Nick Hornby wrote in recent years that if Jaws was made today, the movie wouldn't be about the shark, but the little boy it eats early on in the film; his death, the community's reaction to it. That's how much times have changed, to place children at the very pinnacle of society.
In fact, things have gone too far, leading to a sort of mass hysteria regarding the welfare of children. The latest beat-up, led - do I even have to say it? - by the Daily Telegraph is the DOCS mix up. A DOCS worker arrived at a primary school to take a child to a medical appointment. A staff member at the school office confused the child with another girl with the same first name and similar surnames,and fetched that child by mistake instead. The "wrong" child questioned what was going on, the DOCS worker realised the error, and the whole thing was soon sorted out. No harm done and that should have been an end to the matter, right?
No. Apparently the parents of the "mistaken" child are "distraught". (Once distraught used to mean something truly horrendous had occurred. It would be an understandable reaction if your child had been injured in a car crash, say, but over a simple and rapidly resolved mix up?).
The parents in this case are just starting to make a fuss. Already in full swing are the parents of Uriah Vollmer, who was locked in his childcare centre alone after staff went home for the evening. The staff attributed it to a mix up. A regrettable incident to be sure, but no harm was done.
Except that the boy's father, Tim Vollmer, is a journalist at the venerable Telegraph. Again, the term distraught is being thrown around. Once there was a time when the parents would have been annoyed, then come to laugh it off - perhaps shared the story at dinner parties. But Mr Vollmer wants heads to roll. He's demanded to know why DOCS did not immediatley return his calls - this for a child not in any present danger! - and
is calling for judicial reviews. Over a mix up? Have you ever made a mistake at work, Mr vollmer? And I'm sure you're not as overworked and grossly underpaid as a childcare worker.
The pendulum seems to swing the other way though when it comes to parents placing their own children in danger. Cases of parents propping the pool gate open and placing their toddlers at the end of an unprotected wharf at night leading to the deaths of children (and in the latter case, also the father who jumped in to save them) are occasions for "outpourings of community grief", not judicial enquiries. Apparently anything parents do to their own children is okay, but no one else is ever allowed to slip up. Just look at "corporal punishment". In Australia, parents - and only parents - are allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining their children. If smacking is such effective punishment, why aren't carers, babysitters, teachers etc allowed to use it?
We expect other people to take better care of our children than we do ourselves. A sign of that lack of responsibility in modern society? It's all very strange. But surely some sense is in order here. Things go wrong. Even parents don't have to become "distraught" about it all.