Taking Precautions When Shaping a Child's Values

34 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2016 Last revised: 17 Nov 2016

See all articles by Scott Altman

Scott Altman

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: November 15, 2016


Parents’ discretion to shape their children’s values is limited both by society’s interests in the people those children will become and by the children’s own interests. This article examines the limits imposed by children’s interests. It uses several examples, including ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel who send their son to a school that does not teach secular subjects beyond an elementary-school level. If the son remains religious, his education will have been suitable. But if he does not, he will be ill-prepared to thrive in a secular society. This article compares the religious parents’ choice about secular education to commonplace decisions about risk and appropriate precautions. On this account, the propriety of the religious parents’ choice depended on how likely their child was to become secular and whether the child would be worse off (from his own perspective) if he grew up to be secular and lacked secular education than he would be if he grew up to be religious and lacked a childhood devoted primarily to religious texts.

The paper considers various objections that might be made by fundamentalist parents who think they need not consider their child’s future welfare from his adult perspective. Among the objections considered is that parents are entitled not to be complicit with outcomes they regard as evil. Unlike much of the literature in this area, the paper does not focus on the value of autonomy. Instead it emphasizes the value of authenticity.

Keywords: Parents' Rights, Children's Rights

Suggested Citation

Altman, Scott, Taking Precautions When Shaping a Child's Values (November 15, 2016). USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 16-34, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2869195 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2869195

Scott Altman (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

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