This House believes that parents should be held responsible for their school-going children's discipline problems.

This is an idea that has been floated by some education reform advocates (mainly conservatives) who believe that the problem of childhood discipline in the classroom cannot be remedied unless parents themselves are acting at home to engender good disciplinary habits in their children.  The idea was briefly enacted in both Florida and Michigan.  In Florida small fines were imposed on parents and in Michigan coveted parking permits were suspended when children misbehaved.  Both programs were promptly discontinued due to parental outcry. In the United Kingdom there have been cases of parents being jailed for failing to stop their children being truant from school.[1]

Future iterations of this idea in the United States may involve charter schools where parents of children with track records of disciplinary problems voluntarily enrol their children in a school with such a contract.  Charter schools can state explicit requirements of students in terms of behaviour in their charter which can then be legally enforced.[2] Modelling the debate in this fashion may help avoid some of the parental consent issues of the debate, although it is by no means necessary for proposition to take this strategy in the debate. 

Another version of this debate is to hold parents liable for the criminal actions of children during school going years.  For instance, if a child is caught shop lifting, one might impose a fine on the parents in addition to punishment handed down to the child.  Some of the arguments below are tailored more specifically to this version of the debate, although the arguments considered can be modified to fit into either debate.  

The assumption behind this brief is that by and large the children being discussed are those with chronic discipline problems. 

[1] ‘Mother jailed for girls’ truancy’, BBC News, 13 May 2002,

[2] Lopez, Alejandra, Wells, Amy Stuart, and Holme, Jennifer Jellison, ‘Creating Charter School Communities: Identity Building, Diversity, and Selectivity’, in Amy Stuart Wells (ed.) Where Charter School Policy Fails, New York, 2002,  pp.129-158, p.153,


Parental Incentives

Addressing the behavioural problems of children requires active parental participation.  However, in many cases, parents are either not fully aware of their children’s problems, or more importantly, delay the active disciplining of their children. 

This is critical, as for the cycle of negative and positive reinforcement to be effective in behaviour modification, there must be a temporal link between misbehaviour and any potential punishment.  In a desire to avoid future fines, or whatever the penalty the parents face, there is an active incentive to not only intervene in the child’s misbehaviour, but also to do so in a timely way, which is the most proven way to change children’s behaviour. 

Moreover, if there is any tendency for parents to overlook or avoid the problems of chronically unruly children, this serves as an impetus for keeping up with discipline notices and paying attention to the child’s infractions. 

A lack of parental involvement has for example regularly been cited as being partially to blame for the riots in the UK during August 2011.[1]

[1] Gentleman, Amelia, ‘UK riots: ‘Being liberal is fine, but we need to be given the right to parent’’,, 10 August 2011,


The danger for abuse argument from the opposition side is a good counterargument.  Moreover, one might analyse the probabilities that this particular incentive will be a tipping point in the case of marginal parents (the ones that are not already fully involved in their children’s discipline for whom this might be the tipping point).  Most caring parents will already be quite invested and do the best they can because they care for their child.  Those who do lapse likely have some sort of structural familial problems, whether they hold many jobs and work very hard to keep the family going, or are simply bad parents.  In these cases, is this likely to be the factor that changes these parents’ behaviours?  Unlikely. 

Collaborative Approach

In order for a child’s misbehaviour to be successfully remedied, the child must receive a consistent message on what is appropriate both at home and at school.  In many instances parents may condone behaviour that schools and teacher find unacceptable.  In other instances, professionals at schools can aid parents in targeting specific behaviours to work on in a specific order in a program that integrates the child’s behaviour at both school and home.  Moreover, uniform and consistent rewards and negative reinforcements from school and home are tremendously useful for helping rehabilitate a child’s behaviour.[1]

When initiating such programs, the major problem is often that the parents give in and do not adhere to the agreed upon program, which serves to teach the child that unacceptable behaviour is sometimes condonable.  It’s understandable that parents, who must be with the children a majority of the time, sometimes may find it easier to simply give in and pacify the child and inadvertently award destructive behaviour.  Therefore, a system of parental investment, as proposed here, will ensure that the parents have something riding on sticking to a disciplinary program as well, which ultimately aids the child. 

In the case of parents being penalized for criminal offenses by children, one can modify this argument to fit by noting that often juvenile facilities will use schools as part of a behavioural modification program, therefore the consistency noted above is still critical. 

[1] Robinson, Virginia, ‘Bridging the gap between school and home’, Raising Achievement Update, July 2008,


The temporal linking argument itself cannot be disputed, but the idea that this is what gets parents invested can again be questioned, as noted above. 

Children Held Accountable

Often, children who have been trapped in a cycle of lack of discipline and disciplinary problems tend not to care about their punishment.[1]  Detention may be seen as a welcome respite from classes, and other punishments over time may cease to make an impression on the child.  After all, there is only so much that an institution can do to discipline a child. 

Using this mechanism opens up a far more effective repertoire of discipline.  More importantly, while the child may cease to regard any punishments handed down on him or her, often there will still be a desire to avoid actively harming the parents, which occurs under this system.[2]

The argument also extends in the case of criminal punishments.  In the psychology of a child, he or she may not fully internalize the effects on their future a shoplifting arrest may have.  However, the thought of their parents being punished in such an offense may lead to the deterrence necessary to prevent such actions. 

In effect, the argument is that when punishments to the child him or herself fail to act as a deterrent, the child seeing punishments imposed on the parents as a result of his or her actions may reinvigorate the deterrent effect. 

In addition, this allows an extra tool in the teacher’s arsenal, and the mere thought of perhaps “triggering” a parental punishment may help bring some children into line. 

[1] Pawel, Jody Johnston, ‘Child Abuse of Discipline: What is the Difference?’, Parent’s Toolshop,

[2] ‘Mother jailed for girls’ truancy’, 2002,


Authority aversion is a good counterargument here. (see op argument 4)

Parental Responsibility

In most cases, in which the child is not subject to some sort of constitutional problem (genetic condition or otherwise), the disruptive behaviour of a child is a reflection of in adequate parental intervention over time.   A normal child under normal circumstances should be expected to conform to behavioural expectations, and the failure to do so represents a partial inadequate job by the parents. 

The result is a cost that is transmitted to society.  Children that are disruptive in school or in society via the criminal justice system cost the system extra money either in school resources and time or judicial-police resources as well as in the more obvious costs such as fixing vandalism and graffiti.[1] Even worse; if a student drops out as a result of his discipline problems the cost to society has been estimated as $232,000-388,000.[2] Given that the parent is in part to blame for failing to control the child’s behaviour, in the time during which the parent is the primary custodian of the child, it is fair to pass on a measure of this cost to the parent. 

[1] Batten, George, ‘The Main Cause of School Budget Problems is School Discipline’, School Discipline Made Easy,

[2] Hymel, Shelley, and Henderson, Natalie Rocke, ‘Helping Students who are Experiencing Persistent and/or Serious Discipline Problems to Succeed in School: The State of the Evidence’, Ontario Ministry of Education Research Symposium, 18-20 January 2006,


The “unjust” argument is a good counter.  One could cite some neurobiology evidence that lack of discipline is due to complex cognitive deficits that manifest through delayed brain development even in otherwise normal seeming children, which belies the “parental responsibility/failure” view. To start with, cognitive deficits can be caused by genetic factors or other things which started before birth, and can stop children being able to function normally.[1]

[1] Tynan, W. Douglas, ‘Cognitive Deficits’, Medscape Reference, 3 June 2013,

Individual Responsibility

The philosophy underling the proposition is one in which the child is not solely responsible for his or her own behaviour.  Even if the threats of parental punishment and involvement are successful in the short term in modifying a child’s behaviour, the long term sequlae is that the child’s good behaviour is predicated not on an understanding of the consequence of their behaviour and a consideration of their own long term interests, but merely out of fear and external consequences. 

In the long run, instilling this message is likely to lead to future misbehaviour as the external punishments, in this case imposed on the parents, fall away.  Once the child reaches an age at which the parents cannot be punished or the child does not care about parental punishment, building an ethic around such external consequences will fail to deter the child from misbehaviour.  (See argument 4)


Children are too young to internalize and understand broad philosophies of responsibility.  A small child refrains from stealing a cookie out of fear of being caught, not out of some grand regard for a morally just universe in which his actions must be scrutinized.  Later on, as the child gets older, his/her understanding can mature. 


There is an argument to be made that this form of punishment of parents is simply unjust.  The legal basis of punishment is based on the principle that a sane individual is fully responsible for his or her actions.  One can always point to dysfunctional families or other influences that may have had an effect on an individual’s actions, but the level of influence is impossible to quantify.  Therefore, any level of punishment that is meted out to external sources cannot be matched proportionally to actions taken by these outside parties, thereby abrogating the principle of proportional punishment.  As a result, any just system of punishment is bound by this constraint, and shifting responsibility to external sources is not consistent with our principles.

This argument functions best in the criminal justice context, but applies in the school context as well.  Schools that adopt this policy must examine the ethical underpinnings of the policy, and if the policy itself is immoral, then regardless of its efficacy (which is disputed in the first argument and later on) the policy should not be adopted.   


The “parental responsibility” argument is a good counter here.  An appeal to the fact that some lax parents clearly raise spoiled children can also be effective in building intuition about the notion that parents are imposing a cost through their actions. 

Danger for Abuse

Many children that have consistent behavioural problems at school come from dysfunctional families in which either physical or emotional abuse and neglect is common. This has then resulted in behavior disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder.[1] While it would be nice to believe that parents would respond to the stated incentives in a healthy way, it must be considered that it is just as likely that in some of these households parents would crack down violently (again, either emotionally or physically ) on their children.  Such actions by parental role models often lead to a vicious cycle in which the behaviour is then continued at school and in future generations. 

It is difficult to say what proportion of households may respond in this fashion, but if even a small proportion of children are actively harmed by this policy, it is a strong argument against its uniform adoption. 

[1] ‘Behaviour Problems in Children and Adolescents’, Children’s Mental Health Ontario,


One could say that in cases in which abuse is suspected the program would be suspended for that child, and that teacher’s always have an obligation to report abuse (in the U.S., anyhow). 

Authority Aversion

A short argument, but a potentially powerful one.  The assumption that children will not act out even more under such a regime in a bid to lash out at parents is untenable.  Misbehaviour at school is often a rebellion against authority anyway, and the ultimate authority in most children’s lives is the parents.  Therefore, as acting out against both of these institutions is consistent with the misbehaving mind set, it follows that tying school misbehaviour to parental detriments is unlikely to affect the child and may even serve to encourage their bad deeds. 


One way to deal with this argument is by noting that this would be one tool in a school’s arsenal.  If it proves to be obviously counterproductive, then it will not be employed, in the same way that other disciplinary tactics schools/society can impose will not be used if they are seen to be adverse or ineffective. 


Batten, George, ‘The Main Cause of School Budget Problems is School Discipline’, School Discipline Made Easy,

BBC News, ‘Mother jailed for girls’ truancy’, 2002,

‘Behaviour Problems in Children and Adolescents’, Children’s Mental Health Ontario,

Gentleman, Amelia, ‘UK riots: ‘Being liberal is fine, but we need to be given the right to parent’’,, 10 August 2011,

Hymel, Shelley, and Henderson, Natalie Rocke, ‘Helping Students who are Experiencing Persistent and/or Serious Discipline Problems to Succeed in School: The State of the Evidence’, Ontario Ministry of Education Research Symposium, 18-20 January 2006,

Pawel, Jody Johnston, ‘Child Abuse of Discipline: What is the Difference?’, Parent’s Toolshop,

Robinson, Virginia, ‘Bridging the gap between school and home’, Raising Achievement Update, July 2008,