Babies versus science

The ethics of parenting: children vs bugs

A bug enjoying its last moments of freedom. barrockschloss

Holidays are officially over … I can finally catch my breath!

The summer has been a blur of kids, swimming, BBQs and cousins. There were a few days at the in-laws’ holiday house with 10 little cousins - nine aged five or below – and all of the parents camped under a single roof. I think the ratio of laughter to tears was in the right direction, though it was sometimes hard to tell whether the screams were of ecstasy or agony based on the pitch and volume of ear-piercing squeals coming from the rooms.

The three-to-four-year-old cohort of cousins (numbering five across my husband’s family and mine) seem to have all simultaneously become obsessed with bugs – the wigglier and slimier the better! Consequently, it was the first time my role as mother has included ethicist.

As a researcher who has previously conducted experiments involving giving healthy adults hallucinogenic drugs in Switzerland, testing Tibetan monks in India and psychiatric patients here in Melbourne, I am quite well versed in the ins and outs of ethics committees and the need to ensure that the knowledge gained outweighs any risks or harm experienced. I never expected I would be forced with such conflicts on my holiday.

It began innocently enough, with my daughter declaring she had a pet bee as she held up a jar containing a dead fly for me to inspect. Within a few hours the collection had gown to beetles and caterpillars. These poor little guys were having their life squeezed out of them by well-meaning, but poorly-coordinated three-year-old fingers. Then the screaming started as two of the bugs started to attack each other … “GAME OVER!! …The bugs have suffered enough! Everyone outside, lets find a new game!”

In the chaos, baby Max has been a little overlooked. As the screaming and laughing has carried on around him he has learnt to crawl up (but not down) stairs and pull himself up on anything he can hold on to. Of course, as he becomes more and more adventurous and mobile, I need to watch him closer and closer … for his sake as much as mine.

Max at nine months old is starting to get into more and more trouble.

Max is still a very happy kid but seems to hurting himself constantly by squashing his fingers or falling over obstacles. I guess he learns with every new bruise.

With warnings in the media about our generation turning into “helicopter parents,” hovering over our children, protecting them from everything in the world, it is hard to know when to intervene – either for the sake of the children or the world’s bugs. As a scientist I hope my children will always want to explore their world and learn from new discoveries or mistakes.