A Boy In The Balance

Owen Wilson, voice of Lighting McQueen, and the pit crew girls attend the world premiere screening of the Disney and PIXAR movie "Cars" at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 26, 2006 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Ken Charnock/Getty Images) Getty Images/Ken Charnock

Child psychologists and media critics are worried that the high-profile politics of the Elian Gonzalez case may have obscured the fact that a 6-year-old, motherless child is at the heart of the controversy.

As CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, from Elian's first moments in this country, Americas been the land of cameras for the little boy—from his first thumbs-up at the hospital, to the parade for the crowd Wednesday night.

The adults around him have coached and coaxed and never let him forget the photographers.

Child psychologist Robin Goodman of New York University sees a game of tug of war—a game that rarely focuses on what's best for the rope.

"This frenzy that's around him makes him more confused," said Goodman. "What we've done...by doing this...is [set] up an association between a bad event and a lot of attention focused on this child. That's not a good association to develop for a child in their life."

The plight of Elian Gonzalez is about many things to many people: Castro and communism, freedom and fatherhood. For many in the media, Elian is simply the latest hot story.

The arrival of Elian's father in the U.S. with an expected 31-person entourage of schoolmates, teachers makes for high drama but may not necessarily be in the boy's best interests, says Alan Delamater, a child psychologist. "In terms of helping his transition, it may be better to connect with his primary family," he said.

Manny Diaz, an attorney for Elian's Florida family, says the father as well as the Miami relatives have to take the interest of the child into account . "This is not a repossession of a car," he said. "This is a human being that has suffered greatly and the father, I believe, should take into account some of that."

He says the family is concerned about the psychological well being of this child. "They speak to that child every day, unlike the rest of the world, and they hear from that child that that child is afraid "The child is afraid to be back with his father. This is not a political issue. This is a 6-year-old boy that expresses concerns about being with his father."

An interview done on ABC, in which Diane Sawyer asked Elian to relive his trauma, has drawn criticism.

"I would draw the line in terms of an interview with Elian," said Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists.

"It just isn't fair to him to subject to an interview by a journalist who is parachuting in and asking such personal questions about, 'does he understand the loss of his mother' and about whether or not he wants to remain here or go back to Cuba."

In a statement, ABC said the interview was done appropriately and carefully. Indeed, despite the sometimes personal questions, Elian did not appear uncomfortable during the interview.

But Goodman believes that everyonassociated with the Gonzalez case—family, politicians and media—must examine their motives. "What will be very damaging is if these people compete for his affection because of what they want rather than what he really needs," she said.

What's best for boy, Delamater says, is to come to a speedy resolution so that he can come back to a normal existence with stable routines. And it's absolutely critical how both sides handle the transition.

"Right now," he said, "it appears to be a family in conflict and it's really important for them to come together and to think, really, about this child, to try to keep the politics out of it."

They can do this, he said, by talking with one another and, once the decisions are made about his disposition, working together to promote a very adaptive transition

While Elian's feelings should be taken into account, Delamater said, he can't be allowed to make the decisions about his future.

"I think we always need to pay attention to what 6-year-olds have to tell us," the psychologist said. "But do we give it the weight to make decisions about long-term consequences? I think anybody who has a 6-year-old has to look at their child right now, who is just learning to tie their shoes and say, do I allow this child to make a life-long decision?"


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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