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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 16:45 GMT
Youth crime: Are feckless parents to blame?
Anne Page, public education manager of the Family and Parenting Institute and Gwen Evans, the deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers answered your questions in a live forum.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

  56k  


Abusive and "feckless" parents are being blamed by the government for increasing levels of youth crime.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris has given a speech to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers calling for help for parents to end the "cycle of disrespect" in children.

She wants 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.

Are parents to blame for increasing crime levels? How should disruptive behaviour in children be dealt with?


Transcript:


Newshost:

Jason, Manchester, England: The parenting classes won't work. Most of the unruly children's parents won't attend such classes. The answer is simple - if they are unruly expel them, and let the children who want an education get one.

A Hyland, UK: It's all very well saying you will fine parents if they do not attend parenting classes, but if these parents are living on state benefits, they will get away with paying a 1 a week, so where is the incentive to change their ways?


Anne Page:

The first thing we have to be clear about is that parents who may be the subject of a parenting order - which has been around for a couple of years already - they are a minority of parents. But where those parenting orders have been imposed and enforced, they have actually worked in some cases. Some parents have actually appreciated the help and support that they have received.


Newshost:

So some parents might actually welcome this kind of support and you think they would actually go along to these classes?


Anne Page:

In some cases this is happening but numerically we are talking about quite a small number.


Newshost:

So in general terms do you welcome the things that the Education Secretary was saying at the conference?


Anne Page:

Again she said quite a lot of positive things about the way that schools do work with parents and communities. I think one of the things that we should bear in mind is that the majority of parents aren't in this category of the ones who do cause very real problems and those problems are being dealt with sometimes as well. So perhaps what we need to also remember is that what we know from surveys of parents and of schools is that there are a number of head teachers and class teachers who are actually spending a lot of time on the kinds of queries and problems that parents are bringing into schools - parents see schools sometimes as a source of support and information. Some parents actually go into schools saying - we don't know what to do about managing our children's difficult behaviour, can you help? Some schools see it as very important to spend time with parents in various ways because long term it's not actually helping just the parents, it's also helping the children.


Newshost:


Newshost:

Julianne, Scotland: Is there a problem of respect between teachers and some parents?


Gwen Evans:

Yes, I think there is but that's probably not the worst problem. I think one of the great frustrations if you are a parent is you don't always, when a problem happens, get a solution fast enough. You go into the school, you're really worried and there's nobody there to see you because all the teachers are teaching and the head is busy and the whole thing escalates and before you know what has happened, there's a really angry incident. Whereas if there's been somebody there to sit you down, talk to you for bit then actually the incident would never have happened.


Newshost:

Bernadette, Dublin, Ireland: What can be done where parents and teachers don't agree on how to deal with a disruptive pupil? Indeed, if the parent becomes violent themselves?


Gwen Evans:

If you're lucky, mediation and early intervention so that a situation doesn't get to being volcanic. If you're unlucky, then you have to have the backstop of saying - if parents are violent or other members of the family come in and create a huge disruption in schools, then prosecution has to be the answer - it's not the first answer, it's the last resort. But at the moment, schools are sometimes reluctant either to call the police, to get a reputation for violence on school premises, to get into the local papers and therefore incidents aren't dealt with properly, teachers feel sometimes desperately vulnerable. But if teachers are vulnerable, it's even worse to be the receptionist because the receptionist takes the brunt of the anger and the potential violence.


Newshost:

Brian Fleming, Scotland: The responsibility for children lies with their parents and no one else. In cases where under age children break the law parents should be held responsible.

DP, Australia: Send these kids off to US-style boot camp and make their parents pay for it. If the courts had this option instead of jail or walk free they would give it immediately.


Anne Page:

What lies behind those comments perhaps is this idea that we can place the blame somewhere and it might perhaps be more helpful to look at what is the support and help that parents are asking for. What is it that parents are saying when they do go to a school and say - I don't know how to deal with this problem when my child is difficult - what are they actually saying? Perhaps we should be listening to what parents are saying when they do ask for support.

One of the things that parents tell us at the National Family and Parenting Institute is that when they actually are in a crisis situation - which is perhaps what some of these problems are about - they don't know where to go at that moment in time. So there might be a whole lot of information and help out there - which there most certainly is from all kinds of sources - but it doesn't mean to say that when a family hits a crisis situation and they don't know what to do about it - it doesn't mean to say they actually have the information and the resources at their fingertips even though some of it is out there.


Newshost:

Mark Campion, Wales: Rather than introducing more and more reactive measures, can we not be more proactive in preventing problems?

Cindy, London, UK: Maybe, the government needs to look at where are the most unruly children? Is it, possibly, council estates with no gardens? Maybe due to both parents working, the children are left to their own devices?


Gwen Evans:

It's absolutely right. It's a pity if you have to punish because you've failed to prevent. Let's go for prevention, let's go for support - essentially let's also make more things available to people who are not in desperate trouble so that they never get trouble on their record.


Newshost:

The same questions to you Anne, should we be more proactive about dealing with some of these problems?


Anne Page:

Again, I think we have to listen to what families and parents are saying as well. It's true that we do work the longest hours in Europe, for example. Many families are struggling with coping with the demands of families and the demands of work. So let's see some measures that support families and support parents in being able, for example, to have the time that they need to deal with family responsibilities and emergencies when they arise.


Newshost:

Jeremy Clark, England: Do you agree that parents' banning smacking is one of the things that has caused the current degeneration of youth behaviour? Smacking (not in anger and only following the failure of other reprimands) is essential in certain circumstances.


Gwen Evans:

There is no evidence to say, for example, when corporal punishment was outlawed for schools that actually made behaviour dramatically worse. I think other things have made behaviour sometimes very difficult, particularly some of the situations that your colleague in London has referred to - the sheer difficulty that some families find themselves in. They need help - you have enormous trouble to access the help - in fact you need to be an expert in how to access help to get the help. Now sorting that one out is to me much more likely to be positive than having debates about corporal punishment in schools or smacking at home.


Newshost:

Does smacking help to improve children's behaviour or can it cause more problems?


Anne Page:

One of the things we know again from surveys of parents is that even parents themselves on the whole don't think smacking is terribly effective as a form of discipline - that doesn't mean to say that parents don't on occasions smack of course - that's a different thing. Often parents smack when they are in a situation under pressure and it's the last resort - they don't know what else to do in the moment and then looking back afterwards wish they would have found a better way of dealing with the situation.


Newshost:

David May, England: Whilst feckless parents may well be to blame for the present generation of yobs, I blame years of namby-pamby do-gooders for the whole situation. Bring back corporal punishment.

Anonymous, England: Why can't they bring back the birch for persistent offenders? My late grandfather was birched in his teens and he never re-offended but went on to lead an honest productive life.


Gwen Evans:

When I started teaching corporal punishment was available in schools. It worked as a deterrent but as soon as somebody had actually been punished, it stopped working and was often, I think, unhelpful rather than helpful. So I'm not sure that something that only works as a deterrent is actually the strategy that's going to help in every case.


Newshost:

So would your members regard this as a backward step?


Gwen Evans:

Very much so. It was something that was debated two or three years ago and led to a debate which was essentially about that you need other strategies - bringing back the birch is not really on the agenda.


Newshost:

Anne, what's your view about this kind of discipline in schools - has its time passed now?


Anne Page:

If you take discipline as a whole and think about families and parents involved, what research says about discipline styles in general is that it's the kind of discipline that sets clear limits without having to resort to other measures which is actually the most effective in the long run. In other words, children need to know where they stand - they need to know what's acceptable and what's off-limits and they need for that to be very consistent and clear. So it's the kind of see-sawing discipline that says - everything is ok one minute and then comes down very harshly another minute, leaving children not actually knowing what's ok and what isn't ok. That's what research says is more of a problem.


Newshost:

Geeta, Singapore: If there was a forum for parents to seek help and advice, I think the country would possibly see drastic improvements in their youth. What help is on offer at the moment?


Anne Page:

Certainly there are help-lines for parents. For example, there is Parentline where parents can phone up in a crisis and it's available right through 24/7 now. There are also websites for parents, for example, we at the National Family and Parenting Institute have a website which is aimed at all parents across the country and that's at www.e-parents.org/


Newshost:

Ian Mason, United Kingdom: Good discipline is down to parents, society, the church and teachers. We should return to a good, old fashioned philosophy on teaching right from wrong.


Gwen Evans:

I think we don't need an old-fashioned discipline - we need, now, new and in the future. It's important to have a sense of ethics, a sense of values, a sense of vision, a sense of responsibility - those are the other values that we need all of us to be promoting both as citizens and within schools. We know from another survey that young people have a very strong sense of responsibility. They see their duty as not interfering with and taking other people's rights - that each individual, if you like, should have their space to do things properly. It is not old-fashioned - let's stop saying old-fashioned discipline and talk about discipline as a current and important side of society, community and indeed school life.


Anne Page:

To go back to what I was saying earlier about the research into different styles of discipline - what we need is to be clear and consistent and to say what is acceptable and what isn't.

See also:

25 Mar 02 | Education
24 Mar 02 | Education
21 Mar 02 | Education
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