Moral Dilemmas for Parents

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr Google

    A moral dilemma is a circumstance when you are faced with two or more choices based on your principles and you can only accomplish one, forcing you to accept a moral failure, according to the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Parents often face moral dilemmas when raising children. They desire to do what is best for their child, and their decisions could conflict with the opinions of medical, educational or psychological professionals.

    Who Chooses?

    Parents have the moral and legal right to make medical choices for their children. However, sometimes parents make choices that medical professionals don't agree with, according to authors of a study published in the September 2004 edition of "Bulletin du Cancer." Parents could desire that everything be done for a sick child when medical professionals believe that no treatment will improve the child's outcome and only cause more pain and suffering. On the other hand, parents could refuse treatment such as a blood transfusion or cancer treatment because the treatment violates their religious beliefs. Pediatrician Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, writing at the Pediatrics for Parents website, expresses similar concerns about parents who refuse vaccinations because they believe the vaccines pose more risk than benefit. In the end, parents often win the battle over choice if the health care provider cannot convince the parent to follow the course of recommended treatment.

    Education Choices

    The desire to see your child succeed academically sometimes can lead to a moral dilemma. Perhaps you help your child finish her science project the night before the science fair and let her turn the project as her own or correct her homework before she takes it to school so she gets a higher grade than the one she deserved. Cheating will almost always come to light if the child fails to take academic responsibility for her work. Rather than rescue your child and delay logical consequences, let your child fail when the consequences are less traumatic than failing to graduate or dropping out of college. If you want the best outcome for your child, insist that your child take responsibility for her academic success through better organization and more effective study habits.

    Teen Choice or Parental Choice

    As a child ages and matures, the parent could insist on making choices for the child that could be made by the child. If the child has a terminal illness, the parent could withhold the information to keep from scaring the child or because the parent doesn't believe the child has the maturity to make the choice. The Oncofertility Consortium at Northwestern University writes about a teen who was not told her cancer therapy would render her infertile or that she could delay treatment in order to bank her fertility for later use. Parental fears for the life of the child could lead to a decision that the minor would not agree with if the child was given the choice. Health care workers could provide a more objective opinion in advocating for a teen before he reaches the age of legal consent.

    Privacy or Supervision

    Many parents feel they have the right and need to invade a child’s privacy if they suspect the child is behaving irresponsibly with Internet access or cell phone use, according to licensed counselor and teen minister Sandi Black. Invading the child’s privacy can destroy trust between you and your child, especially if your suspicions are wrong. However, if you’re right, it can help you intervene and get the child some help. Talk to your teen about your concerns and make it clear that you want to trust your teen, but you also feel a responsibility to maintain certain limits. Explain, "I want you to friend me so I can see what you post on social media and I might randomly review your cell phone and Internet history. I want to trust you, so help me see that you are worthy of that trust," suggests Black.

    About the Author

    Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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