Lavelle: Parental rights are at crossroads


Greg Lavelle is a Caesar Rodney Institute contributor and former Delaware senator.

In January, Delaware’s Senate Education Committee met for the first time in 2024. One of the bills members discussed was a proposed student loan bill, which would create a “bill of rights” for borrowers and create an “Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman” to handle disputes and report on data received, as the bill’s sponsors don’t believe the private student loan market is adequately regulated.

During the committee meeting, the issue of “brain development and the field of neuroscience” was raised by one of the committee members, Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark.

His comments were: “In this committee, over the last decade or so, especially with respect to early childhood education, we’ve talked a lot about brain development, and the field of neuroscience with respect to brain development has come up with a lot of very interesting and important stuff. … The last part of your brain development is in the sections of the brain that deal with judgment, and we have some of the most sophisticated marketing and loan-servicing actions (aimed) at people who are 18-23 or so, going to college, into grad school, at a time when maybe some of that sophisticated marketing might … be at people who really aren’t quite ready to make some of those decisions.”

As a former young person, father, uncle, friend of parents with children and observer of young people in general, the senator makes a valid point.

Overall, Delaware has passed laws to protect minor children (under 18) from themselves. For example, they cannot get tattoos, smoke, own a gun, use tanning salons, open bank accounts, drive unrestricted until 17 or even go to the dentist or other medical provider without parental consent.

One might think that (as it relates to protecting minor children) legislators would apply the science and logic of a child’s “brain development” across the spectrum of all public policy, but unfortunately, they don’t.

The following are examples of misguided policies and proposals that counter the concerns for minor children and young people:

  • Children who are just 14 years old can get free needles from Delaware to inject dangerous drugs, as well as free naloxone, fentanyl testing strips and condoms.
  • A child under 16 can get an abortion without parental consent by seeking a “judicial bypass.”
  • A child can hide their efforts to change their gender and “new” names and behaviors from their parents, while attending school.
  • Children could vote at 16, possibly limiting the change to school board elections and referendums, if proponents successfully change the law.
  • If the gender-affirming health care bill (House Bill 230) becomes law, a child would be permitted to use drugs and surgery to alter their lives forever and change their gender without having to engage or inform their parents.

Could some Delaware legislators appear more concerned with “sophisticated marketing and loan-servicing actions” than a parent’s right and responsibility to raise and oversee their minor children?

When examining two bills (that concern minor children), some legislators have taken contrasting approaches to validate their support. The student loan bill (Senate Bill 132) emphasizes legislative support for protecting minors based on the developing brain; however, the gender-affirming health care bill potentially allows a child to make life-altering decisions, despite acknowledging their limited cognitive development.

In conclusion, dangerous and sophisticated marketing to minor children “who really aren’t quite ready to make some of those decisions” is rampant in our society and goes well beyond college loans. Think about the abuses and dangerous messaging that rain down from social media and other sources, including special interests who know they can easily sway the votes and actions of those who are captive to their classrooms and other spaces.

Delaware laws and policies should reflect the brain development issues raised by Sen. Sokola. Legislators must put parents and families first, not those who would limit, interfere with and endanger their children with life-altering decisions when their brains and judgment are not yet developed and, therefore, easily manipulated.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.