The laws in a free society, as we were taught in history and civics classes, usually have to balance the rights of its citizens with the protection of a larger group. When such laws are designed to specifically protect children, the debate about personal freedoms vs. government regulations tend to take on greater importance.

Secondhand Smoke, Firsthand Dangers

USA Today recently reported on new studies that found a lot of children are riding in cars and inhaling their parents' cigarette smoke at the same time. Despite warnings from health organizations about health dangers of secondhand smoke, it continues to be a significant health concern for many children.

The Environmental Protection Agency lists secondhand smoke as a "serious health risk:"

"Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke because they are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults, and have little control over their indoor environments. Children exposed to high doses of secondhand smoke, such as those whose mothers smoke, run the greatest relative risk of experiencing damaging health effects."

Health problems include ear infections, asthma, and aggravation of respiratory problems such as bronchitis and emphysema.

The dangers of secondhand smoke have caused lawmakers in several states to pass laws prohibiting smokers from lighting up when in a car with young passengers — laws that have not come without controversy from some parents. Some adults don't appreciate the government sticking its legislation through their car windows and making laws on, as they point out, how to raise their children.

Laws regulating car seats and safety belts in vehicles also deal with the actions of parents within their own car. Do the laws restricting adults from smoking with children present rest on the same principle that some children need the government's protection?

Driving Restrictions for Teenagers

Curfew laws exist in a number of U.S. cities to try to ensure that youth are in homes — or at least not driving cars — past a certain hour. Such laws restrict when young drivers can drive, where they can go during certain hours (such as work and school), and who can ride in their car.

Michigan's lawmakers have regulated all the above with a new law that prohibits teenagers from driving overnight. Last year, accidents in the state resulted in the deaths of several young people. Even though adults who drive are also involved in crashes, and plenty of young people are safe drivers, there are concerns with the maturity behind the wheel and the kinds of distractions several kids in a car can be to the driver. A general opinion was issued by the staff of The Maycomb Daily, a Michigan newspaper, giving support to lawmakers' restrictions:

"But we know, as former teens, as parents and as producers and consumers of local news, that two or more teens in a car are more of a hazard to themselves and to others than just one. The trip is often about fun. Attention to the road is as easily diverted by good times with the friends as by a cell phone or by texting."

This law will probably make life less convenient for teenagers and their parents, and once again fuel the debate on how much regulation is okay when it comes to personal rights and raising children.

Parents, where do you stand? How much regulation is too much, and when should the government step in — or stay out?

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