(Tom Toles)

There is a treehouse controversy in Washington and it has generated a frothing debate about the war on children. And it is part of that war. But, of course, not the way everybody thinks.

First, this is not mostly a debate about children. Neither is it a debate about treehouses. It is actually an argument about zoning. An argument about a war on children is a lot easier and more fun than an argument about zoning. A zoning argument can’t be won philosophically. The closest you can come to an ironclad principle on either side is to say there should never be any zoning at all because of absolute property rights. This is fine until somebody starts building a hog-waste storage pond on your property line, and then all of sudden it’s “there need to be some limits.” And once you’ve said that, it’s merely a matter of what the neighborhood can agree on.

But this particular treehouse is being cast as a prop in the war on children. And here’s how it’s that. Assuming the facts are more or less accurately presented here, the parents are teaching the children some bad lessons. That parents can flout the rules when rule-flouting is for their own kids. You’re special, you know, more special than other people.

But the real war on children is represented by parents building a treehouse FOR their kids. Treehouses, for those who want to romanticize kids’ rights and rambunctiousness, are something KIDS BUILD FOR THEMSELVES. You want a playhouse or a fort or a pretend castle? Fine. Build it. If it’s in the neighbor’s yard or some other precarious spot, be prepared to have it come down. But do it yourself, and learn your own lessons as to how building materials and the world respond to your efforts. These are temporary structures. Sometimes very temporary.

A semi-permanent parent-built treehouse is just another part of the war of parents taking kids’ genuine exploratory and autonomous play away from them.