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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Should feckless parents be blamed for their children?
The government is placing blame for mounting youth crime on "feckless" and violent parents.
Education Secretary Estelle Morris will give a speech to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers on Wednesday that blames bad parenting for the "cycle of disrespect" in children.
Estelle Morris will request local authorities to make use of existing powers to combat rising lawlessness among children. Parents of regularly truanting or disruptive children will be forced to attend parenting classes or be fined up to £1000.
Prime Minister Tony Blair says there is no doubt that children's behaviour has deteriorated over the last 20 years and Ms Morris wants to "put teachers back on the pedestal" to exert better discipline and improve behaviour.
Is the government evading responsibility for increasing crime levels? Are parents to blame for their children's behaviour? Will prosecuting parents improve discipline?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I'm not advocating chaining the woman to the washing machine, I'm saying that a child needs a lot of love and time from one or other or preferably both parents, however unfulfilling that may be at times for the adult, although my experience shows that as with many things the more you put in, the more you get out. Looking after children is very hard work, it is constant, demanding, stretching every resource you have and then some - no wonder some people seek to avoid it even though they have children and pass the buck so-to-speak. Sometimes as a parent of young children you may not even be able to go to the toilet in peace or get time to make or drink a cup of tea or coffee - but in time your child will learn how to make you one, and in more time your child may be able to take care of you in old age or infirmity. Please- it is worth the input - and done well it can stretch the intellect as much as you need it too.
Of course parents are responsible for the behaviour of their children. Parents should be held accountable for all their children¿s actions, even outside of the home. Teachers in the worst schools have enough on their hands ensuring our kids can obtain a basic education. We must change the law so that unruly children can not hide behind a mask of censorship, or avoid punishment by the courts because of their age.
Of course parents are responsible for the way their children behave. If they are not then who is? Of course there are always the exceptional cases where the child suffers from learning difficulties or some condition that affects behaviour and those situations should be taken into account. The majority of badly behaved children however are that way because of bad parenting. I don't know what exactly but something needs to be done to improve this situation. I feel really sorry for those kids. What kind of a life are they going to have forever being punished for their parents lack of parenting skill?
My own experience has shown me that some children, from very good parents, become criminals; some children, from very bad parents, become criminals; some children, from both good and bad parents, become decent law abiding citizens. Of course, every parent has the duty to bring up their children correctly - but it is not that simple. Our secular society, with it's abandonment of God, is hugely to blame for the lack of meaning in peoples' lives - which often results in a "why should I care?" attitude.
David Mooney, Wales
Of course they should be held accountable - its time some people realised that having children means you have certain responsibilities. This is another area where we are simply too soft. Teachers deserve protection.
I'm glad I moved out of teaching in the UK. One thing I hated there is the way in which teachers are the enemy. We never know what is right, we always need more people telling us what to do, we can't be trusted, it is always our fault. Forget it! I can't even be bothered to fight that fight anymore, I don't see the point. Teachers have been fighting for DECADES to gain some respect, and they are still accused of being useless, rude, abusive, etc. Personally, I think as many teachers as possible should bite the bullet and go get other jobs. Overseas there are loads available.
Sometimes I think about returning to the UK, but then I think about what I have here. I am a VERY highly respected member of the community I live in, a VERY popular MATHS teacher, I receive a decent salary, I have the space within my job to invent, experiment, elaborate, suggest new ideas, a Head I can always talk to, criticise, offer support and new ideas to, Vice-Principals who support me, parents who are supportive, a school counsellor (Psychology Graduate) always around to help me and talk to children I think would benefit from the help, parents who drop everything and come in for an appointment at the time I set to talk about the difficulties their children are having, and many, many other resources available to me.
Why on earth would I give all this up?
As I and any other teacher can confirm, it is easy to identify these parents at parents' evenings - they are merely slightly bigger versions of their offspring. As the saying goes - like father, like son.
When I was in primary school, the school announced that a £10 fine would be introduced if any child failed to attend school without a valid reason. After this announcement was made, the levels of truancy in the school dramatically dropped, and remained so. I think that the ban on 'smacking' has stopped parents from having the choice to discipline their children - and as a consequence, some children feel that they can get away with whatever they want.
Parents or students, the fact remains that teachers are being abused and assaulted. I know a teacher who having recently been assaulted is in the horrible position of being torn between her sense of duty to her students and their education, and wanting to leave due to fear, depression and a massive slump in her own personal health.
It's no wonder there is a shortage of teachers, but I fear it will take a very serious incident before anything is done. The matter needs to be looked in fully and very seriously.
When you are in a situation of fining parents, surely it is too late? More needs to be done to support parents before this stage is reached. Programmes based around supporting parents have proven levels of success. We should be encouraging these types of programmes and assisting parents to take up places of their own accord, not at as a form of sanction.
Norman West, UK
Surely it would be better for parents and child to attend morality lectures or parenting classes than to fine parents? Unruly behaviour is not just the province of poor neighbourhoods or lack of money and the Blairs are a case in point! It has become engrained in the very culture of our society. We no longer care for our fellow human beings. If morals and respect are not taught at an early age, from parents and society than what chance has any child being brought up in an 'I want' culture?
As a teacher who has noticed quite a few incidents of unacceptable parental and student behaviour, I can say that action is welcomed to ensure that there will STILL be brave people who will bother to teach feckless parents' kids in the future! It's about time something was done, if we still want to recruit staff for the teaching profession! Most teachers feel helpless, caught between violent behaviour and the school leadership's passiveness and indifference in helping them tackle the problems. I don't think it should be taken for granted that if one wants to be considered a good teacher, one must struggle with all kinds of violence and never complain, as if it is part of their job! Would lawyers and doctors stand such behaviour from their patients or customers?
I was bullied, physically and emotionally, by these kids for five years. School was a living hell. The only reason I didn't give into these juvenile thugs is because my parents taught me about self-respect, respect for others and respect for them. I didn't take drugs or steal anything, because I couldn't bear to see the look of shame and disappointment on the faces of my parents. I did try smoking, but my dad caught me and stopped my pocket money for a month. We had no money and poor prospects, but my brothers and sisters and I all now have careers, three out of five of us have degrees, and all have no criminal records. Blame the parents - they are the ones who make or break a child.
Jon Matthews, UK
I believe the single most important and challenging principle of parenting is: "Do as I do, not as I say." Parents are the biggest influence in their children's lives. Nevertheless, we do not each live on our own island and society at large also bears a responsibility. There are many other significant role models for children such as teachers, pop stars, sports people and friends' parents. Their behavioural example cannot be overlooked.
"Give me the boy until he is seven and I will show you the man." That's what the Jesuits said and it's true. It's no use disciplining children once they reach 13, they must respect you from the beginning. So many people are too sentimental about very small children and laugh when they misbehave - these same parents are the ones that have problems later on.
Yes and no! The decline in discipline which has occurred in our schools and has encroached on our homes has led to the breakdown. As a youngster if I was naughty, I got a telling off or a smack. Friends who are the same age as me have also noticed this slip in standards. One friend in particular, springs to mind, like me, a naughty act was followed by a telling-off, or at worst a smack. His brother who is five years younger, wasn't smacked for naughty behaviour, yet he has a criminal record, and is constantly in trouble with the police for drug and drink related antics.
We firmly believe that the lack of home and school discipline shown to my friend's brother has led to his slide into this pattern.
Of course the parents should be blamed. You see them going around with their litters of children, shouting, and swearing at the tops of their voices, and think "God! What are these kids going to grow up like?" It's scary.
Steve Coupe, UK
The conduct of children is a result of a combination of parenting, schooling, social environment and nature. Some excellent parents have unruly children and cannot be blamed for their children's actions. However, bad parents more often than not produce disruptive children. The way a child is brought up helps the child make decisions in their teenage years, but it does not make the decision for them.
A good few of the comments above have said that as kids people behaved because they were afraid of their parents. I was never afraid of mine, only afraid what it would do to them if I misbehaved badly.
My brother and I were always treated with respect, as reasoning beings. We learned by example to treat others with the same respect we were given. All the children in our family are being brought up as we were, and the difference between their attitudes and those of kids whose parents don't take responsibility for them is quite startlingly visible.
Dave Whyte, UK
A politician has had the guts to say what has been clear for a long, long time. Parents have to shoulder some of the responsibility for how their children behave. There will always be exceptions; examples of children who behave badly despite a good upbringing, but for too long, parents have hidden behind criticism of teachers.
Much of the bad behaviour displayed by these children is learnt by the time they arrive at school at the age of five. How are teachers supposed to deal with the five-year-old who says "I don't have to do what you say - my dad says I don't have to take orders from women!"
And yes, that is a genuine example.
The simple fact is, that for a child of normal intelligence and physical and mental health, it is the way that they are brought up that is important.
At the extreme, there is a strong correlation between people being brought up in a violent or abusive home, becoming abusive themselves.
Peer pressure is of course also important in anti-social behaviour. But, here, again, parents should ensure that their standards are passed on to their children. For example, we insist on knowing where our children actually are, at any time that they are out of the house. Obviously this will have to be put more on trust as they reach, say, 17 years old.
Similarly, my elder daughter knows full well, for example, that if we ever found out that she had ridden in a stolen car, we would "go ape".
The best and most effective sanction in a loving household is for the parent to demonstrate their sheer disappointment and sadness at an erring child's behaviour. This may need to be combined with sanctions such as grounding, and may have to be illustrated by a brief display of anger, such as shouting "Don't ever do that again", but immediately coming back to a normal voice to do the real telling off.
I hope they will become considerate individuals who have empathy for those around them. How do I do this? By showing them. Learn, do, teach, repeat as necessary. The first thing we must do is stop pointing the finger at everyone else and start taking responsibility for our situation. I applaud those who have been brave enough to fight back against peer pressure and take responsibility. When the message gets across to the children of today that the people who "hang" in gangs are going nowhere later in life (unless they change) the better it will be.
I believe the responsibility of children's discipline and moral upbringing is mainly the parents' job. However, I remember from my school days that a distinct lack of discipline (and lack of power to discipline) in schools led me to be naughty at school. If the teachers are unable to back up what is taught at home there's no point in doing anything!
I really wish parents would responsibility for their kids, and stopped blaming the schools (who are powerless) and the police (who are powerless) for all the truancy and misbehaving.
The responsible influences must encourage behaviour that is desired and which will make the child acceptable in society and discourage that which is not. It is vital that the responsible influences are consistent, since the child will often repeatedly test the effect of the same behaviour in order to make sure it understands the consequences.
After the age of three all that can be done is to reinforce what has gone before. Thus teachers, who mostly only have access to a child from the age of five onwards, can only build on the foundations laid by the parents. Parents need educating in parenting skills before they become parents but unfortunately governments have seen fit to remove such training from the national curriculum.
In the first instance it is the responsibility of parents to teach good behaviour, good manners and discipline to children, but that teaching needs to be backed up by the rest of society. Currently there is too much emphasis everywhere in our society on the rights of all individuals, be they adult or child, this is no longer being linked with the idea that those same individuals also have responsibilities that go with those rights. There are too many people in this country whose answer to any chastisement is "I know my rights, you can't touch me." There is no easy way to redress the balance back to a civilised society.
It's obvious that the minority of children who have no idea how to behave is slowly becoming the majority. My husband is a teacher and only last week one of his colleagues was head-butted by a girl because she was told to sit down. It is only right that parents are punished for their behaviour, maybe it will force them to address the situation instead of defending their nasty children. Bring back the cane, every one of them deserves it.
It would be nice if parents didn't swear in front of their children. As a child - up to 17/18 years-old - there were still a lot of rude words that I didn't know the meaning of - now I hear eight-year-olds using them in the playground. Children's lack of understanding about respect for others, self-respect and basic social skills does come from the parents in the first instance, then from others at a later stage. If people don't have respect and good values for themselves, they certainly won't have them for others. I am nowhere near perfect and fully aware of the fact; I also know that it's difficult raising children, but it's a job that needs to be well done. If you mess up at work you get the sack - if you mess up bringing up children, you only get a fine! Seems fair enough to me.
As a parent of four children, I believe it is MY responsibility to ensure that they grow into stable and useful members of society. I know other parents who do not take that view and I see the results of their lack of labour every day. People just refuse to take responsibility when the blame can always be found to lie somewhere else.
Chris B, England
The government might be evading responsibility for increasing crime levels but that doesn't stop the fact that most children are clones of their parents. A child's behavioural patterns start with the parents and if parents have no respect then their children won't either.
Prosecuting parents for their children's crimes is a fair way of ensuring that parents take more notice of what their kids are up to. Yes, bring parents to task for their children's outlandish behaviour.
I was eight years old when corporal punishment was banned. I watched kids suddenly realising they could not be touched and now those kids have kids of their own and think it's clever to go to the school and threaten any teacher that dares to criticise their little darlings. To the politicians and children's rights groups of the 1980s - you are now reaping what you have sown. Not a good job at all.
Blame must also be placed on the shoulders of government for their softly-softly attitude to criminals.
When I was growing up, if you were caught by the police doing something wrong, you got a clip round the ear and taken home to face the wrath of your parents, which usually resulted in another clip round the ear.
I agree with Wendy's comments about the do-gooders of the 1980s. A clip round the ear or slap to the back of the legs never caused me any harm.
Julian Hayward, UK
Steve Harrison, UK
Parents have a lot to do with it. My old man kept me on the straight and narrow. I was too scared to do anything wrong.
Blaming the parents without giving the teachers the power to punish misbehaving pupils is good for nothing. Teachers must have authority over their pupils or nothing will work.
I get really annoyed by people like SCB who make blanket statements about parents being "blamed" for not controlling their children. I'm the father of a 12 year-old boy, with learning difficulties, who has a genuine problem understanding the consequences of his actions. Recently he had some disciplinary problems at school - fortunately my wife and I were able to sort out the situation with the Headmaster. To be told that these problems are somehow "my fault" indicates a total lack of understanding of how demanding it is to bring up a child who does not fit into the "average to intelligent" bracket.
Whilst I'm on my soap-box, can any of the advocates of corporal punishment explain why countries like Sweden and Denmark, which banned corporal punishment some years ago, have much lower incidences of juvenile delinquency than we do here in the UK?
Parents should be blamed for not controlling their children and should have to pay accordingly for not fulfilling their responsibility of raising children properly. The government should also take blame and reinstall proper deterrents into school. I never appreciated being spanked by my headmaster but I soon stopped getting into trouble. Kids need discipline - there should be some form that teachers can rely on to rein in unruly children for their own good.
To Shaun of Teignmouth - If you've allowed your child to reach the age of 15, and are only now trying to instill some discipline, there's no point in trying to blame "liberal do-gooders" for his lack of respect.
This is exactly the attitude that has lead to the situation we're in today. It's the liberals' fault, the government's fault, the teachers' fault. It's never your fault is it?
Shaun, Teignmouth, UK
Ask a parenting expert and a union chief
24 Mar 02 | Education
Bad parenting 'causes child crime'
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair warns parents over unruly children
23 Mar 01 | Education
Parents warned: No 'aggro' in school
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