I'm sympathetic to most of what Professor Heck says, if we consider things from a deontological or even a consequentialist point of view, where the relevant consequences are external to the agent. Fantasy does not violate anyone's rights, and fantasy that never motivates action will not result in actions that harm anyone. But I think there is a plausible way of looking at things that would still find fault with fantasizing about having sex with children, and that would come from the aretaic (or virtue-theoretic) way of thinking, according to which the primary bearer of value is to be found in characteristics of agents. One who indulges in fantasies about sex with children is doing something that both reflects--and also perhaps perpetuates and sustains--a certain trait of character that we might think is not entirely wholesome or admirable. To the extent that we can regard one who indulges in such fantasies as having a trait of character that is improvable, we might also think that some attempt to eliminate or at least diminish the inclination to indulge in such fantasies would result in that person having some improvement in character. It may be that habituation can only go so far, and that virtue theorists (such as Aristotle) overrate the extent to which one can habituate better character traits, but it certainly does seem that a virtue theorist could find the character of someone who tends to indulge in such fantasies at least improvable, and this way of looking at things does, I think, put a different face on this kind of case than what Professor Heck has indicated.
So there are a few issues to clarify here, but first, a disclaimer: I am not an expert on the law, and will not be speaking from the point of view of interpreting the law.
That said, however, it does seem to me that an "age of consent" is an appropriate legal construct. The idea is that 13-14 year old children have simply not developed far enough, not just morally, but most importantly neurologically, to be very good yet at forecasting consequences of their actions. With respect to issues like sex, it is not unreasonable to think that if young teenagers are not yet capable of forecasting consequences of their actions--by which I mean not just being able to think or say, "I might get pregnant," or "I could catch some STD," but actually appreciate what such an outcome would mean for them--then they are reasonably thought not to have what it takes to give genuine (i.e. morally significant) consent. Of course, many girls that age know about sex, and some even have sexual fantasies. Some, given the opportunity to do so, would also agree to have sex with someone they were interested in. But such understanding, desire, and agreement cannot count as consent in the morally significant way, so long as they are incapable of really appreciating what they are (or might be) getting themselves into in terms of consequences.
This same reasoning applies to age-limits for signing legal contracts, drinking alcohol, smoking products, driving, enlisting in the military, and voting, just to name a few. The age limits are different for some of these, but the basic reasoning is similar in all cases: we think that such activities require certain levels of responsibility about consequences, and we think that below certain ages, it is not reasonable to think that young people can be responsible in the appropriate way.
By the way, I think what you say about boys is simply mistaken. An adult woman (no less than a man) who has sex with a 13- or 14-year old boy would commit statutory rape under the law. The issue is not whether or not 13- or 14-year old children are capable of having sex (physically). I assume most are. But that's not the issue and besides the point, which, again, has to do with being able to manage responsibility.
There is an old saying (I'm told it originates with Kant, but I am not sure about that), which goes, "'ought' implies 'can.'" The idea is that you can only be held responsible or have an obligation to do something (you "ought" to do it) if it is something that is under your control. Do you suppose that emotions (such as love) are under one's voluntary control? I'm inclined to doubt that (with a few reservations, which I will get to momently). But if love is not something that you can voluntarily control, then it makes no sense to say that you have an obligation to love your mother (or anyone else, for that matter).
On the other hand, we do also evaluate people on the basis of how they feel about things, and on the basis of emotions they have and display. We same that some anger, for example, is inappropriate, and we regard most examples of hatred as at least unfortunate, if not contemptible. Does this make sense? I think it does make some sense, in that at least one of the things we value (positively or negatively) in people are their characters, and this includes emotions and such. So does this violate "ought" implies "can"? That seems to me to be more complicated, because while it does seem implausible to say that we can turn emotions on and off like faucets, it also seems plausible to say that the sorts of characteristics we have are at least to some extent the result of things we are able to do--for example, we can train ourselves to improve upon the way we might react to certain things (go to anger management therapy, for example, or biting our tongues when we feel impulses to say things that are cruel or hateful). people who have (or display) bad character may not be able to act any differently at the moment, but it still makes sense for us to hold them responsible for not having done the character-building that would have made them better people who would not have behaved so badly in that moment.
So back to loving your mother. On the one hand, if what you find unlovable about her are her values, it could well be that your reaction is simply the right one. There may be some respect(s) in which one need to respect and recognize the special relationship of parent and child, but I can't see why someone who is a bad person deserves to be loved by anyone, child or otherwise. On the other hand, before you take this as an excuse, you might do some serious double checking on your own values, which are leading you to reject hers. All I can know for sure, if yours and hers conflict, is that at least one of you is wrong. It might not be her, and it also might be both of you!
I suppose the ideal is that love between a parent and a child is sustained quite naturally, and is actually deserved in both cases. But maybe that is not going to be possible in this case. If so, then as I said, there are still some reasonable constraints about how you should respond to your mother (because she is your mother), having to do with civility and respect for her role in your life. There are certain duties and kinds of loyalties that we reasonably expect along these lines (though as I have already indicated, these are defeasible, if those to whom we normally would supply these have violated the ground for such things badly enough--an abusive parent, for example, may reasonably be thought to have lost any claim even on the most basic forms of loyalty from the child he or she has abused). At the very, very least, your mother deserves from you the kind of civil and polite responses you would provide as a matter of common decency.
But I can't help but wonder if perhaps you can do better than this. I don't know your mother or her values that you object to. But I suspect that civil discussion and allowing her to explain those values to you, and why they are important to her might at least allow you to achieve a level of understanding that would allow you to be more tolerant. Tolerance is not the same as love, I agree, but it's a start!
I agree with Professor Smith. The only thing I would add may be obvious and may be something you've already tried. It sometimes helps to have third parties intervene to provide all the facts and arguments you would use to try to persuade your wife to change her mind. Here, your knowledge of who might influence her is useful. Would she trust your family's pediatrician or react harshly against him/her as a member of the 'vaccine conspiracy'? Her parents or yours? Mutual friends? While an 'intervention' would be extreme, making friends and family aware of a serious issue that affects the health of your children (and others) and enlisting their help might make it easier for your wife to back down without feeling pressured to do so solely by you. But should these methods fail, then Prof. Smith's suggestion seems appropriate.
I don't think there is a hard-and-fast rule to give here. Do you call the cops when you see your kid litter? Of course not! Just make them pick it up and give them a good lecture about why that is unacceptable behavior. But if you see them commit murder? Well, yes, then it seems appropriate. If I caught one of my children shoplifting, I would try to come up with a way to make them repay the store--but I don't think I would be supportive if people at the store gave me an indication that they aggressively prosecute every case of shoplifting.
I think our responsibilities change in different relationships. I would also try to "correct" minor misdemeanors (like littering) when done by friends or more distant family members. The worse the crime, the more it seems to me to call for a legal report. But I think we are, in a way, much more responsible for the behavior of our minor children than we are after they have reached the age of majority, and we are much less responsible for distant relatives, acquaintances, and the like. So my own culpability in failing to report some law-breaking is relative to the degree of my responsibility for the behavior of that other person.
Do I call in every case I see of someone speeding past me on the freeway? No. That's not my responsibility. But if I see evidence that they are seriously impaired in some way (weaving dangerously, etc.), well, yes, I would call that in.
I think the only good advice I have to give here, beyond such rules of thumb, is that you exercise the best judgment of your own level of responsibility (to the criminal, to his or her victims, and to your fellow citizens) and of what you can do that is most likely to provide the best available resolution to the situation.
Seems to me your question poses what is known as a false alternative. I see no reason why a parent cannot help to inform a child about gender norms, so the child can understand these norms, while still making clear that such norms are really not necessary, not appropriate, and stifling. Don't we try (well, those of us who are decent folks, anyway!) to do the same with racism and other forms of prejudice?
As someone inclined to virtue theory, I am not really very sensitivee to sorting out claims of "rights." Is it a "natural right" to reject one's background? Weird question!
Instead, let's ask whether it is a good thing to reject one's background, just because it is working class. If being from (or in) the working class is not a bad thing, then rejecting anyone (especially one's own family members) for being in or from that class seems like it is a bad thing. Rejecting one's own background sounds on the face of it to be a kind of self-rejection--can't say I find that something I wwould generally recommend.
Of course, some backgrounds do deserve to be rejected--those involving abuse or violence, for example. But just because a family is working class? I don't really see that as a good ground for rejecting one's own past and family!
I suspect there may be other factors at work here--some a bit more complicated. "Working class" may also be a kind of code for a set of values that one becomes uncomfortable with, for example. Depending on the nature of those values, there may actually be good grounds for leaving them behind. On the other hand, it may betoken too much value being placed on material wealth, which is certainly not by itself ennobling (as too many recent news stories confirm)!
I do not think we have a right to expect prominent adults who do not represent themselves as role models to serve in that capacity, or to be held responsible for failing in that capacity, when they do.
To take a very controversial recent example, Tiger Woods became a celebrity because he is extraordinarily good at golf. He did allow and encourage that celebrity to be constructed into a highly marketable persona for endorsements and advertisements, and for these, he did take on a certain responsibility to behave in certain ways--or at any rate, not to behave in certain other ways (and I am sure that, as a matter of contract, his responsibilities were stipulated clearly). In failing to live in accordance with these quite legal stipulations, many of those who had contracted his services or used his name have now decided to hold him responsible for some things he has been discovered to have done, and many of his most lucrative contracts have thus been revoked or not renewed. But he is still, we assume, an excellent golfer, and just because we may not approve of his (now admitted) infidelities to his wife, it would be wholly inappropriate not to allow him to continue to play golf professionally, lest some of our (golf-admiring) children decide they would like to become "like Tiger."
The processes by which society singles out people to serve as role models for children is not (or at least mostly not) under control by those who are thereby represented as such. It makes no sense to hold people responsible for that which is not under their voluntary control. Insofar as Tiger Woods or anyone else does voluntarily seek to be identified in such a way, then we can fault them for their violations and seek to remove them from the list of those we regard as role models. But if this particular case or any of the many others like it haven't already proven the point for me, it should by now be seen as simply obvious that, as a society, we are doing an extremely poor job of identifying people as role models for our children. Highly successful professional athletes are credible as role models of being highly successful professional athletes. So unless being a highly successful professional athlete is our highest aspiration for our children, to use such a person as a role model is obviously foolish on its face. But it is our own foolishness, not the athlete's (unless, as I said, the athlete voluntarily promotes his or her own image as an example of a good role model for other more important aspects of human life).
Just three quick afterthoughts, to add to Nicholas Smith's and Jyl Gentzler's wise but perhaps slightly daunting words.
First, remember most teenagers do survive just fine (with a bit of a close shave here, and an emotional storm or two there): it is our burden as parents to worry far too much. So when your daughter tells you to lighten up, she's probably exactly right!
Second, in any case, the big things that matter -- like your daughter's level of self-esteem, her self-confidence, how she regards men, and so on -- were shaped years ago. It's too late to do very much about them, and being over-protective won't help one bit. So the best thing you can do now is to be positive and supportive in her next phase of growing up.
And third, to get back to the question originally asked: is it wrong to let her go out? Well, how could it possibly be wrong, if she's an ordinary girl wanting to do ordinary things? I can't see any compelling moral principle that has that implication. So just set some sensible ground rules and insist they are stuck to ... and enjoy watching her become a young woman.
First, I would advise you to let go of the shame you feel for what you thought or said when you were younger. We can all look back and wince at such things, but this is part of growing up and (we hope) gaining some wisdom along the way.
I, for one, do not admire what you call "the child's purity." I think I understand what it is in children that you refer to here. But I do not find such "purity" (AKA innocence or ignorance) admirable--after all, it is not something they have achieved with effort, and the older they get, the less charming it will be, if they don't "lose" this "purity." It is just part of what it means to be an immature child--and we can understand how this can be spoiled, in a way that is damaging both to the child and to the adult the child will become, if this "purity" is taken from them too soon or too harshly. So we value it as an important part of what it is to be a child. But that is not the same as admiring it.
What is good for a child, then, is not the same in every case as what is good for an adult. Both phases can be good in their own ways, but these are not in every aspect the same: childish ignorance, for example, is usually a bad thing in an adult and that is why we value the education that helps us to have more mature outlooks and make more mature judgments in the adult world. Because there are endearing traits that go with being a child, why should we not take joy from seeing these traits in them? From the fact that we do so, it does not follow that the traits we cherish among adults have to be the same as those we enjoy in children, or that the way we value childish traits in children shows instability in the way we judge adult values.