Controversy rages over suggestions of compulsory parenting classes for parents of kids who get into trouble.
Of course there should be parenting classes. Society doesn't let people carry out surgery, sell tickets, sweep the streets or do practically any job at all without a bit of training. But it does let people bring up kids - possibly the most responsible job in the world - with no training and barely any support. Why? Because capitalism defines child-rearing as a personal indulgence rather than a contribution to society. And why? Because then it gets done at no cost to capitalism.
However, the government seems to be proposing that these classes are only available - and compulsory - for parents of kids who have gone off the rails. Has it not crossed their minds that parents would appreciate some parenting education before their kids get into trouble? That perhaps prevention is better than cure? Or that if these classes are ordered by a court, they will be experienced as punishment rather than help, with a stigma attached?
There is an unpleasant tinge of parent-blame about the government's attitude. As I type, someone is talking on the radio about bad parents letting their kids watch TV programmes that encourage disrespect and violence. But no-one is blaming the TV channels. Similarly, the worst-formatted of the current spate of parenting programmes on the telly is 'Honey We're Killing The Kids', a hideous guilt-tripping orgy of parent-blame. Why don't they set up camp outside MacDonald's and point the finger at them: "Honey, We're Killing Loads Of Kids"?!
Here's my suggestion:
- that both mothers and fathers should have the legal right to paid time off work to attend parenting classes not just during pregnancy but after the kids are born;
- that these classes be available to everyone who wants them, in accessible venues with childcare provided;
- that professional help is available to parents in their own homes, whenever parents would like help rather than because a TV channel is filming it;
- that the government legislate for a 35-hour maximum working week; guarantee parents annual leave from work during school holidays; increase maternity, paternity and parental leave; and extend the current piss-weak flexible working laws so that parents can spend time with their children;
- that the government pursue an emergency plan to abolish child and family poverty, so that kids can have the comfort, space and facilities they need;
- a massive extension of free, state-provided childcare, so that parents can have time off and kids can get professional care, social development and fun;
- smaller class sizes, more funding and better pay for staff in schools so that kids can get the attention and care they need;
- decent facilities for youth - free sports and leisure facilities, space for bands to rehearse, youth clubs, etc - and an end to the demonisation of youth.
Alternatively, we could go with some of the radio texters, or what they are saying on its website: "What a load of PC nonsense. Bring back the cane / National Service / smack the blighters etc." Yeah, like that'll help.
If you smack a kid because they have done something to upset you, then what you are teaching them is that if someone upsets them, they should hit them.
You might not think it did you any harm, but quite a lot of people who were hit as children think it did. But there are also thousands and thousands of kids now who are, thankfully, not smacked by their parents, and that has done them no harm.
I would love to see statistics as to whether kids who get into trouble have been smacked at home. I would be prepared to bet a fair amount of money that lots of them have been.
There's a very good article about smacking here. What do you think?