude – the less control they feel they have over the risk. With vaccination the risk isn’t even to the self, but to the small being the parent is genetically programmed to protect. It’s no wonder parents are cautious.

    The MMR-autism argument was an absolute gift to the establishment. They had an aunt sally to poke fun at instead of addressing legitimate concerns. The response was particularly disgraceful because of the outright refusal to even consider offering measles separately. But the segueing of measles with MMR was already of concern among more thoughtful parents. Why give baby boys protection against mumps which will run out just as they reach the age when mumps would be a serious problem? What efforts are made to re-vaccinate at age 10, 20, 30? Similarly with rubella in girls.

    When I was at secondary school we were tested for rubella antibodies and only those of us who needed it had the vaccine. But that costs a lot more effort and puts a lot less money into the pockets of the manufacturers.

    • So if you were tested for rubella antibodies and that infers protection how do you account for an HIV test for antibodies showing you have a disease?

      People quote this ‘herd immunity’ thing as if it was a fact. What studies have been done to show that it is not a myth?

      • There’s an area of research called ‘epidemiology’ which addresses disease at larger population levels. Herd immunity models (E.g. can be applied to observed patterns of communicable disease occurrence and vaccination. Other researchers can then observe whether real data fit the epidemiological models for herd immunity (for example Predictions made about the occurrence of communicable diseases in light of changes in vaccination regime are entirely testable and they show that herd immunity occurs. I’ve given an example above, but if you search on PubMed there are plenty of other studies – I don’t see why you are unable to find this information for yourself.

      • Paolo this is a theory, it is disease prediction modelling, it’s how they guess at the weather and it assumes that ‘herd immunity’ is a fact! This is desk top evidence and it means nothing in reality and we all know that mathematical formulae can be tweaked to produce any result. Not impressed really. I want evidence not anecdotes.

      • Yes, it’s a theory rather than a hunch, guess or even hypothesis – which means it has found support from multiple independent lines of evidence (just like Evolution). All of science is based on theories supported by testable observations.

        How one is supposed to address population level effects using RCT’s is beyond me, given the scale of what is being addressed. You need long-term large-scale epidemiological studies. When such studies are conducted they demonstrate that herd immunity occurs (examples: The argument that there are no RCT’s demonstrating herd immunity is a bit like saying there are not RCT’s demonstrating that solar flares correspond to radio interference on Earth – they are simply not a realistic methodology to apply in the circumstances being investigated.

        The mechanisms by which herd immunity arise are still not well understood, but the phenomenon is well recognised (E.g.

        However, since I am not an epidemiologist I’m not sure why you keep badgering me about this. I have plenty of things to do with my time other than researching responses to you and I’m sure there are plenty of epidemiologists out there who would be happy to engage with you on your pet topic. Just because I happened to mention the anti-vax campaign in a blog post I wrote 2 years ago, it doesn’t mean that I now want to waste my time engaging in debate with anti-vax trolls.

    • Kate ‘herd immunity’ is a myth, America has the highest vaccine compliance in the world and its infant mortality is worse than Costa Rica and Jamaica. Recent report:

      Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: Is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity?

      Neil Z Miller
      Independent researcher, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

      Gary S Goldman
      Independent computer scientist, Pearblossom, California, USA

      There are no studies that show against placebo that any vaccine works as they are exempt from RCT trials against placebo. Your assertion that non vaccinated kids are putting others at risk has no EBM to support it as a factual claim so stop repeating myths.

  2. Hey! Where did you get my picture?! I didn’t think anyone saw me holding my kid upside down…

    Parenting- the only job you can get with absolutely no qualifications and no references.

    Plenty of scary and horrendous stories here in Canada about what parents have done to their offspring. Guess that’s what happens when children are seen as merely property and therefore less than human. Although some days, I think my 15 year old is a shade less than human 🙂

    • Gotta love Failblog! I would have taken a photo of some parents letting their kids get away with shitty behaviour at work, but that would be equally irresponsible on my part…

      Maybe a license for parents, based around successful completion of a basic prenatal training course would work… in the UK it could simply feed back into welfare – no license, no child support.

  3. Maybe fine all those people who dont have kids so that when they are old and dying my kids won’t pay tax to support them.

    • Anyway, the childless already pay taxes towards educating other people’s kids and supporting their healthcare – it’s only fair that they get something back. That’s sort of how a healthy society is supposed to function – a long term quid pro quo

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