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This House would make all parents attend parenting classes
This House would make all parents attend parenting classes
The question of the best way to raise children is one which is widely debated in all liberal democracies. It is also commonly believed that decisions regarding childcare should be left to parents in the private sphere of the home. Typically, states become involved in questions concerning parenting only when there have been serious failings on the part of parents - such as cases of abuse or neglect. However, given the increasing concern over bad behaviour in schools, youth crime, substance abuse and a perceived lack of respect for society on behalf of young people, questions may be raised as to whether unaided parents have the competence required to raise children and whether they should enjoy absolute freedom when raising their children. A radical proposal is to require that people who want to become parents obtain a licence (just as they do before if they want to drive a car). How this measure would be implemented in the case of natural reproduction (as opposed to adoption, custody, or assisted reproduction) is controversial.
Parenting classes are a possible solution to assist new parents and parents who encounter difficulties in raising their children. Should classes be offered on a voluntary basis or made compulsory for all prospective parents? Is the state justified in using preventive measures or should it intervene only when problems occur? At present no state requires compulsory classes for all would-be parents, but the British government has shown interest in “early intervention” strategies including parenting classes for families where children are thought likely to grow up posing problems for society. One interesting proposal is that the state can offer parenting classes to all children in school as part of their compulsory education. This measure would make people aware at a very early stage of their education of the skills and knowledge base required to deal effectively with children.
The arguments below concern the proposal to make parenting classes compulsory to all would-be parents, and the proposal to offer specific parenting classes to parents who experience problems in raising their children.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Classes would have to be compulsory to be effective||State sanctions unfairly affect the less well off.|
|Bad parenting has an impact on the rest of society.||It is false to assume there is a right way to bring up children.|
|Parenting classes promote childrenâs right to a high standard of parenting.||State intervention is an invasion of privacy.|
|State help should be dependent on attendance of classes.||It is an autonomous right to have children|
|Standardised information has great value.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Classes would have to be compulsory to be effective
Parenting classes would need to be compulsory for a number of reasons. Firstly - for all of the subjectivity regarding parenting – there are clearly some cases where bad parenting is responsible for some of the child’s failings. A morbidly obese 15 year old with a criminal record, no school qualifications and poor health has, almost certainly, been let down by his or her parents. However the state has no way of knowing in advance as to which parents will struggle in this manner – hence it is better if the classes are for everyone. Furthermore, it seems fair to assume that parents who are somehow socially excluded, wilfully ignorant or suffering some other acute difficulty in raising children, would probably be less likely to take the active step of attending voluntary classes in the first place. According to a report on UK Children’s services referral to get help tends to be self-referral by those who have less need whereas those with higher needs have to be referred by others before they will accept the helpThus voluntary classes may actually be structurally biased to miss the cases in which they are most needed. A compulsory system is likely to offer far better outcomes across societyImprove this
Making classes compulsory may make them less effective and useful for those who actually want to be there. Much as happens in school those who do not wish to attend are disruptive and take up the teacher's time so reducing the amount of time the teacher has for those who wish to learn.Improve this
Bad parenting has an impact on the rest of society.
The state has a strong moral, practical and financial interest in the raising of its future citizens. This is why most liberal democracies offer extensive and costly child support systems (including child-support payments, free nursery care, parental leave arrangements) to aid parents in raising young people who can be active and respectful members of society. Louise Casey, Government Respect Co-ordinator, argues that the best results come from preventative action: “I think we have got to do everything to make sure we are tackling not just anti-social behaviour today, but preventing the next generation of people growing up with signs of anti-social behaviour in the future.” 1 Compulsory parenting classes could be a means to ensure the cohesion and prosperity of its future generations by raising the standard of parenting they receive.
1 'Head to Head: Parenting Classes', BBC (2006) news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6168474.stmImprove this
Financial considerations alone do not give the state the right to interfere in the raising of children and do not provide sufficient motivation for imposing a model of parenting. State intervention should be motivated by the best interests of its citizens and paternalistic measures should be avoided when possible in all liberal democracies. In 2003 Lord Irvine criticised Blunkett’s plans for compulsory parenting classes as "an extreme example of the nanny state" and a violation of human rights.1 Moreover, even if the implementation of parenting classes were unobjectionable, one would need evidence supporting a positive correlation between attending parenting classes, good parenting, and fall in anti-social behaviour.Improve this
Parenting classes promote childrenâs right to a high standard of parenting.
Given that it may not be possible to use legal or monitoring systems to encourage parents to take better care of their children,making parenting classes compulsory would help prioritise the best interests of the child (inhttp://www.fivecounties.on.ca/documents/WorkingTogether.pdf terms of health and future opportunities) without necessarily constraining the educational choices of parents.Parenting classes would help ensure that parents know what is regarded as good for their children and would promote the rights of young people to a decent upbringing, whilst only minimally impacting on parents.In 2006, the then Home Secretary John Reid argues that 'By tackling bad parenting we are tackling child disadvantage and social exclusion. For example, 90 per cent of repeating juvenile offenders have a history of behaviour problems as a child.'1Improve this
It is not at all clear that parenting classes set up by the state and aimed at furthering the interest of the state would benefit children and promote their best interests.1Historically, the judgement and motivation of parents have been the best means to guarantee the interests of children. For the state to interfere with the parents’ knowledge of their child’s needs would be damaging, not beneficial, to the overall quality of parenting.2Improve this
State help should be dependent on attendance of classes.
In our times, when contraception is widely available and affordable, reproduction should be an active and responsible choice on the part of individuals. Parenting classes would be instrumental in ensuring that people reflect upon their decision to have children and understand the implications of their choice.Moreover, if the ‘lifestyle choice’ of having children is supported by the state (through tax breaks, benefits and entitlements), then it would seem that the state is justified in applying some minimal conditions to people who wish to benefit from its support. So parenting classes would be a means for the state to safeguard its interest in having responsible citizens.1Improve this
The offer of state support for families does not justify state interference in childrearing. There is a fundamental difference between creating marginal incentives for citizens to have children through such mechanisms as the taxation system, and outright coercion, such as the removal of benefits or other significant state support. The former allows for meaningful autonomous decision making on the part of a citizen, whilst the latter places them in a coercive situation where their freedom is inherently compromised. This removes independence and autonomy from the individual. 1 The state should have limited powers in making decisions about what constitutes good parenting.Improve this
Standardised information has great value.
Currently, information about parenting is scarce, patchy and inconsistent. It would benefit all if up-to-date parenting information provided by medical staff, psychologists, nutritionists, educators and so on, were made accessible and standardised: all parents would receive the same basic and essential information. And information is always valuable and often appreciated by those who receive it. The charity Barnardo’s argues that those who attended their classes ‘were unanimously positive about the impact of courses and were clear that attending them provided them with new skills and confidence in their parenting ability.’ 1Parenting classes would provide up-to-date and standardized information useful to guide prospective parents’ behaviour and it would not amount to imposing one model of parenting on all.Improve this
First, it is not clear that parenting classes would improve the standards of parenting – for one, not all children need identical parenting and it would be too difficult to customise classes or to respond to the individual needs of parents and children. It is narrow-minded to assume that basic standard information would be sufficient for parents to deal with the range of children’s individual needs.Second, the state is not justified in imposing one model of behaviour on prospective parents.Third, information that is relevant to good parenting (what is good for children) is subject to change and it would be difficult to ensure that the information provided in compulsory parenting classes were up-to-date.1Improve this
State sanctions unfairly affect the less well off.
If the state is going to stop providing benefits to families when parents do not attend parenting classes, then this measure targets poor families who cannot afford being left without benefits. Well-off families that do not rely on the financial support of the state would not be adversely affected by not attending parenting classes.Gillian Pugh of the National Children's Bureau, who is writing a book on parents and education, said: “To say that parents must go on training courses to get benefit assumes that parents who are poor are poor parents. There is no evidence for this.”1Improve this
The removal of the financial support of the state to families when parents fail to attend parenting classes is meant to apply to all families, not just the poorer families. The Frank Field Report suggests that Parenting Classes "should be seen as something normal to do, rather than remedial, or something only for low income families".1One proposal that would make attending parenting classes “normal” is to make them available through state education (maybe combined with classes on reproduction), so not just to prospective parents or parents with childcare issues, but to all citizens from an early age.1Improve this
It is false to assume there is a right way to bring up children.
The thought that there is an ‘objectively correct’ way to raise a child is a strongly idealised conception. We can of course identify cases such as abuse or neglect, where we feel the wellbeing of a child is clearly at risk. We may even want to include such issues as children’s chronically poor diet and serious behavioural problems in such a category. In such cases, intervention is justified.However, applying such a principle of ‘objectivity’ more widely risks demonising families who lovingly wish to raise their children according to their own beliefs and do not put the wellbeing of their children at risk.Educational standards, and parenting behaviour as recommended by the experts are not objective truths and are always open to challenge and debate. Even in purportedly ‘scientific’ areas such as medical advice, parents have sincere and well founded fears regarding issues such as vaccination.When the state proposes standards of ‘good parenting’, it provides grounds to criticise virtually all parents – not just extreme cases.A paper from the charity Barnardo’s argues that “ineffective programmes let families down and waste money.”1 No parent or child is perfect – but the vast majority have the right to pursue their personal relationship without fear of intrusion. Imposing parenting classes would foster an unhealthy environment of suspicion of difference.Improve this
There are basic skills and knowledge that are vital to the health and welfare of all children. Unfortunately, this information is not always easily accessible to parents and parents-to-be. Making parenting classes compulsory would be a way to ensure that everybody has access to basic skills and basic knowledge which can inform and improve their parenting.Sadly, cases of abuse, neglect and bad childcare resulting into harm are all but rare. In these circumstances, the state should use preventive methods, rather than just waiting for harm to happen and trying to find a solution.The individual needs and values of parents and child are important and are not threatened by parenting classes. Some basic information about childcare and what is good for children shouldbe known by all parents, and integrated with personal ideas about childcare that parents may already have. As the BBC recognises, “Love comes naturally to most parents, but everyone faces difficulties at some point or another - from babies who won't sleep at night and toddlers who throw tantrums, to unruly teenagers.” 1Improve this
State intervention is an invasion of privacy.
Prospective parents who are daunted by the raising of a child or parents encounter problems in raising their children can choose to attend classes if they wish. However, it is not clear that attending parenting classes would be beneficial to those parents or parents-to-be who have their own ideas about childcare. Jill Kirby, Chair of the Family Policy Group at the Centre for Policy Studies said to the BBC that “I am really concerned that instead of putting in place the right financial and benefit structures to encourage families, the government is instead using coercion and instruction and stepping into family life." 1In some circumstances, it is possible that the parenting advice proposed by experts on behalf of the state violates the religious or cultural identity of the family, proving offensive and causing either internal tension in the family or social alienation.Improve this
The sanctity of the private sphere is being exaggerated in discussions of the value of parenting classes. Children’s best interests should come first. The right to privacy on the part of an individual can never be justification for ignoring tangible harms which that individual may inflict on another.1 In all families there is the opportunity to raise children according to some cultural and religious beliefs and values. However, when the beliefs of the parents do not promote the welfare of the child, then the right of children to receive an upbringing which allows them to flourish in their lives should prevail on the freedom of the parents to transmit cultural or religious beliefs to their children.
In any case, there is no coercion, as prospective parents and parents of children with behavioural problems do not have to follow the guidance they are being offered in the classes. For parents of children with behavioural issues, there is evidence that parenting classes have a significant and positive effect on children’s behaviour: ‘eight-week courses for parents of children with behavioural problems run at the Maudsley hospital in south London. Studies show there were significant improvements in the behaviour of children whose parents attended.’ 2Improve this
It is an autonomous right to have children
Parents do need material support (such as benefits, or day-care places) but they are also entitled to a private space in which they can raise their family as they wish. They have the right to bring up their children in line with their own values: if a minority of parents abuses that right and indoctrinates their children, this does not mean that everyone’s right to raise their children freely is potentially compromised.Sally Copley from Save the Children argues that the problem with compulsory classes is to “pose it as a choice between such services and helping poorer families boost their incomes." 1Improve this
We should distinguish between the right to reproduce and the right to treat one’s children as one wishes to. Although it is easy to argue for a right to reproduce, the right to “bad parenting” (behaving as parents in such a way as to seriously harm one’s children) is extremely difficult to justify.Parents should recognise the responsibilities that they take on when they become parents. They should realise the impact that their parenting has on their children and also on the rest of society. Parenting classes can help with that. “Any case of disrespect, abuse or violence between you and your spouse or any other family member can also affect them [children] in adverse ways.” 1The state can assist prospective parents and parents of children with behavioural problems by making sure that they can access basic information that would improve the raising of their children. This is not an infringement of autonomy, but could actually help people exercise their autonomous choices as parents. Knowledge makes for better choices, and giving advice is in no way an attempt at coercion.2Improve this
Abrams, Fran, Parenting classes linked to benefit, The Independent, 5 March 1994. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/parenting-classes-linked-to-benefit-1427038.html.
Babycentre, Compulsory Parenting Classes. http://community.babycentre.co.uk/post/a4606845/compulsory_parenting_classes.
Bad Parenting Habits, My Parenting Guide, 2010. http://www.myparentingguide.com/parenting/parenting-styles/bad-parenting-habits/.
BBC Parenting classes, BBC Health, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/family/family_relationships/you_lessons.shtml.
Bortolotti, Lisa, and Cutas, Daniela, Reproductive and parental autonomy: an argument for compulsory parental education. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 19 (1st July), 5-14, 2009. http://birmingham.academia.edu/LisaBortolotti/Papers/73104/Reproductive_and_parental_autonomy_an_argument_for_compulsory_parental_education
‘Brown, Colin, 'Lord Chancellor in fresh clash with Blunkett', The Telegraph, 20 April 2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1427977/Lord-Chancellor-in-fresh-clash-w...
Butler, Vikki, and Clutton, Sam, ‘Help at Hand’ An evaluation report of a programme of activities promoting alternatives to smacking children, Barnardo’s. http://www.Barnardo’s.org.uk/help_at_hand_final_report.pdf.
Casey, Louise and Kirby, Jill, Head to Head: Parenting Classes, BBC News, 21 November 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6168474.stm.
Cavendish, Lucy, This new fad for parenting classes is crazy... mothers just need to trust their instincts, Daily Mail, 10 March 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1364737/This-new-fad-parenting....
Circle of Moms, Mandatory Parenting Classes? http://www.circleofmoms.com/parenting-debates-hot-topics/mandatory-parenting-classes-470431.
Doward, Jamie, ‘Nanny State’ Clash on Parent Classes, The Observer, 19 November 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2006/nov/19/childrensservices.politics?INTCMP=SRCH.
Five Counties Children’s Centre, Premises, principles and elements of Family Centred Care 07/11/10, http://www.fivecounties.on.ca/documents/WorkingTogether.pdf
LaFollette, Hugh, Licensing parents, Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 (2), 1980. http://www.hughlafollette.com/papers/licensing.parents.pdf.
Letters: Birth control is about choice not coercion, The Guardian, 29 July 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/29/population?INTCMP=SRCH.
Lloyd, Eva, What Works In Parenting Education? – Summary, Barnardo’s (1999). http://www.Barnardo’s.org.uk/ww-p-ed.pdf.
O’Sullivan, Jack, Why Children are a choice not a duty, The Independent, 17 November 1998. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/why-children-are-a-choice-not-a-duty-1185456.html.
Owen, Paul, and Wintour, Patrick, New mothers and fathers should have parenting classes – Frank Field report, The Guardian, 3 December 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/dec/03/new-mothers-fathers-parenting-classes-frank-field?INTCMP=SRCH.
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