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News & Views - Aug, 1995 Issue #35 

SHOULD WE PUNISH THE PARENT?
(Should the Child or the Parent be held accountable?)
By Steve and Karen Gage
Royal Haven 
Sister, Oregon
503-549-4024

Several years ago, we saw a great need to protect children from the adults who abused them. Changes in our laws were made to protect these children. But now, some of these changes have resulted in a situation where children are allowed to abuse parents, and even divorce their parents. In too many cases, parents have become afraid to reprimand their children for fear of being reported to the authorities. What happened? 

Many adults during the last few decades have claimed that all a child needs is to be raised with love to turn out correctly. They also frequently believed that a troubled child is proof of poor parenting, thus they proposed punishing parents for their child's behavior. Their thinking was along the lines that if the parents faced personal punishment, they would become better and more responsible parents. That can be a very damaging and incorrect assumption. Example: Frequently I have worked with families with two loving parents with several children, but only one of them can not obey the parents, or school officials, or the law. Obviously in cases like these, it is not necessarily bad parenting. Something else is probably happening. But punishing those parents will only hurt those parents and teach their children they don't have to be accountable. 

Somehow, according to some experts, parents in today society are supposed to be the child's friend rather than anything looking like an authority figure (parent). Many parents have bought into this philosophy. For them, when a child does something wrong, they pat that child on the back and say "Don't do that again". Common sense tells us that if the child is not held accountable for what is done wrong, then the child is very likely to do it again. Ask any child if they called their parent a vulgar name, and if that parent imposed strict consequences, if the child would o it again. Most children would say NO. Parents need to have a structured home with rules and guidelines and the ability to impose consequences to guide the child. If a child does something wrong, then their parents must be able to hold them accountable. 

Schools have become a place where many children do what they want. If a child wants to disrupt the class, that child is able to do so. What is going to happen to that child? After a time of that child repeatedly doing something disruptive or vandalizing the school, the school officials might remove that child from the school. But the damage would have already been done. That child would have set a bad example to other students, and harmed the students who are there to learn. Everyone suffers from this type of behavior from children who know there is no accountability. 

Society needs to change how we handle our children. Through out the 50 states there is no consensus that children must be held accountable. In most states it is not against the law to be a runaway. Many children are not going to obey their parents if they can just runaway from home. If a parent says the word NO, or drugs and alcohol have become a problem, what is a parent going to do if that child leaves home under current law? There needs to be a universal agreement that the parents and/or the authorities have the right to do something to bring a child back under control when he/she runs away. Unfortunately, at this time, children have enough rights to be their own worse enemy. 

In some cities, authorities are trying to punish the parents for what the child does. The problem with this is in many places, the parents do not have the right to take firm, necessary action. This becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If the parent does nothing about an out-of-control child, the parent is punished. On the other hand, if the parent takes serious action to regain control, the parent can be punished for violating the child's rights. This simply means the child is free to do what he/she wants without accountability. Accountability becomes reserved for parents only, irregardless of how hard they have tried to bring the child back under control. What kind of message does this give the child? 

Parents need to be able to get back in control of their children. Everyone agrees that a child needs to be protected against parents who physically or mentally abuse them. But what does it take for society to see and to understand that parents cannot carry out their responsibilities to their children without the right to make their children accountable for their actions. Our children are our future and if children continue to learn that they can do anything they want and not be held accountable, then what is going to happen to our future? Adolescent years are hard for both the child and his/her parents. Every year childhood and parenthood seem to be getting harder. One important reason is it is getting harder for parents to make their children accountable for their own actions. Now is the time for a change. We have to remember that parents who make their children accountable do this out of love. Simple minded punishment of the parent will make little difference to irresponsible parents, and can do a lot of damage to parents trying to be responsible and hold their children accountable for their own actions. Worse of all, it will do little to teach children accountability. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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