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To be a child is to be at risk, dependent, and without capacity or authority to decide what is "best" for oneself.
To be an adult is to be a risktaker, independent, and with capacity and authority to decide and to do what is "best" for oneself.
To be an adult who is a parent is to be presumed in law to have the capacity, authority, and responsibility to determine and to do what is good for one's children.
The law is designed to assure for each child an opportunity to meet and master the developmental crises on the way to adulthood—to that critical age when he or she is presumed by the state to be qualified to determine what is "best" for oneself. As Jeremy Bentham observed not so long ago in 1840:
The feebleness of infancy demands a continual protection. Everything must be done for an imperfect being, which as yet does nothing for itself. The complete development of its physical powers takes many years; that of its intellectual faculties is still slower. At a certain age, it has already strength and passions, without experience enough to regulate them. Too sensitive to present impulses, too negligent of the future, such a being must be kept under an authority more immediate than that of the laws ....
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