Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Poor parenting 'blamed for all'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education and family reporter

Dad and baby
The way parents interact with their children has become political issue

The politicisation of parenting is damaging family relations and education, an academic has warned.

Professor of sociology Frank Furedi said there was a pervading prejudice that virtually all of society's problems were caused by poor parenting.

There was an attempt to "weed out" unfit parents and intervene before they even had children, he said.

In an article for Spiked online, he likened "parental determinism" to Hitler's eugenics and Stalinism.

Professor Furedi, sociology professor at Kent University author of Paranoid Parenting, said the myth of parental determinism had been institutionalised in Whitehall.

'Problem people'

He said: "The idea of a one-dimensional causal relationship between parenting and socioeconomic outcomes, dreamt up by the British think-tanks and policy makers, threatens to take public discourse to a new low.

Young girl
Prof Furedi argues parenting has become the new social policy arena

"In comparison with the parental determinism, the economic determinism of Stalinism or the racial determinism of the old eugenics lobby seem positively subtle."

The idea of early intervention was conceived by Tony Blair's regime which "promoted the fantasy that the government could fix society's problems by getting its hands on the nation's toddlers before their parents had chance to ruin them".

"He believed it was possible to spot tomorrow's 'problem people' even before they were born," he added.

This notion of parental determinism allowed politicians to promote the "most absurd prejudices".

"Over the weekend, Iain Duncan Smith the former Tory leader, argued that children from broken homes and dysfunctional families have underdeveloped brains and start school with the mental capacity of one-year-olds," he said.

It is hard to be the last bastion of authority in a society where adult authority seems to be crumbling
Professor Frank Furedi

Parenting had become the new social policy arena, with all political parties having signed up to the "politics of behaviour".

He went on to argue that "parental determinism" was at its most destructive in the sphere of education.

This was because of the way it could erode adult responsibility and authority, he said.

If adults were reluctant or confused about giving guidance to the younger generation, then the challenge facing the teacher in the classroom could be "overwhelming", he said.

"It is hard to be the last bastion of authority in a society where adult authority seems to be crumbling," he added.

He called for adult authority to be affirmed both in and out of the classroom and for the relationship between parents and teachers to be re-drawn.

"There is a difference between raising children and educating them, and this distinction must be re-established to allow for a clearer and more constructive relationship between parents and teachers," he concluded.

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