Monday, April 7, 2008

Punishing The Parents

For the second time in two weeks it has been reported that the New South Wales government is planning to punish parents over the behaviour of their children. Last week it was the idea that parents could be jailed for not ensuring that their kids are in school. This week it’s the threat to fine parents of teenage binge drinkers if they do not attend counseling with their kids. It sounds harsh, it sounds unfair, and it sounds counter productive. It’s also not the real story.

It has been legally compulsory to send our kids to school since before you and I were born. Sometimes kids play hooky, and ditch school, but that is not the sort of circumstances that would lead to Mum and Dad going to jail. In the majority of cases, Mum and Dad are tearing their hair out trying to get their kids to do the right thing. Truly delinquent parents are a small minority, despite the fact that they seem to make front page headlines on a regular basis.

It’s much the same with the teenage drinking issue. Most parents of teenage binge drinkers would be desperate to try anything to rescue their kids from their own bad behaviour. Most parents in such a situation would welcome the opportunity to attend counseling with their kids and have the opportunity to actually sit down together and work through the problem.

In some cases it may be true that the parents are the problem, and in those circumstances, it’s not unreasonable to fine the parents. The trouble is that it fails to address the real problems of parents who are doing the best they can with kids who are out of control. Those parents need help, not threats. The “Your Choice” program is not just about fining parents, and to focus on that aspect alone not only misses the point, but it also misrepresents the purpose of the scheme.

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