On the eve of a conference organised by the Seventh Day Adventist Church into parenting and last summer’s riots, the Lambeth Weekender asked professor Gus John: are families to blame for what children do?
Lambeth Weekender: What impact did parenting have on the 2011 England riots?
Professor Gus John: This is a very broad and complex question and it needs to be much more nuanced. When do parents cease to have direct responsibility for their children’s conduct? At what age are children thought to be criminally responsible? How many young people below the age of 16 were involved in the riots? It seems to me that there are questions about parental responsibility in respect of children who were involved in the mayhem on the streets and who would not ordinarily be seen as old enough to be home alone.
There is a much wider question about whether or not some parents routinely let their young people who live at home go and come as they please and at whatever hour they please, without bothering to find out where their children are or who they are with. I do not have the statistics at hand, but there were many young people arrested for involvement in the mayhem who do not fit that profile but found themselves on the streets out of curiosity or because they saw an opportunity to get back at the police.
The broader question of why so many young (and older people of diverse ethnic backgrounds) clearly were not acting with moral purpose on those nights is one that concerns more than just parents. Young people acquire values and use them as a compass for their public and private conduct from parents, schools, the media, the conduct of public leaders and politicians, films and popular culture, etc. The majority of those taking part in the disturbances were from urban working class families, but not all.
The question as parental responsibility was not posed at all, or not put in quite the same way during the disturbances that accompanied the student fees protests. Was that because the majority of those protesting and confronting the police were white and middle class? Is parental failure deemed to be responsible for the widespread fraud committed by MPs in the recent expenses scandal, or the high level white collar crimes that are committed in this country every day, much of which goes unreported? Read the rest of this entry →